WHEELING - St. Clairsville residents Ben Bodnar and his wife Anita know good polka music, and on Saturday they were hearing some of the best in the business at the third annual Wheeling Polka Festival at Oglebay Park.
"We go to polka dances all over. We've been to Delaware, Ohio and Pennsylvania. This festival is really nice ... good bands, the people are friendly," Ben said Saturday.
Anita said they also never miss the annual polka event held in Barton and they enjoy the concerts at Wheeling's Heritage Port in the summer.
Oglebay's Wilson Lodge is filled with the sound of music this weekend as hundreds of visitors are casting off the early spring blahs with a sweet dose of Polish music, dancing and ethnic food. The festival continues today with a Roman Catholic Mass at 10 a.m. in the Banquet View Rooms with the Rev. Richard Shoda as celebrant.
Doors at Glessner Auditorium open at 11 a.m. with Lenny Gomulka & Chicago Push kicking off the music at noon.
Gomulka, whose band also entertained on Friday night, said Oglebay offers a good deal for anyone coming to the festival. "This resort has exceeded our expectations. They have great hospitality, good food and a lot of people, young and old, are having a great time. Polka festivals are like a big fraternity. There's no problems, just a good time," Gomulka said.
Gomulka, from Chicago, jokes that he is like the "Jimmy Buffett" of the polka music circuit. He and his band travel around the country playing festivals. He said the polka crowds enjoy "their songs."
"There is no room for gossips, only positive thoughts. Polka music is good for the heart and soul," he added.
The Wheeling Polka Festival is attracting visitors from near and far this weekend, according to Oglebay spokespersons Scott Schenerlein, director of sales and conference services, and Debi Jones, sales department
On Saturday, Schenerlein said Friday's lineup saw about 250 people enjoying the event and another 300-500 were expected Saturday and today in Glessner Auditorium. The polka festival has, in the past, been held at the McLure Hotel in downtown Wheeling, but that ended a few years ago.
"We were happy to bring the festival to Oglebay. It's great for the community and allows us to put heads in beds at a slower time for us," Schenerlein said.
Jones said the visitors have come by bus and car from as far away at Massachusetts, Illinois, Michigan, Kentucky, Maryland and Connecticut to enjoy the rich Polish and Slovak heritages.
"It's a way for people to deal with cabin fever and we love it. It's a fun event," Jones said.
Other entertainment today includes:
- 1-2 p.m., the Boys
- 2-3 p.m., Lenny Gomulka & Chicago Push
- 3-4 p.m., The Boys
- 4-5 p.m., Lenny Gomulka & Chicago Push
- 5-6 p.m., The Boys.
Traditional Polish food, including pierogi, cabbage and noodles and a popular mushroom soup, are available to purchase. Also, vendors are on hand selling a host of Polish and Slovak memorabilia ranging from dolls and T-shirts to cookbooks and handbags.
Tickets for the event are sold at the door.