Westfest to celebrate Czech culture

By Hayley Gibson

Westfest plans to attract thousands this weekend as polka and kolache fans from throughout Texas make their way to the annual Czech festival in West.

The Labor Day weekend three-day festival will return for its 37th year, entertaining fans with food, dancing, parades, art and a 5-kilometer run, all celebrating the large Czech community in Central Texas.

The festival will be held Saturday and Sunday with a special Friday night preview party.

“We are able to promote and show people what the Czech culture is all about and what they have become,” said John Shuntick, president of the festival’s board of directors.

Organizers of the event expect the largest attraction to be the polka dancing, based on its popularity in past years.

There will be three tents with polka music and dancers in traditional costume, and even an opportunity for the public to learn how to polka dance.

Norwegian, Mexican, Scandinavian, Dutch and others will accompany the popular Czech dancing and costumes.

Many popular polka bands such as the Czechoholics will play at Westfest, in addition to festival regulars Brave Combo.

Shuntick anticipates a younger crowd will enjoy the Friday night preview party, which features country music and the crowning of Miss Westfest. Country music star Wade Bowen will headline the event. The preview party begins at 5:30 p.m., and music begins at 8:30 p.m.

Robert Mors, vice president of the board of directors, said he hopes people from all over Texas will make their way to Westfest and see the culture that West proudly retains.

Mors said many of the Czechs in West still speak the Czech language and polka dance, all ways of holding onto their heritage.

In addition to providing a time to showcase Czech culture, Westfest is also a time to give back to the West community.

“A lot of the money goes back to scholarships and things in the community, like the library or a Little League team,” Mors said.

Other attractions will include a Saturday parade at 10 a.m., Kolache 5K run, helicopter rides, carnival, karaoke on Saturday and Sunday nights after the music performances, Polka Mass on Sunday morning in the Cultural Amphitheater, kolache baking contest and countless arts and crafts vendors.

Despite the excitement of the attractions, the organizers of Westfest remember the true reason they are putting on the festival.

“It’s all about the different cultures of the different ethnic groups here. It’s keeping the roots of the Czech people,” Shuntick said.

Admission is $8 each day and $3 per car to park. Gates open at 11 a.m. and close at 12:30 a.m.

For more information on the festival, or to view a schedule of events, visit www.westfest.com.