Paint The Town Polish
Dyngus Day, A Polish Celebration, Takes Over Cleveland's West Side With Pierogi, Paczki and Polka
By Lexi Hotchkiss
If some guy wearing a fake beard and spinning polka records--all while playing the accordion--tells you to celebrate a Polish holiday called Dyngus Day, we recommend you heed his advice. After all, that guy is the one and only DJ Kishka.
DJ Kishka, aka Justin Gorski, is practically a mainstay here in Cleveland. He's the local artist and businessman who's known for his quirky, fun and uniquely Cleveland shows featured at Cleveland Kurentovanje, Sausagefest, Paczki Day, area Oktoberfests and other festivities. The shows, which will leave you breathless from the nonstop dancing combined with constant laughter, often draw hundreds of fans ranging from Polish grannies to mustached hipsters. And, yes, they're all busting out their best polka dance moves.
Dyngus Day is the name for Easter Monday (in 2017 it's April 17). Historically a Polish tradition, Dyngus Day celebrates the end of the observance of Lent, the joy of Easter and the beginning of spring. How do they do it? With tons of Polish food, polka music and, of course, beer.
After learning more about Dyngus Day, Gorski and several Detroit-Shoreway Neighborhood businesses said, "This has to happen in Cleveland." After all, Cleveland's got heavy Eastern European roots, as well as a rather impressive devotion to polka music.
Cleveland's first Dyngus Day back in 2010 was initially a culmination of smaller events at a handful of bars within one neighborhood.
"But, when we started Dyngus Day in Cleveland, we knew we needed to have some sort of event or focal point," Gorski said. "We wanted it to be about more than just showing up, drinking beer and eating a kielbasa sandwich."
So, the organizers also put on an evening parade that consists of a Dyngus Day float, a large swath of accordionists playing together, Polish dance groups and other organizations.
Slowly, but surely, the concept took off in Cleveland. Every year attendance has shot up. In fact, this year, the event is expected to draw 30,000 people between 10 a.m. - 2 a.m.
One of the event's most popular activities? The Miss Dyngus Day Pageant.
Young women (and men, too!) are welcome to apply for Miss Dyngus Day online. Then, DJ Kishka narrows the group down to six or seven final contestants who go through a battery of tests on Dyngus Day.
"In previous years, there's been a pierogi-making contest. But typically, we'll have them fill in a polka song lyric, perform a special talent, test their Polish history and, of course, there's the polka dance off," Gorski explained. "These herculean feats will help us choose the next Miss Dyngus Day."
So, what exactly does Miss Dyngus Day receive as recognition? A scholarship? A modeling contract? Gifts from the official sponsors?
"Once she's crowned, she gets to place the ceremonial pierogi on top of the Dyngus Day float. Then, she sits on a thrown and gets serenaded through the streets of Cleveland to a ménage of accordions."
(We couldn't make this stuff up if we tried.)
This year, the festival's footprint has greatly expanded so that Detroit Ave. between W. 57th and W. 59th streets will be shutdown and fully devoted to Dyngus Day antics.
It's there that you can nosh on some serious pierogi from The Pierogi Lady and Cleveland Vegan; chow down on Polish sausage sandwiches; and get your sugar fix with the world-famous paczki from Rudy's Strudel & Bakery.
Then, be one with your inner Clevelander by kicking back a few Tyskie beers, listening to polka bands (starting at 10 a.m.), watching the Miss Dyngus Day Pageant (4:30 p.m.), partaking in the parade (6 p.m.) and seeing a tribute to the late Clevelander known as "America's Polka King" Frankie Yankovich. And, later in the night, you can head over to the Capitol Theatre to watch the premier of the "Kishka Show," Gorski's new YouTube-based video series.
The event also includes dozens and dozens of bars throughout several neighborhoods including Detroit-Shoreway, Ohio City and Tremont. Thankfully, Dyngus Day organizers have hired Lolly the Trolley buses to transport festivalgoers between all neighborhoods free of charge.
To learn more about the event and to view a schedule, visit ClevelandDyngus.com.