Polkafest - May 29-31, 2015

History of Polkafest

The Friendly City PolkaFest began in 1998 when "Polish Bill" and Deb Marano pursued a dream of creating a Polka Festival in Johnstown, a mid-sized metropolitan area located in Cambria County in west central Pennsylvania. The Maranos, both polka veterans, knew Johnstown's strong ethnic heritage would provide a perfect welcome mat for the event.

"Polish Bill" approached the Johnstown Business District Coalition (JBDC), and with their promotional efforts and financial backing the group helped launch a successful event. The JBDC again sponsored the event in 1999 and marketed the event via direct mail and print advertising. In 1999, PolkaFest attracted more than 1,500 participants.

In the fall of 1999, the Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), the county's tourism promotion agency, assumed coordination and promotional responsibilities of the event. Polish Bill remained chairman of the event. Today PolkaFest attracts more than 3,000 participants.

"We believe this event has tremendous potential for even further growth," said Lisa Rager, executive director of the Convention & Visitors Bureau. "By putting the promotional power of our organization behind PolkaFest we believe we can continue to develop a high-quality event that will draw Polka enthusiasts from near and far and bring more tourism dollars to our area."

The CVB and the Maranos continue to develop the event by creating themed events, expanding the festival atmosphere and bringing in popular local and nationally known performers.As the PolkaFest grows, visitors will continue to see the area's ethnic heritage further showcased with the development of attractions such as the Johnstown Heritage Discovery Center. The Center, which opened in March of 2001, chronicles the hardships and accomplishments of European immigrants who settled in Johnstown between 1870 and 1910. These immigrants ultimately supplied the labor force for the new economy of the region and contributed to the Industrial Revolution.

The annual Johnstown FolkFest also highlights the area's ethnicity with traditional music and ethnic food. The event is held in the same working-class historical city neighborhood that now houses the Discovery Center.

For more information on the events, attractions and recreation in the Johnstown region, please call the CVB at (800) 237-8590 or visit our Things to See and Do page.

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