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Rock of Aged

A Frank look at the Polka Hall of Fame.

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The National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame is a tribute to the era when an accordion and a big, blousy shirt could make your album a bestseller. "Polka's popularity was a direct result of World War II," says Cecilia Dolgan, president of the Euclid hall. "After the war, people needed something to smile about, and polka did that."

Cleveland-style polka is a "less brassy" polka, based on Slovenian folk music, while the other major style --Chicago -- has "more hop to it" and traces its roots to Poland. "In the Cleveland style, the accordion leads," Dolgan explains. "Then there might be a clarinet, bass guitar, regular guitar, maybe a sax, banjo, and drums."

By the 1960s, polka's image as a wholesome diversion for Ma and Pa didn't help it cross into the era of teen rebellion. "If rock and roll hadn't come around, polka might still be popular," says Dolgan. But while the hip quotients of polka and rock may be worlds apart, in many ways the Polka Hall of Fame is just like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame -- only with more clarinets.

There are the requisite memorabilia behind glass, including signed Frankie Yankovic 78s and Father Frank Perkovich's Songs and Hymns From the Polka Mass sheet music. There are also the hall-of-fame member biographies, as well as salutes to nonmusicians who have contributed significantly to the genre. This Saturday, the hall will usher in its 2000 inductees, complete with a Record of the Year award and all-star jam.

If the grainy black-and-white shots of accordion-wielding father figures don't do enough to explain the demise of polka, the gift shop's stock has some answers. Nestled alongside the countless Cleveland-style polka recordings are "Born to Polka" bibs and pot holders, and arcane videos like "Mrs. T's Pierogies Presents Gene Fedorchak's Music Review '96" and "Polkaerobics."

"Polka's a high without drugs," Dolgan says, underscoring polka's 21st-century relevance. She pauses, then adds, "Well, maybe a couple of beers."

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