And Now for Something Completely Different

By Gary E. McKee

Joe Klaus, Mike Campasso and John Merz are Off the Grid.

Joe Klaus, Mike Campasso and John Merz are Off the Grid.

This writer was introduced to the idea of the Off The Grid Band at Sengelmann Hall, after a rousing performance by the Czech Melody Masters. The band was packing up and people were slowly exiting. Weaving its way through the conversations, scraping chairs and latching instrument cases, the strains of an accordion playing the Rolling Stones 1966 song Paint It Black as a polka caused several of us folks of a certain age to give a questionable look at each other. Were we really hearing the Stones on accordion after Texas Czech polkas and waltzes? I tracked the sound to where the now former CMM accordionist was just finishing playing. In the ensuing conversation, I learned that he, Joe Klaus, played such tunes in a group called Off the Grid Band (OTGB).

OTGB are a trio based in the Austin, San Antonio, New Braunfels area. The members are now “Otto” Joe Klaus, “Hans” Mike Campasso and “Wolfgang” John Merz. OTGB formed in 2011 with a great guitar player and had been gigging around the area playing classic country. The guitarist was injured in a car accident, so Joe and Mike began the search for a replacement. After several false starts, John Merz auditioned and it was an instant match. It was decided that they should quit banging their heads on the wall competing with dozens of bands playing the same songs. You know, do something off the grid. So they began working the kinks out of the polka, country and rock and roll songs they knew.

In 2012, utilizing their old contacts, they began getting gigs billing themselves as a FUN, entertaining band. Over the next year, this developed into weekly gigs at restaurants in New Braunfels, South Austin and San Antonio. Last year was a hectic year as their popularity grew. An example - on the last weekend of October, they played three gigs on Friday, two on Saturday and finished on Sunday at their weekly polka party at the Bier Garten in San Antonio. The highlight of their season happened in November when they were asked to play in the beer tent on race day at the Circuit of the Americas Formula One Grand Prix. The total performance count for October: 21.

A person might wonder if they got tired setting up and tearing down all their equipment. They have a couple of secret weapons besides John’s guitar. Joe plays a Roland electronic accordion, which enables him to play, among many melodies, a bass line and the accordion keyboard at the same time. Mike keeps the rhythm on an instrument known as a Zendrum, an electronic drum set mounted on a guitar body, or as Joe refers to it as “drums on a stick.” So three guys with three instruments are able to perform thousands of different style songs easily and economically.

A typical set of FUN music, might include polka versions of songs by Dire Straits, Rolling Stones, and the Mysterians,  a little of “normal” Bob Wills ala Faded Love thrown in, followed by German Beer Hall songs, the Mavericks, and Adolf Hofner covers, and, yes, they play A Já Sám. This wide array of music appeals to many audiences fueling their success.

The band’s motto: “May the Oktoberfest road go on forever and the Polka Party never end.” (Borrowing from the Robert Earl Keen song.) And every time they play its Oktoberfest!

For more information on this versatile FUN band, you can find them on Facebook or contact Joe at 512-560-0440. Did the writer mention that they are a FUN band?