Love of Polka is Erie Tradition
There used to be a time in Erie when you didn't have to wait long to hear some live polka music. It was performed regularly at several different venues. Those days are gone, but there's still a love for polka in this area.
A large crowd gathered for a city-sponsored polka party at Perry Square on Thursday night. Everyone loved it. There hasn't been many occasions to enjoy a live polka band in this area. That wasn't the case during Erie's polka heyday in the post-World War II era. ‘Major Mel’ Himes is a longtime Erie polka deejay and polka historian.
"Your clubs like the Polish Falcons and the Moniuszko at one time, the Huzar Club, some of the Polish clubs, all had polka music on the weekends. That was the thing,” he said.
The polka band that performed at Perry Square is the ‘Holy Toledo Jam Band’ from Ohio. They play festivals all over the country. Band leader Joe Zalewski has been playing polka music since he was a teenager. He's now in his 50s. He says not as many people follow polka music today compared to when he started playing. But, he says the crowds that do show up are as enthusiastic as ever.
"People are proud of their heritage. They love the music. It's a music that makes you get up and want to dance, want to party,” he said.
Joe says it was people of his generation that started to let go of their ethnic traditions. Bill Hoderny, of Erie, agrees. Bill doesn't play an instrument. His dad and uncles performed as the ‘Hoderny Polka Band.’
"Jake Hoderny was the leader. He played the accordion. Chester Hoderny played clarinet. Lenny Fiszewski played the saxophone and clarinet. John Hoderny played the drums,” remembered Bill.
Bill loves the music. He's an avid listener of Sunday polka shows broadcast by two Erie radio stations.
"Every Sunday morning I tell the wife, "Don't bother me from 9 to 12, you know."
The future of polka in Erie might by gauged by surveying the crowd in the Perry Square audience and on the dance floor. There's young people enjoying the music including 20-year old Madeline Slater. She's continuing that family tradition.
"Growing up every day, we had polka hour on Sunday. We would dance in my Grandma's kitchen the entire time. So it was a good time,’ she said.
Erie polka fans are waiting for the area’s biggest polka party. It’s the Zambawa Polish Festival to be held the weekend of August 26 at Holy Trinity Church on Reed Street.