Texas Band Plays the Music of Prague at Kennedy Center

The Polkabeat Nation was abuzz Wednesday, March 21, when Czech & Then Some performed on the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. They were asked by the Czech Ambassador to the U.S. Petr Gandalovič to represent the music of Prague for the Kennedy Center's special program The Music of Budapest, Prague and Vienna that ran from Feb. 25- March 29. The King and Queen of the National Polka Festival of Ennis, David and Diane Liska, also attended the performance to lead dance lessons before and during the band's set. I caught up with Danny Zapletal, leader of CATS, to find out more about the performance. Czech and Then Some members include Danny Zapletal - trumpet, keyboard, vocals and arranger; Aaron Schumacher--trumpet; Zeke Martinez – drums; John Schumacher (Aaron's dad) - bass and vocals; Jennifer Marek - sax and clarinet; David Slovak - accordion, piano, guitar, and vocals; and Michelle Slovak (Danny's sister and David's wife) - sax and clarinet. David Czarnek - sax and clarinet also joins the band on occasion.

How did y'all get this gig? Danny: We were asked by the Czech Embassy to play for the "Music of Budapest, Prague, Vienna" festival. I met Ambassador Gandalovič at last year's National Polka Festival (held in Ennis every Memorial Day weekend). He will not be able to attend this year, but we are working for him to come to Ennis for the Festival in 2013.

Loved the costumes y'all wore for the Kennedy Center performance. Why don't y'all wear that for each performance in Texas? Danny: We wear the costumes maybe twice a year. We always wear the costumes at The National Polka Festival in Ennis. We don't wear them all of the time because they are very hot and not the most comfortable clothes to wear. Even in the Czech Republic they only wear costumes like this at special occassions like a festival, wedding, anniversary, etc.

How did you decide what songs to play to represent the music of Prague? Danny: As far as the music that was chosen to play, I chose the ones that are the most popular Czech songs plus a few that other bands play, but they are all popular in the Czech Republic. Three Yanks is not a Czech song but a great arrangement and it has a lot of drive. The crowd really likes that song. [Note: The band opened with Three Yanks as they usually do at dances. It's high energy and gets the crowd dancing right away!]

It was good to see Dave Czarnek of the Texas Dutchmen perform with y'all. Why did you include him in the performance? Danny: David and I go way back to when I was about 9 or 10 years old and all of the years I played with the Texas Dutchmen. David has played with Czech and Then Some the last two years. When Michelle and David (Slovak) were expecting their daughter, Isabella, David played the majority of the jobs. So it was only natural that David play with us at the Kennedy Center. He also always plays with Czech and Then Some when we take bus trips to different festivals.

What kind of comments did you get from the audience? Danny: I was really amazed at how many people attended our performance and really enjoyed it. I didn't know what to expect. Everyone was real positive about polka music and Czech and Then Some. It was really exciting to hear people appreciate polka music and Czech music.

It was a tremendous honor to play at the Kennedy Center, but it was even a greater honor to be ask by the Czech Embassy to represent all of the wonderful Czech people in the United States. We had a great visit with Ambassador Gandalovič. The Czech Embassy was wonderful to Czech and Then Some. I cannot express in words what an experience this was for me and the band. We could not do this without all of the wonderful people who regularly attend our dances. A big thank you to all who supports Czech and Then Some and polka, Czech music.

As Danny said during the performance, "Please, everyone dance. Czech music, polka music, is happy music. It's meant to be danced!"

Polka on Danny and CATS!

See the performance.