Seven Springs lights the polka fuse

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The "oohs" and "aahs" at Seven Springs Mountain Resort this weekend will be for the Polka Fireworks, exploding today through Tuesday with 27 of the nation's top polka bands.

The 32nd annual polka festival spotlights the Grammy Award-winning Eddie Blazonczyk's Versatones, the Grammy-nominated Henny & the Versa J's, the punkish polka of Brave Combo and Polkacide and much, much more.

Ryan Ogrodny, the 21-year-old singer and fiddler for the Versa J's, has been going every weekend since he was 6 weeks old and has been playing there for past 18 years.

"It's really cool because you get all ages and it's one big family that goes up there and fills the hotel for the whole week," he says. "When you think of polkas, you think older people, but you'd surprised. I'd say about half the people there are under 40."

Ogrodny says one of the attractions of this festival, which is one of the biggest of its kind, is the diversity of the bands. "Brave Combo -- our band was nominated for a Grammy against them and they won. They're from Texas, and you look at them and they're straight out of the '70s. We have a country bluegrass feel. The Versatones, they developed the true Chicago polka sound which is what most bands follow."

And how do the older folks react to Brave Combo and Polkacide?

"You're always going to have your traditionalists that want the traditional polka sound," Ogrodny says. "But everyone winds up being happy. If they don't like Brave Combo they can go in the other hall and hear something more traditional. But I would say 90 to 95 percent are accepting."

If you're new to this kind of thing and wondering what to wear, don't feel any need to raid the Goodwill for polka dots and plaid.

"If I was looking from the outside, I would think that, too," he says, laughing. "But the average person will wear a T-shirt and jeans."

If you're just getting into the swing of things, there will be polka workshops and free polka lessons Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 3:15 to 4:15 p.m. in the Festival Hall.

Here ares the highlights of each day:

Today: Polka pool party from 3 to 7 p.m. featuring DJ Ken Olowin, followed at 8 p.m. with rotating sets by Maestro's Men and Ray Jay & the Carousels in the Alpine Room.

Friday: Pool Party from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. with Lil John and the ATM Band. Then, music in the hall from 12:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. with The Maestro's Men, Polka Family, The Mass Brass, Orlando Polka Magic, Roger Majewski & The Harmony Kings, and an after hours Jam Session at 1 a.m. hosted by The Mon Valley Push.

Saturday: Pool Party from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with host "Big Dan" and music by The Dynabrass. At 3 p.m., there will be music in the halls by Eddie Blazonczyk's Versatones, Polkacide, Stephanie & Her Honky Band, Henny & The Versa J's, Tony's Polka Band, Crusade, Change of Pace, and an after-hours Jam Session hosted by CJ & The KR?E.

Sunday: A Polish Polka Mass with Henny & The Versa J's at 9 a.m., followed by a 10:30 a.m. English mass and a 10 a.m. Morning Pool Party featuring a Celebrity Dunk Tank and music by The New Brass Express. The Concertina "Cult" Jam Session hosted by Steve Litwin takes place at 12:30 p.m., followed by music in the halls by Phocus featuring SCRUBBY, Eddie Blazonczyk's Versatones, Lenny Gomulka & The Chicago Push, The Brave Combo, The Dynabrass, Charlie Tansek & Chicago Tradition, The NU Tones, and an after hours Jam Session hosted by Tony's Polka Band.

Monday: Morning polka pool party featuring DJ Ken Olowin down at 9 a.m. and music in the hall at 12:30 p.m. with Lenny Gomulka & The Chicago Push, The Polka Family, Charm City Sound, Eddie Forman Orchestra, and Touch of Brass.

Tuesday: Free admission day for Andy Fenus & The Trel-Tones poolside at noon followed by DJ Ken Olowin at 4 p.m.

Tickets are $16; $15 seniors; $10 teenagers; 12 & under free if accompanied by an adult.


Weekend editor Scott Mervis can be reached at smervis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2576.


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