ENNIS — Get your tickets now – they’re sizzling hot.

The National Polka Festival’s Country Concert is bringing Ellis County native band Bart Crow along with singer/songwriter and Texas performing wunderkind Johnny Cooper to the stage Saturday, May 23.

It’s all part of the Memorial Day Weekend fun in Ennis, when thousands of music, food and dance enthusiasts come to savor the Czech flavor of Ennis in the 43rd annual National Polka Festival.  

Since introducing the Country Concert to the polka festival lineup seven years ago, the festival has had six sure-fire winners, organizer Danny Zapletal said.

“Six out of seven of them have been a real success. When you organize these, those are real good odds,” Zapletal said.

As the generation that started the National Polka Festival more than four decades ago begin to enjoy their golden years, it’s up to the next generation of polka to build bridges to their peers, Zapletal said.

“We discussed it long and hard before we started to do them,” he recalled.

 “If we didn’t get new people interested in the National Polka Festival, eventually it would go away. The Country Concert brings other people to the festival who might not normally have come to the festival – and hopefully they will be back for years to come.”

The talented Bart Crow Band is very popular among Ellis County audiences – Zapletal points to the fact that the Maypearl native filled the Waxahachie Civic Center for a New Year’s Eve celebration.

“We’re hoping to get the local communities to come out for Bart,” he said.

The National Polka Festival Country Concert provides fans a real opportunity to hear up-and-coming Texas singer-songwriter Johnny Cooper, whose meteoric career at the tender age of 20 has already place him opening for or playing with some legends of Texas music, ranging from Robert Earl Keen and Bruce Robison to Shooter Jennings, with more than 200 concert performances to his very accomplished name.

“They say this guy’s going to be the next superstar – I’ve heard it from Billy Bob’s and agents. Brother Van at KSCS said Johnny Cooper’s the best he’s ever heard,” Danny Zapletal said.

Popular KSCS announcer Brother Van will do a live remote from the Sokol Hall the evening of the Country Concert. Get advance tickets for $15 at Sports Connection in Ennis, otherwise they’re $20 at the door. Special deluxe packages available in advance only. (972) 875-9311

So far, efforts to bridge to the next generation seem to be working. The young as well as the young at heart enjoy the polka avant garde with Brave Combo, a group that puts its own post-modern polka twist on everything from Beatles and the Kinks to the Hokey Pokey.

The Ennis Czech Boys have stamped their brand on old Czech favorites like “Aja Sam” (“all by myself”), while the Czechaholics have a snapping cover of the Johnny Cash  classic, “Folsom Prison Blues.”

All the Texas polka royals – groups like Harry Czarnek & The Texas Dutchmen, the Dujka Bros., Fritz Hodde & the Fabulous Six, Jak Se Do, The Harvesters, the Jodie Mikula Orchestra, the Lazy Farmers Band,  and the Praha Bros. and Zapletal’s own Czech And Then Some – have elements to them that appeal to the country crowd. A bass guitar, drums, a take on familiar country tunes.

Polka Dot the Chicken visits the halls, drawing a circle of kids eager to do the Chicken Dance with the National Polka Festival’s official mascot. And Sundays, with Johnny Krajca’s live show, the Polka Mass, and the relaxed wrap-up concerts, are proving popular with young adults and families, Zapletal said.

This year’s National Polka Festival brings back favorites – although the Vrazels have retired, to the dismay of their longtime fans – but there’s some new interest as well. The Mark Jirikovec Orchestra is bringing an entire stage-filling busload of talent down from Wisconsin.

And as always, three halls, something going on all the time – and home-made Czech food too irresistible to pass up.

“We’re all excited – I think the halls will be happy with the crowds they get,” Zapletal said.

For the complete National Polka Festival scoop, check out the Ennis Journal, Official Publication of the National Polka Festival, and visit www.nationalpolkafestival.com.

E-mail J.Louise at jlouise.larson@wninews.com