The Knights of Columbus parking lot was jammed with cars Sunday afternoon.
Inside, the dance floor was packed with happy dancing couples, whirling to upbeat polka tunes.
“We love polka,” said 71-year-old Annie Paracka, accompanied by Jerry Jackson of Little Falls.
She had to shout over the lively accordion music.
“We’ve been coming here for 10 years.”
Sunday was the annual Polka Benefit for Saratoga Bridges and it’s a pretty big deal.
“I was sitting in the bar in St. Michael’s Community Center in Cohoes 24 years ago,” said event organizer Steve Coblish, “and I thought, there’s nothing to do, we should have a dance — 297 people showed up and we’ve been doing it ever since.”
The event since moved to the Knights of Columbus building but is pretty much the same and pretty much as popular.
This year, the Polka Country Musicians played a high-energy polka set, performing renditions of such modern songs as country hit “Chicken Fry,” to the delight of the crowd.
“These guys are Juilliard-trained,” Coblish said. “People come from New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont. This is the who’s who of polka followers.”
He tried to explain why the polka event is so popular — it has a lot to do with religion. Nearing the end of Lent, he said, people start to feel restless, in need of some fun.
“Polka is just so happy,” he said. “I see people 80 or 90 years old come in and barely make it to their chair. The music starts and they’re up and dancing.”
Taking a look at the dance floor showed his words rang surprisingly true. There were perhaps a handful of people just under the age of 50. The rest were about Paracka’s age, just spinning like crazy, laughing like teenagers.
“I always said I was the polka pied piper,” Coblish laughed.
There is one downside to the age bracket as described by a somewhat depressed Edward Grzyb. In a room behind the stage, he manned a few folding tables spread with meticulously labeled polka CDs.
“The business isn’t what it used to be,” he said, shaking his head.
He used to travel all along the eastern seaboard from his home in Woburn, Mass., selling CDs at 20 polka events at casinos and community centers a year. Now Coblish’s fundraiser is one of about five he can count on.
“The people who organized the events, the people who bought the CDs,” he said, “They’re all dying off. It’s as simple as that.”
Sunday though, the dancers were very much alive, enjoying the music as much as any teen at a One Direction concert.