By Theresa Cernoch Parker
Featured in the October 2017 issue of Texas Polka News
Some musicians are born with instruments in their hands, others choose an instrument with the guidance of a school band director, and then there are careers launched by random moments of
fate. “I was seven years old when my mom got a marketing call from the University School of Music [the famed accordion studio in Houston, home of the Palmer/Hughes Accordion Symphony, and owned by Willard Palmer protégé, Lynlee Barry],” Terry Cavanagh recalls. “All
my mom had to do was name three U.S. presidents to win a month of accordion lessons and the free use of an accordion.” She aced it and little Terry was on his way to accordion stardom.
The music school not only taught how to play the accordion, it helped students hone their skills in the art of performance. “They were always big on contests and lots of performances at places like Sharpstown Mall. It was great fun,” Terry said.
ANOTHER MAGIC MOMENT
By the time Terry was playing gigs at Bavarian Gardens in the Heights and Astroworld, he was having a blast with his music. And once again, one of those random moments of fate happened.
“Friend and band leader at the Bavarian Gardens, Kevin Hatcher, was invited to play at Disney’s Epcot Center in Orlando with yodel master, Kerry Christiansen. Kevin and Kerry’s accordionist friend, Herschel Moody, invited me to come out and visit,” Terry said. While there, Terry was asked to audition to work with Kevin and Kerry at Epcot’s German Pavilion. He borrowed Herschel’s accordion and got the job.
At age 31, Terry would have a steady gig at Epcot for five years. He described this chapter in his career as idyllic. “It was fun and lucrative,” he said. “The pay was good, and regular. It’s not that easy for musicians to get steady pay, sick pay, paid vacation, retirement benefits, work in a
beautiful place with strong audiences, and have a smiling seamstress at your service,” Terry said.
“My musical awareness and sensibilities went way up from working with the great musicians at Epcot. I learned an incredible amount from them. Plus, I made friends with people from all over Europe. I always loved the Disney magic; riding my favorite rides at night in the Magic Kingdom FOR FREE never ceased to be a genuine thrill.” Terry laughed, “Sometimes I could kick myself for not staying at Epcot.”
Texans and Oktoberfests across the country are glad he didn’t, though.
ABOARD THE ALPINE EXPRESS
Terry brought his Florida experience back to Texas. “In addition to the great American talent at Disney World, Epcot center and other Florida venues featured zelt (tent) bands from Austria and
Germany. I would see how the Europeans performed, and what the style was like for authentic German music,” he said. That inspired him to form his own band – Alpine Express. “I wanted to
create a band that covered all the bases important for an Oktoberfest – family entertainment, plus more edgy material for late night crowds wanting to dance and party,” Terry said.
Performing with the accordion, keyboards, Alphorn, tuned cowbells, and other traditional folk instruments, Alpine Express has been captivating audiences around the world for over two
decades. "This band is all about pure, unadulterated, fun,” Terry said. “People forget their troubles for an evening, let go, and get caught up in the spirit of good fellowship, music, and ridiculous fun."
“They do it all! Their comedy, audience interaction, and great listening and dance music make them an excellent full entertainment choice,” said Jay Foster, Director, Redstone Arsenal Oktoberfest in Hunstville, Alabama. Terry and his band made their 17th appearance at the 22nd
annual event in September.
The current band consists of Bill King (clarinet, sax), Jason Jones (trumpet, baritone, Alphorn), Miekki Canales (drums, Hölzerne G’lachter - xylophone ), and Jimmy Shortell (trumpet, keyboard).
FRANZIE IS HATCHED
Always looking for ways to enhance the Oktoberfest experience, Terry hatched an idea in 1994 to really get the crowd going during that festival rite of passage – the chicken dance. Meet Franzie, a 6-ft yellow rooster who loves to dance and have his photo taken. Terry found the costume and had a costume manufacturer add the lederhosen. The name Franzie goes back to Disney days. “I worked with Gary Trumet [now with the Austin-based band, Yodelblitz] when he was the night
show leader at Epcot’s German Pavilion. His stage name was Franzie. I chose to immortalize him through Franzie the Chicken,” Terry chuckled. BTW, Terry’s stage name was Ziggy. “You can see that I love Zs,” Terry explained.
Many have worn the costume. One of the best, according to Terry, was Benjamin Wagoner, a dance major at the local St. Charles, Missouri university, who jumped into the costume for engagements at St. Charles Oktoberfest (held this year Sept. 22-24). “Benjamin had great skills
and a tremendous work ethic,” Terry said. “He would completely throw himself into the chicken dance with extras you couldn't believe, like moonwalking and disco moves. He had my musicians
cracking up all night long.”
IT'S LIKE LIFE
Back home in New Braunfels, Terry recruited one of his accordion students, 15-year-old Isaak Wolfshohl, to be Franzie at Wurstfest last year. “It was the first night of Wurstfest and Terry walked up to me and asked if I wanted to be part of the show. Of course I said yes,” Isaak recalled. He followed Terry back to the dressing area where Terry handed him the costume
and said, “Great, put this on.”
Isaak had a great time and will reprise the role of Franzie at Wurstfest again this year. “I enjoy making people laugh and seeing them happy. They love seeing the giant chicken walking around.
Kids just run up to you and hug you. It’s a lot of fun.”
It was another learning experience for Isaak, the kind of lesson that helps him take the next step from musician to performer. “Isaak has the burn to learn and to perform music, which is what I
look for when coaching students,” Terry said.
“A lot of that coaching is not only about skills and attitudes important for mastering music but also for building a successful life. You can generalize the music experience to many other parts of
life; like skills for learning, relationships, school work, and being successful at a job. It’s fun to see Isaak grow and develop qualities to relate successfully to an audience and create the kind of
atmosphere that means more fun for guests and more guests for the venue.”
"Working with Terry is a lot of fun," Isaak said. "Even during performances he continues to teach me about performing and what goes into making a good show."