TRAVERSE CITY — Roger Mikowski averages three or four hours of sleep a night during the Cedar Polka Fest.
“I’m lucky to get five hours,” said Mikowski, who operates Mikowski’s Food Booth with his wife, Shelly, at the popular Leelanau County festival.
The 34th annual festival is set for July 4-7 under the tent on the tennis courts in downtown Cedar. It features music, dancing, a parade, a softball tournament, a flag-raising ceremony, a mass with polka music and, of course, Polish food.
“I have people come up specifically for the food, from Lake City, Manistee, Grand Rapids, Hamtramck,” said Mikowski, who goes through over 1,000 pounds of Shelly’s homemade sauerkraut and 4,000 pounds of homemade Polish sausage and other meat during the four-day festival. “On busy weekends it’s just chaos. Some people just like to watch us serve.”
Dancing takes place on a big wooden dance floor, from late afternoon or early evening into the wee hours of the morning. Older couples in colorful polka costumes, teens in jeans, and even tiny tots twirl to the lively polkas, waltzes and national music of polka bands from across the Midwest. The later the hour, the more crowded the dance floor.
“If you come in after 8 p.m. on the weekend, you can’t even walk through,” Mikowski said.
This year’s bands include Pan Franek & Zosia from Muskegon and Ray Watkowski Family Band from Grand Rapids, along with Cynor Classic Polka Band from Sheldon, Wis.; Craig Ebel & DyVersaCo from Minneapolis; Jimmy K’s Polka Band from Strongsville, Ohio; and Frank Moravcik Band from Cleveland.
Festival attendance is a family tradition for many in the area, including summer visitors Marion and Yvonne Jurewicz of Sterling Heights. The couple took in the festival a few years ago while visiting Yvonne’s brother in Lake Leelanau and hope to do the same this year.
Jurewicz is a member of the Polish-American Century Club in Sterling Heights, which puts on the much bigger American-Polish Festival and Craft Show there, a few miles from the Polish enclave of Hamtramck. He said the Cedar Polka Fest is “small, but enjoyable” and gives attendees a good feel for Polish culture.
“The food was good, the music. It had a nice, small-town atmosphere. It gave a lot of exposure to people who moved to the (Cedar) area and their connection to Polish heritage,” Jurewicz said.
The festival also is a family affair for Mikowski, whose daughter, Jennifer, and her husband, Donald, come up from the Atlanta area every year with their children to help run the food booth. On busy weekends, when bus tours often make stops, a crew of eight or more is needed to keep up with the demand for sauerkraut-topped sandwiches such as the Polish Reuben and the Super Polish, sides like “golabki” (cabbage rolls) and “pierogies” (dumplings), and desserts including cherry jam-filled “paczki” (pastries).
A sample platter of favorite dishes heaped high in a three-compartment foam container sells for $9.50, said Mikowski, who will serve up about 1,800 of the dinners over a typical weekend.
Admission to the Polka Fest is $5 on Thursday and Sunday and $10 on Friday and Saturday, or $20 for a three-day pass. Kids 13 through 20 get in for half price if accompanied by a parent, and kids 12 and under get in free.
For more information, visit www.cedarpolkafest.com.