IPA is Virtually Flawless in Labor Day Presentation
By Larry Trojak
Polish American Journal October 2020
Suppose they gave a polka festival and nobody came.
That rhetorical situation became reality over the Labor Day weekend as the International Polka Association (IPA), forced, like most of the polka world, to cancel their annual convention and awards banquet, tried their hand at a virtual festival. Broadcast via Facebook, YouTube and the Polka Jammer Network, the weekend-long venture turned what could have been an exercise in futility into a fun, informative and truly enjoyable event.
At this point in our “new” existence, there is no one who isn’t frustrated at the situation in which we find ourselves vis a vis COVID 19. So, it was refreshing to see the IPA, which could have just chosen to throw up their hands and focus on next year’s event, instead take this bowl of 2020 lemons and deal up a sweet-tasting lemonade.
Perhaps sensing the degree to which we are all live-music-deprived, the virtual fest offered in-studio performances courtesy of Tony Blazonczyk’s New Phase, The Steve Meisner Band, The IPA Tribute Band, and The DynaBrass. That, however, proved to be just a jumping-off point. The organization peppered the weekend with additional video clips of performances from other groups, many of which were originally scheduled for the actual festival; interviews with past and present IPA Hall of Famers; game shows; a tour of the IPA Hall of Fame; faux news broadcasts; and more. Full disclosure: I am not one to sit at a laptop, TV, or tablet for any length of time without said device showing The Princess Bride or Parks and Rec reruns. Yet I found myself doing just that and being continually impressed with the amount of effort put into both the visuals and the content. Expecting a bare-bones presentation, I was pleasantly surprised by the slick transition graphics; the tacky — but spot-on — “news” set (loved the half-dozen pairs of glasses scattered about); even the stacked pallets that provided a nice, industrial look for the live band performances.
Every quality program needs a solid emcee and the IPA had two at their disposal for its virtual festival. Minnesota’s quintessential DJ/IJ/musician Craig Ebel did most of the heavy lifting, handling band intros, chat room announcements, promotions, small talk, etc., and did a great job, appearing casual yet professional. For the game show segments (“Name that Polka” and a Jeopardy-like “Polka Trivia”) that provided a nice break from standard polka festival fare, the IPA went to the bullpen for Chicago’s Keith Stras. Channeling the vibe of ‘70s TV hosts Chuck Woolery, Bob Ewbanks, Gene Rayburn and the like, Stras, obviously in his comfort zone, kept the segments interesting, funny and flowing.
Were there glitches? Of course, there were. This was, after all, a first-ever attempt at such a massive undertaking. So, it was easy to overlook things like the occasional dead microphone or the horrible lighting during the first night’s live performances that looked, at times, like either a bad acid flashback or the performers were suffering from third-degree burns. It was all resolved by the second night, however, and no one was the worse for wear.
After watching the three-day affair, it became evident that one of the real advantages an event like this offers over even an actual polka festival is its ability to communicate one-on-one with its audience. And when the message being offered is Polka Hall of Famers (both newly-inducted and Hall veterans) imparting their career highlights, likes, anecdotes and recollections via video, this particular medium was ideal. For young, aspiring musicians in particular, the video presentations were an invaluable opportunity to gain firsthand knowledge and advice from those who have risen to the top in their respective fields. Chances are slim that such an opportunity would present itself in a hall crowded with 500+ polka fans. So, if there was anything of a silver lining to this COVID-driven approach, perhaps it was in its ability to enrich the knowledge of those upcoming musicians. In a sense, it was a real fulfillment of one of the organization’s charters: To promote, maintain and advance polka entertainment; and to advance the mutual interest and encourage greater cooperation among its members who are engaged in polka entertainment. To that, I say: “Mission Accomplished.”
And there were shots! Seemingly everywhere the camera turned during the three-day event, people were toasting. If there was a drinking game for every time someone on screen took a shot, I’d still be comatose. But it was fun and, given the forced separation to which we have been subjected, it was more than appropriate.
It is hoped that this is the last time something like this will be necessary and exciting to believe that we may soon be experiencing a return to normalcy. But It’s nice to know that, should bubonic plague or leprosy ever rear their ugly heads again, we will not be lacking for good polka programming. Kudos to Christy Krawisz and her entire “Plan B” team at the IPA for giving us a fleeting feeling of being together again.
I’d say that deserves a shot!
Editor’s note: Readers who missed the fest (or would like to re-visit any or all of it) can simply go to YouTube and enter “IPA Virtual Festival 2020” in the search bar. The full weekend’s shows are available.