Polka galore at New Ulm's Bavarian Blast

·3 min read

Jul. 16—Asked what he likes about New Ulm's Bavarian Blast, Harold Lange has an obvious answer.

"I'm German."

Lange and his wife LaVonne have attended polka events in the region, including Polka Days held downtown decades ago.

"They had bands all over and they could drink beer in the streets back then," Harold said.

That long-running event was a victim of its own success, eventually becoming too big and unruly to continue.

The town long held Heritagefest, which brought in acts from Germany and Bavaria, until it closed down due to financial difficulties.

For the past 16 years, Bavarian Blast has taken place at the Brown County Fairgrounds. The event, which started Thursday, runs through Sunday.

The Langes were sitting in one of the buildings featuring music and listening to one of the area polka bands. "We used to polka dance, but can't now," LaVonne said.

"My joints are sore now," Harold said. "And I'm only 88."

At the nearby Big Tent, 2-year-old Louis Jensen was having no trouble dancing to the Concord Singers.

His mom, Whitney, said he loves polka.

"My mom and grandfather loved polka and my mom passed it on to my son. We have a dinnertime tradition, to listen to polka music and dance in the kitchen," she said.

Leon Olsen, head of the Leon Olsen Show, was getting a stage set up, waiting for his band's turn to perform.

"We've been to every one of these for 16 years."

He's been performing for 57 years and his show used to travel a lot when there were numerous small town and rural ballrooms.

"There are still some (ballrooms) around we play in," said Olsen, who plays concertina and guitar. But, he said, Bavarian Blast is a favorite venue.

"I feel privileged to play here."

Bavarian Blast Vice President Tom Furth said local and internet ticket sales have been good this year. The festival often draws up to 2,000 visitors a day, although numbers were down last year due to COVID.

Furth said in most years visitors come from several other states and across Minnesota, but he suspects the crowds this year will mostly be from the region.

"What you're seeing this year in the festival industry is people staying closer to home. Gas prices are horrible and people are making different decisions about where they're going to go."

Dodie Wendinger, treasurer of the group that puts on the festival, said they will likely see fewer people come on multiple days. "If they're coming down from the Cities, they might decide to just come once instead of driving down again."

Furth said the budget for the annual event is about $150,000. The group gets a big share of its funds by selling packs of 20, four-day ticket packages for half price to businesses.

"They're normally $50 for a four-day pass so businesses pay $500 for 20. Then they give them out to their employees or customers," Furth said. "That's our biggest funding source."

He said the board enjoys putting on the festival. "It's a labor of love and we try to put out a good product. We are a polka Mecca here. This is how we stay true to our roots."

While the local Concord Singers have long been a big draw at polka events, Mollie B is a polka star who, with the band SqueezeBox, performs on the RFD-TV show "Mollie B Polka Party."

She added to her fame in 2018 when she and SqueezeBox performed in the Clint Eastwood film "The Mule."

"She didn't know it but Clint was a big fan of hers," Furth said. "They called her and asked her if she wanted to be in the movie."

Bavarian Blast events Sunday kick off with a polka service at 10 a.m., with a parade at 12:30 p.m. and music throughout the day.

Tickets Sunday are $10.

For more information: bavarianblast.com