Czeching out the National Polka Festival

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Man! Man in tights!
Maybe everyone who attended the National Polka Festival over the weekend in Ennis is too hungover from copious amounts of kolache and Czechvar to hop straight on the Craigslist to post their missed connections. Maybe that's why there's only this one lonely missed polka connection, which is a joke anyway. Maybe it also has to do with the fact that most everyone who attended the National Polka Festival is over 60 and long, long married. Which doesn't make the three-day Czechstravaganza any less awesome. If anything, hordes of polka'ing seniors gives one hope for a future of silver-haired bliss.

We started the day off at a searing-hot kolache-eating contest in the Ennis town square (more on that from Patrick, he of the eating contest expertise, here, and do avail yourself of the slide show) ducking occasionally into the sardine-packed air-conditioned heaven that is the Bank of America ATM vestibule and, later, popping into the equally icily aired Dollar General across the street to buy Krazy Straws and an American flag-printed munchie platter (one is obligated to pay homage to 'Murka even as one celebrates Texas's rich Czecheritage, after all).

The real polka festivating happens not in the town square, however, but at Ennis's three Czech fraternal halls. There's the SOKOL, wherein fans of Eastern European ephemera can stare at gymnastics posters until they bust out of their leotards with delight, the Knights of Columbus hall, wherein kids sidle up to the bar and order cans of Big Red like they might be scotches on the rocks, and the KJT, wherein wooden arches, Christmas lights and the faint smell of cigarettes and sausage engenders an aire of timeless polka romance.

But at all the halls, there is that little thing to do with the chicken dance. Wait--what's that you say? You don't want to be a chicken? Your ducky desires are few? Your main concerns center around the freedom to shake your butt?

You're in luck at the National Polka Festival.

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Giant, giant beer. Since 1004!
At every stop, the chicken dance was dunced, and it was glorious, culminating with a Saturday-night Brave Combo set at the KJT. And, indeed, the chicken dance is all well and good, but nothing in comparison to finding a seat at one of the hall bars (where you can smoke inside! in front of the children who roam free within!) and shooting the shit with polka enthusiasts (both costumed and plainclothes) who spend all year looking forward to the fest.

Our bartender at the Knights of Columbus (KofC) hall was a former military guy named Brian, who expressed dismay at running out of "pinot de grigio" and loaded us up with Czechvar and Zatec before asking us if we'd ever heard of a Royal Fuck and did we want one on the house. True fact: The chicken dance is far more satisfying when you can't feel anything below your nipples.

But when an aged woman in Czech costume (kroje) with giant stuffed sleeves took a stool next to us, we knew we were in for an even better treat than free fruity shots. We were in for a conversation with Rosie Steinman, an official Czech ambassador who, when asked what she stuffed her sleeves with, answered: muscles. White-haired lady: 1, serious journalist: 0.

Rosie ordered a Dr Pepper and a candy bar and told us of her responsibilities: teaching Polka Fest attendees about Czech heritage, looking awesome in her kroje (sadly, she had to add a panel to the middle bit, over the years, alas) and tour-leading the group of actual Czech folk who come down to polka. She's fluent in the language, has nine kids and occasionally joins Brave Combo on stage for traditional tunes. Rosie is a Tex-Czech rock star.

Our suggestion: don't wait until next May's Polka Fest to meet Rosie and her world of polka enthusiasts. She'll be at West Fest for Labor Day Weekend -- should give you plenty of time to get your kroje in order.

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