“It’s a lot better turnout this year than I would say last year at this time,” director Lawrence Bodnar said. “We’re only at quarter after seven, and for Friday there’s quite a few people here. And then tomorrow we’re expecting a full house.”
By early evening the room was packed with polka fans who enthusiastically hit the dance floor to show off their two-steps, waltzes and foxtrots. The musical lineup included performances by Ralph’s Rhythm Kings, the Western Senators and Prince Albert’s own Country Gentlemen.
“That’s one thing about the Polkafest — they always hire higher-end bands,” guest Polly Springer said. “So they’re excellent. They’re very good.”
Like many Polkafest attendees, Springer follows polka fests across the province. A nurse and Prince Albert resident, she arranges her weekend schedules during the summer so as not to miss the polkas.
“I’m just an avid dancer,” she said. “It’s my addiction. It’s my passion. We go all over in the polka fest circuit … and you get to meet different people and they come and support ours, and we support theirs.”
One indication of how much the P.A. Polkafest has expanded since its debut 10 years ago is the number of RVs parked near the building. At the city’s first Polkafest, there were only two campers. The following years saw the numbers increase to five and 10. But on Friday night, the number of RVs parked by the Exhibition Centre numbered more than 60.
Having taken the lead in organizing that initial Polkafest and struggling for the first few years to attract public attention, Bodnar was justifiably proud at how much the event has become a fixture for the city and polka fans across the region.
“It feels absolutely great,” he said. “When I think back from the first one (as) an achievement to this one, we’ve come a long ways. We’ve come many steps up, and I think we’re achieving our goal, because we wanted to be a very, very positive and a very good Polkafest to all.”
When I think back from the first one (as) an achievement to this one, we’ve come a long ways. - Lawrence Bodnar
Polkafest veteran Springer has attended similar events in Kerrobert, Melfort, Nipawin, Dorintosh, Moose Jaw and Medicine Hat. But she said the P.A. Polkafest has developed a reputation as one of the best for one key reason: its warmth.
“Lawrence makes himself known,” she said. “Usually … organizers don’t go from table to table to welcome people. But Lawrence is right in there and (saying) ‘Welcome to Prince Albert.” They have these big signs … all these little frills. (People) really like it. They like the warmth that Prince Albert offers. I guess they just find the people in P.A. friendly.”
Bodnar stressed that the main credit should go to the many volunteers and polka fans that make the event possible. His efforts to reach out to guests indicated a desire to constantly improve Polkafest by hearing feedback from supporters.
“I enjoy people,” Bodnar said. “I come out and I say, ‘What do you think? What do you like about us? How can we do better?’ or ‘What is your name? Where do you come from?’ or ‘Thank you for coming.’
“It’s all about greeting. It’s warmth. I enjoy people’s smiles, and that’s what I feel like when they come here … a lot of great feeling of friendship and smiles and just a lot of great happiness in here. So that’s what we’re all about.”
The tenth annual P.A. Polkafest runs through the weekend until Sunday morning. A special anniversary gala is set for Saturday night, providing guests with cake and a few surprises.