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Polka great Chmielewski brings family fun to Carlton

Longtime polka musician Florian Chmielewski. Photo by funtimeband.com

The first year Sturgeon Lake native Florian Chmielewski held his international polka festival, they had skydiving musicians land at the Pine City fairgrounds — a tuba player, an accordion player and a drummer — and bands from Norway, Canada, Germany and the U.S.

That was 36 years ago. The Chmielewski Funtime Band is still going strong, as is the Chmielewski International Polka Fest. Its founder, Florian, is in his 69th year of performing and his 87th year of life.

Maybe it’s the happy sounds of polka that have kept the former state senator and longtime farmer in such vibrant health.

“It’s fun, and it’s affordable,” said Chmielewski, who plays in excess of 100 gigs a year — solo, or with longtime friend and fellow musician Lorren Lindevig, or with the whole Chmielewski Funtime Band. “There’s no music festival that’s more reasonable in price either, $12 a day or $30 for a three-day ticket.”

Fun is what it’s all about, he said. Good times. Socializing. Dancing. Tapping your feet. Maybe a beer or two, if you’re so inclined. Bring the wife, the husband, the kids.

“Polka is happy music,” Chmielewski said. “There’s no sadness in it. … It is the total sum of all the happy contributing ingredients from many countries.”

While the polka festival — which starts Friday and continues through next weekend — is an annual tradition for many, Chmielewski wants to make sure all Northland residents know what fun they could be having at the festival, which is in its third year at the Black Bear Casino Resort.

“Why go? You’ll meet people you’d never have realized would come to Carlton County for a polka festival,” Chmielewski said.

“You can dance or visit from 11 a.m. to

10 p.m. There’s great food, too.”

Headlining this year’s festival is Squeeze Box with Ted Lange and Mollie B., a husband and wife who, along with their one bandmate, can play just about any instrument under the sun.

“Violin, trumpet, piano, … you name it,” Chmielewski said.

Ted Lange and Mollie Busta appear regularly on RFD-TV, available via cable or satellite.

Other featured bands include the following:

  • Hank Thunander from St. Paul
  • Margie Ford and her Alaska Polka Chips of Anchorage, Alaska
  • Jim Busta Band with Karl Hartwich from Onalaska, Wis.
  • Leon Olson from New Ulm, Minn.
  • Jeff Walker and Frank Baroka from Butternut, Wis.
  • Scott Koehn and the Polka Spotlight Band of Merrill, Wis.
  • Dr. Kielbasa from Minneapolis
  • Singing Slovenes, “a colorful band” out of Duluth which features nearly 20 people
  • And of course, the Chmielewski Funtime Band, featuring Florian, his daughter Patty, grandchildren Nick and Lexi, Dennis O’Brien and Lorren Lindevig.

There also will be an International Polka and Waltz Dance Contest on Saturday afternoon, with prizes for first, second and third place in each dance style.

Learning how to polka is simple, Chmielewski said.

He explained how polka started in the 1800s, when a little Bohemian girl was watching some soldiers marching in a parade. Every once in a while, a soldier would fall behind a little bit and he’d have to do a “quick step” to catch up.

“That’s polka,” Chmielewski exclaimed. “You just do the half step. You can come out there and say ‘I’ve never seen that before,’ and in five minutes, you’ll be dancing.”

If You Go

The Chmielewski International Polka Fest will take place June 6-8 at Black Bear Casino and Resort in Carlton. Tickets are $12 a day or $30 for all three days. Visit www.funtimeband.com or call (218) 372-3616 for updates and more information.

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