For four days in Boyne Falls, everyone within spitting distance of downtown is Polish. And for 40 years, the Boyne Falls Polish Festival has been the place to be for pierogis, polkas, and parades.
The 19th century lumber boom lured thousands of Polish Americans to Northern Michigan, giving the region an injection of Eastern European culture.
While most left for the factories of Detroit and Grand Rapids after the lumber was gone, the ones who stayed influenced the area’s farming culture.
Boyne Falls was no exception. To celebrate its vibrant heritage, the town bustles with activity: Polish dances and beautifully embroidered Polish folk costumes are the norm.
“The fest was started by a few local members to bring the community together, then it grew from there,” said festival co-chair Sandra Erber. “The aim was to provide good Polish music, and to help the local schools and businesses to benefit from the event.”
Erber, who’s spent 15 years on the festival committee and has been co-chair for the past few years, keeps busy managing the event’s funds and organizing the many events that keep this weekend packed with plenty to do from start to end.
CARNIVALS AND COMBINES
The fun actually starts on Thursday, when the hub of the festival – the Polka Tent – opens for business, starting with Thursday’s popular Oldies Night, featuring live music from the Fabulous Oldies But Goodies band.
On Friday, music starts rollicking as early as noon and the carnival rides go until 10pm this year.
Friday also includes the Old-Time Threshing and Steam Engine Show, horse pull, and the favorite local pastime of classic Bingo. Live music from Rick Vinecki Boxon, the Pan Franek Zosia Polka Towners, and T-N-T will go on all day.
“The music is the main attraction,” Erber said. “People really enjoy the polka music, and it’s not available that often.”
By Saturday, the Polish Fest is in full swing, with Polish food prepared from Old World recipes and carnival rides.
The Grand Royale Parade kicks off the festivities at 11am after the 5K cross country run concludes.
A chainsaw wood carving exhibition, classic tractor pull, and music from Roger Majeski’s Harmony Kings, the Cynor Classic Polka Band, and the New Generation Band are all on deck.
To celebrate the fest’s 40th year, festival organizers have invited back all of their past Festival Royalty.
“We really want to showcase them,” Erber said.
By Sunday, the fest will wind down by 10pm, but there’s still plenty to do and see, including the horseshoe pitching tournament, the four-wheel drive mud run, and always more polka dancing.
Erber said this year is sure to have even more memorable moments, with the special honoring of decades of Polish Festival Royalty.
“I am looking forward to enjoying the Polish music and seeing the car show,” she said, “but most of all to bringing back people from the community.”
The Boyne Falls Polish Festival will take place July 31-Aug. 3 this year. For a complete schedule and more, visit boynefallspolishfestival.com.