Monday, July 1, 2013

This 4th of July... polka on!

by Cristina Balli

Are you looking for something fun, different, unique, historical, and truly Texas to do this 4th of July?  Forget the beaches and lakes; head on over to central Texas and witness a perhaps little-known tradition of the Lone Star State - church polka picnics.

Some of them have been going on for over 150 years - an annual homecoming tradition for many folks with Czech, German and Polish roots and the biggest fundraiser of the year for each of these historic churches, these picnics are steeped in tradition and meaning for central Texas communities.  

St. John the Baptist Church
This year I've been driving around checking out some of these picnics and I'm only upset that I hadn't attended them before.  Some of them are a throw-back in time, like St. John the Baptist's picnic in Ammannsville that I attended earlier this June.  All these picnics have the same format - they start with a polka mass, followed by some type of fried chicken dinner (golden, kettle), live auctions (yet a whole other subject of discussion on the live auctioneers), games for the kids, drinks, snacks, and of course, live polka music.  This is where Texas polka music lives on - Mark Halata & Texavia, Czechaholics, Red Ravens, Ennis Czech Boys, Dujka Brothers, Chris Rybak, Shiner Hobo Band, Texas Sound Czech, and many more.  (I know I'm leaving out many other great bands; this is just meant to be a quick blog post.  Please bear with me...)

Ennis Czech Boys in Ammannsville
One thing I discovered about these polka church picnics is how difficult it is to find out about them if you're not plugged in to the community or know where to look.  I've found this true for most folk traditions; that's how you know it's real - you can't find it online!  I finally uncovered a series of flyers by attending St. Rose of Lima's picnic in Schulenburg, and later was told by Andy Behlen of the Schulenburg Sticker that most of the church flyers get printed at their newspaper.  I love their vintage design; I can already see an exhibit... Mark Halata told me he has an entire wall covered in them.  Maybe we'll convince him to lend us his wall to display somewhere... that would be fun.

There are some websites, however, that post notices of some of these picnics on a weekly
St. Rose of Lima, Schulenburg
basis, like, Texas Polka News, and Texas Heritage Music & Dance Club.  You can check out these sights for lots of Texas polka news in general.   

Unfortunately I won't be around for St. John's picnic on the 4th (I'll actually be at South Padre Island!  But that's close to home for me, so I have a good excuse) but I do plan on being at the following church picnics.  If anyone wants to join me and carpool from Austin let me know!

Happy 4th of July!

P.S.  some of these picnics are held entirely outside, so just be ready for the Texas heat... they do have plenty of cold drinks (beer) for sale so you won't dehydrate.