MRAGOWO, Poland — Although some Communist officials criticize it as "Ronald Reagan music," more than 15,000 Polish good ole' boys and girls braved rainy skies one weekend last month to swing to Nashville-style music at a rollicking country piknik .
The three-day music festival at this lakeside resort featured American and Polish country-western music performers. With all the cowboy hats and checkered shirts, it wasn't so easy to tell them apart.
"All roads lead to Nashville," declared the show's impresario, Korneliusz Pacuda.
Though he would love to make the trip someday, Pacuda has never been to the home of the Grand Ole Opry. But that hasn't stopped the Polish radio deejay from putting together the foot-stompingest tribute to American country sounds this side of the Vistula.
Tickets were sold out three months in advance, even before the program was announced, a tribute to the music's burgeoning popularity in a land where lyrics like "don't fence me in" and "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose" can take on various meanings.
The music is popular in this country that gave birth to the first trade union movement in the Soviet Bloc, "first of all because it is American, and people like America," Pacuda said. "It really is the music of the road and freedom, made by common people for common people."
The audience, which appeared to be mostly working-class and between the ages of 13 and 35, cheered lustily throughout the performances. Many left their seats to dance in the aisles or on boat decks and a dock directly behind the stage.
"Fantastic, amazing. We love country music," gasped one pair of 15-year-old girls, barely able to stand still long enough to be interviewed.
"It was quite different from anything we'd heard before," said Pawel Obrebski, a technician, describing how he became an enthusiast after attending a country music concert two years ago.
His date, Margorzata Retkowska, said it was "music for simple folk and it cuts across generations." Even her parents listen to it, she said, although most of the couple's friends still prefer rock 'n' roll.
Pacuda said that only about 10 groups in Poland perform country music either professionally or semi-professionally, in part because amateurs have to pass a written test and audition before a government panel before being licensed to perform for money.
The examiners are usually jazz musicians who "just don't understand country music," he said.
Poland's premier country performer, Michael (Lonstar) Luszczynski, said that country singers have had to struggle for official recognition.
"Too many people are convinced that this is Ronald Reagan music," Luszczynski said. "We are trying to persuade them otherwise. It is music for the people, for the worker, the miner, the farmer."
Pacuda and Luszczynski said that authorities have raised objections to Polish country singers recording songs with English lyrics.
Positive Side Effect
But Luszczynski said the prohibition has had a positive side effect, forcing Polish musicians to write country songs in their own language. Given the controversial nature of some of the resulting verses, he said, officials probably would prefer they were in English.
But the music's growing respectability in Poland is reflected by the fact that there are now three regularly scheduled country radio programs and that country artists were invited to sing at festivities marking Poland's National Day July 22.
The Country Music Assn. of Poland's "Piknik Country" festival at Mragowo, in the Mazurian Lakes of northeastern Poland, is now in its fifth year.