Encore Time: Schroeder Hall Reopens!

By Gary E. McKee

Schroeder Hall, the legendary South Central Texas dance hall, built in the late 1800s, has reopened its doors after a brief respite and will be featuring Chris Rybak, on Saturday, July 16. Schroeder, still owned by Doug Guller, Austin-based restaurant and dancehall owner, has a new manager, Corrine Abbott. Corrine is a native of El Campo, and has a degree in food and beverage management from the University of Houston. She has brought her Wharton County roots to Schroeder and is presently booking polka bands to perform on a regular basis. In between polkas, the hall will be appealing to different genres of Texas music - contemporary country, Red-Dirt Country, indie rock and nationally recognized touring acts.

          On November 19th, all cattle trails and roads will lead to the hall as Schroederfest will commence a day-long celebration of BBQ cookoffs, adult beverages (full bar), vendors, singing in the courtyard with Jon Stork, and culminating with The Charlie Daniels Band that evening.

          As the cooler months come around, Marty Haggard and Kevin Fowler will perform on the same stage that has seen a variety of legends. Bob Wills, Adolph Hofner, George and Tammy, Jimmy Heap, Roy Clark, Glenn Miller Orchestra, Larry Joe Taylor, and Robert Earl Keen top the long list of music heroes.

          Chris, the Accordion Cowboy, is a natural fit for this venue as it resides in the early Spanish ranching grants that date back to the late 1700s. Cattle were driven from this area to Louisiana to feed the Spanish forces fighting the British during the American Revolution.

          As the cattle industry evolved and German/Czech immigrants migrated south, many of them found work on the Tex/Mex ranches and brought their music with them. They began jamming with their Mexican co-workers (Nortiño music) and the blending of the two musical cultures produced a unique sound (Tejano). The accordion-driven Tejano music was absorbed by Tex/Mex/Czech musicians such as Santiago Jimenez, Johnny Rodriguez, and Adolph Hofner.

          Chris' influences have been a combination of Myron Floren and the Jimenez brothers – Flaco and Santiago – with a strong Hank Williams flavor.

          This Slavic/Hispanic sound will be channeled by Chris in this old hall (now air-conditioned) that has its roots in a community that was once named Germantown. During World War I, the name was changed to a little less Teutonic-sounding name, Schroeder, which was in honor of a resident killed fighting the Germans in Europe.

          Visit schroederhall.com for the soon-to-be weekly dance and event schedule at one of the last vestiges of Texas rambling dancehalls. Also appearing in July are Jake Worthington on the 9th; George Navarro on the 23rd; and Jarrod Birmingham on the 30th.

          Schroeder Hall is roughly between Goliad and Victoria and has a self-contained RV park across the road for those travelers who wish to stay the night and explore this history-filled area of Texas.


Are You Ready for the Wurst?

By Theresa Parker

Alex Meixner is. The Grammy-nominated Tasmanian devil of the polka world will once again do the honors of opening Wurstfest on Friday, November 7. The Alex Meixner Band will perform at the fest through November 13 and will feature the usual suspects - Ed Klancnik on drums, Mikey Kramar on horns, strings, accordions and things, and Hank Guzevich on horns, guitar and Polexican shuffles, as well as Canadian National Accordion Champ Michael Bridge for the weekend gigs.

Alex Meixner and Michael Bridge at last year's Wurstfest. Gary E. McKee photo

Alex Meixner and Michael Bridge at last year's Wurstfest. Gary E. McKee photo

Since Alex spends a great deal of his life on the road, it was cool to catch him at home waiting for the cable guy to chat about Wurstfest and other polka stuff.

Polkabeat: Anything new for Wurstfest?
Alex: Yes! [Please note: this will be the last exclamation point I’ll use. Everything Alex says has an exclamation point.] I will be doing an extra show at the festival on opening Saturday (November 8, 2:10 p.m.) at the new venue - Stelzenplatz - with my good friends, Max Baca and Los TexManiacs. This two-time Grammy Award-winning conjunto group will be performing repertoire which has roots in Germany and Austria before developing in Mexico and the southwest USA. I'll be playing a few songs with the band, as Max and I have been recording together for the last few years and always look forward to collaborating together. (While the Czech pronunciation of Baca is “Bacha,” the Mexican pronunciation is “Baka.”)

Polkabeat: Tell us more about Los TexManiacs.
Alex: Max Baca is the premier bajo sexto player on the planet. (Bajo sexto is a 12-string guitar-like instrument.) Max is featured on my Polka Freakout CD and he has recorded with Flaco Jimenenz, Los Lobos, Original Texas Tornados and even the Rolling Stones (Voodoo Lounge CD). The group also features Max’s nephew, Josh Baca, on accordion. I’ve known Josh since he was an eight-year-old punk and now he’s 20-something and is one of the best three-row button box accordion player I’ve ever heard. They are just a great family.

Polkabeat: You and Max are working on an album together, right?
Alex: Yes, actually for the past six years. We hit the recording studio when we can. The music gets back to the roots of conjunto music from when Germans, Austrians and Slovenians settled in Mexico. It honors the music legacy of our grandfathers and fathers, and brings it full circle like the performance we’ll be doing at Wurstfest.

Polkabeat: Your new CD is called Happiness Is a Choice. Why did you choose that name
Alex: Because I truly believe happiness is a choice and I think it sends a positive message.

Polkabeat: Who did you work with on the CD?
Alex: The title track is a collaboration with Reggae singer and composer Carlton Pride, son of Country legend Charley Pride. I also co-wrote a song with Michael Morris (drummer and vocalist from Seaton, TX) called “Let’s Go Ask the Band,” a fun polka with a country twang. Hector Saldana of The Krayolas and I co-wrote a pop song, “Sally,” and Michael Bridge is featured on the Latin-flavored “El Cumbanchero.” You can also hear accordion virtuoso Randy Koslosky (from Pittsburgh) on several tunes, including a great new German/Irish-styled drinking song “Why Die Thirsty?”

Polkabeat: Why die thirsty? Isn’t that your mantra?
Alex: Yes. Randy wrote that song. He always heard me say at performances, “If you drink, you’re going to die. If you don’t drink, you’re going to die. So, why die thirsty?” He sent it to me just as we hit the studio in San Antonio to record the CD. We quickly came up with an arrangement and now it’s one of the most requested songs on tour.

Polkabeat: What is the most requested song?
Alex: “Amazing Grace.” It’s performed on a hoseaphone and begins as a solemn performance and ends with screaming trumpets.

Polkbeat: The CD also has a family connection, right?
Alex: My daughters Zoey (age 7) and Kayla (age 4) are featured on “Pipihenderl,” a fun Austrian yodeling song. And Zoey also did the watercolor for the CD cover, which has led to production of a hat pin and t-shirt. I am very proud.

Polkabeat: Why die unhappy?
Alex: Exactly. So much of world is divided among politics, religion, cultural and ethnic differences, but when you adopt a positive attitude, you realize we have more similarities than we think. That’s what I like about polka. The music tends to bring people together. People smile and instead of slinging cheap shots at each other, they stop and say, “Hey man, let’s drink a beer together.”

(Hmmm, this could be the start of the Alex Meixner for President Campaign sponsored by the polkabeat party.)

Texas Folklife to Pay Tribute to Texas Accordion Pioneers

It has been 25 years since Texas Folklife began popularizing the accordion, the state’s “national instrument,” and Texas roots music in the now anticipated annual concert at the Miller Outdoor Theatre. All genres of accordion music will be included in this year’s festivities, with performances by Ginny Mac, Mark Halata & Texavia, C.J. Chenier & the Red Hot Louisiana Band, and as part of the anniversary extravaganza, the second generation of conjunto pioneers – Rio Jordan, Flavio Longoria, and Juan Longoria Jr. with Conteño and Los Halcones. In addition, the newly crowned 2014 Big Squeeze Champs will be on hand to perform and celebrate. The new champs are: Garrett Neubauer, Grand Prize Winner for the polka category; Randall Jackson, Grand Prize Winner for zydeco; and Aaron Salinas, Grand Prize Winner for the conjunto category.

The star-studded affair will take place on Saturday, June 7, at 6:00 p.m., and will be co-emceed by writers and radio hosts Joe Nick Patoski and Tony Diaz. The festival is free and open to the music-loving public. Festivalgoers wanting seats in the pavilion area can pick up their free tickets the day of the festival at the Miller Box Office or become members of Texas Folklife and receive reserved tickets in advance. 

This year’s dynamite bands include Houston’s own Mark Halata & Texavia. Known for his musical style that has been called “Czexan,” or Texas-Czech polka, Halata has perfected the Texas-style polka with strains from communities with their roots in Europe—Moravia and Czechoslovakia—with some Louisiana Cajun and zydeco thrown in. On the stage on this very special night will also be C.J. Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band. With his Grammy-nominated 2011 album Can’t Sit Down, his musical heritage, and over twenty years of recording history, C.J. Chenier is loved by audiences and critics alike, and has been dubbed “the crown prince of zydeco,” by the Boston Globe. Chenier is of course the son of the late “King of Zydeco” Clifton Chenier, whom he accepted a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award for at this year’s Grammys. Western Swing Accordion Queen Ginny Mac will also grace the stage with her exceptional singing, squeezeboxing, and multitalented, soulful musical style.

The special anniversary program will pay tribute to second-generation conjunto and Tejano pioneers Rio Jordan, Flavio Longoria, and Juan Longoria Jr. with Conteño and Los Halcones. Esteban Jr., Esteban III, and Ricardo Jordan carry on their father’s legacy with his band Rio Jordan. Esteban Jordan (1939-2010) is widely regarded as a pioneer in conjunto music who greatly expanded the boundaries of the diatonic accordion. The three brothers draw on their rich conjunto heritage plus add influences from jazz, rhythm and blues, salsa, and zydeco, as they perform across the state and throughout the southwest. Flavio Longoria is the son of Valerio Longoria (1924-2000), National Heritage Award winner and major innovator of Texas conjunto along with Narciso Martinez and Santiago Jimenez Sr. Flavio played the saxophone while his brother Valerio Jr. played the drums in their father’s band during childhood. After his father’s death, Flavio picked up the accordion and has formed his own band Flavio Longoria y Los Conjunto Kingz. Juan Longoria Jr. of Brownsville, Texas Folklife’s first Big Squeeze Champ, is the son of Juan Longoria Sr., who along with his brothers performs in the band Los Halcones, a conjunto Norteño band that has played across South Texas and the border region for more than 30 years. Juan Jr. has carried on that tradition with his own band Conteño. In addition, Juan Jr. has now passed his accordion playing skills on to his son Juan Longoria III who last year made it to the semifinal stage of the Big Squeeze accordion contest. The Longoria family with its three-generation accordion stars is a testament to the strong family traditions that are alive in the state and Texas Folklife’s role in preserving and promoting those traditions.

Texas Folklife will also honor Mary Thomas, the “Texas Queen of Zydeco,” and sister to the late Clifton Chenier, with the Star of Texas Folklife Award for her many years of work helping to preserve and promote zydeco music, which is traditional to both Texas and Louisiana.    

“This is a banner year for Texas Folklife,” said Executive Director Cristina Ballí. “It is our 30th anniversary and it is the 25th anniversary of Accordion Kings & Queens. The annual concert was started with the idea of promoting the accordion and its role in the different genres of roots music found in the state. It has become a full-out celebration of that music, featuring musical legends and current stars, but it also has become the breeding ground for the next generation of culture bearers with our Big Squeeze Champs taking to the stage. Most importantly, it is a joyous night of savoring performances by the kings and queens of the accordion, with much dancing and merry-making, all under the stars in Houston, Texas. I hope many folks will come out this year to help us celebrate this very important birthday.”  

Polka for the Park

WEST 2 Invite Final 2 on page testA group of Houston polka lovers are hosting a benefit on Friday, November, 8 to raise money for their family and friends who were affected by the plant explosion in West, Texas. The Polka for the Park event will be held at SPJST Lodge 88 in the Heights and the evening of fundraising will be full of entertainment, including an auction and dance. Grammy-winning band Brave Combo will be headlining the event. Proceeds will help West residents rebuild their city park honoring First Responders. Table underwriters will be invited to a pre-event reception with the guests of honor West Mayor Tommy Muska and his wife, Lisa. Polkabeat visited with Karen Carr, one of the organizers to find out more about the event.

Who all is involved in planning the event? Family and friends of West residents. There are 12 of us that have worked together to plan the event. My mom, Barbara Fisher, was raised in West and the mayor, Tommy Muska, is our cousin. In no time at all we had people eager to pitch in and help.

Why did y'all decide to hold the event? image001Several of us went to West several days after the explosion to help in any way we could. There were tremendous relief efforts in place but we still wanted to do something more. We thought this event would be a nice way to keep the momentum going and to allow those that could not make it to West to show support in Houston.

Why did you select the park as the beneficiary? image002Tommy mentioned that this would be a gift the whole town could benefit from. The park was destroyed in the blast. Then when we learned about Parker’s Park Project, we knew it was the right thing to do. Parker’s father Joey, is one of the fallen first responders. It’s Parker’s wish to rebuild the city park, a project his father was a strong supporter of. He has a great “grass roots” effort, and the support is swelling.

Why Brave Combo? Brave Combo has been a part of the Westfest lineup for years. The tent is always packed and the band is legendary. They play polka, salsa, rock, zydeco and bring their own infectious fun to every event that they headline.

Tickets are $25 and can be purchased online at http://center4gracefoundation.org/donations.html.

Polka On at the Tomball German Heritage Festival

It's a party with polkabeat.com and Alex Meixner...and a boot full of bier! Photo by Mark HiebertThe Tomball German Heritage Festival just keeps getting bigger and better every year! The 13th edition of the festival will be held this weekend, March 22-24, in downtown Tomball. Polkabeat.com is proud to once again sponsor the appearance of Grammy-nominated Alex Meixner on the Ziegenbock Stage Friday and Saturday, beginning at 6 PM and Sunday, beginning at 1 PM. Stop by the Polka On! table next to the stage to purchase must-have polka items, sign up to receive my newsletter, bring me a bier, or just to say hello. You're invited to help us get the party started on Thursday at a special Acoustic Alex set at Cactus Music in Houston beginning at 5:30 PM. St. Arnold's will provide the beverages.

All five stages will be alive with great music. Check out the line-up featuring Das Ist Lustig, Chris Rybak, Eurofest, TubaMeisters and a whole stage devoted to Bluegrass music. You'll also want to catch some of the performances by high school German Clubs, including Clements High School in Sugar Land, who won first place at state for German folk dancing! Kingwood and Friendswood High School groups will also be performing, along with German polka bands from Reagan and The Woodlands College Park High Schools.

The festival also features 150 vendors selling everything, including great food and ice cold bier. The contests are also great to participate in and/or cheer on your favorites. New this year is the Big Squeeze Accordion Contest on Saturday at 10 AM and the Doggy Costume Parade and Contest at 12:45 PM on Sunday. Other contests: Chicken Dance, Yodeling and Best Dressed German. Find out more.

Polka On Tomball!

Polka On at the East Bernard Kolache Festival

Some polka festivals are spread out over a weekend or even weeks, but no one packs as much entertainment and great food in only one day than the Kolache and Klobase Festival in East Bernard, Texas. You don't want to miss the 22nd running of this great fest on Saturday, June 9. Here are my Top 10 reasons you need to be in East Bernard on Saturday. 10. Non-stop entertainment. From 10:30 AM to 11 PM eight bands perform in the pavilion and in the historic Riverside Hall. 9. The food! They start serving plate lunches of sausage, barbecue chicken and all the trimmings at 11 AM. 8. The kolaches! Dozens and dozens. My favorite is cheese. 7. The vendors. Lots of talented people selling their creations. Polkabeat.com will be there with new items from the Polka On! store. 6. The people. None friendlier than a polka crowd. 5. The hall. Lots of room to dance and great floor. 4. The flag tribute and grand march. Starts at 3 PM. Makes you proud to be an American and a polka lover! 3. The 3-band concert. Starts after the flag tribute and features Czech and Then Some, Dujka Brothers and Red Ravens. 2. The dancing. All the bands play a great variety of music from polka to country to cha cha. 1. The tradition. It's just one of the best run festivals in the state.

Czech Out the National Polka Festival in Ennis

As we approach Memorial Day Weekend and the 46th National Polka Festival in Ennis, I give you my Top 10 reasons why you need to be there! 10. Dance to the music of 14 live bands at 3 halls and 2 street dances. Awesome! See the schedule. 9. King and Queen Dance Contest on Friday night at Sokol Hall. 8. Parade at 10 AM Saturday through downtown Ennis with Miss Texas 2011 as grand marshal. Enjoy the music of the festival's polka bands riding on decorated floats and the sounds of the award-winning Ennis High School Marching Band. 7. Kolache Eating Contest at 1 PM on Saturday at Downtown stage. 6. Live Remote with the KBEC Johnnie I. Krajca Polka Show at KJT Hall on Sunday from 9-11 AM, featuring the music of the Ennis Czech Boys and The Moravians. FREE admission, kolaches and door prizes! 5. Thursday night pre-festival jam sponsored by polkabeat.com. Lots of great Polka On! giveaways and those great Polka On! shirts will be available for only $10. Price goes up to $15 the rest of the weekend. 4. Polkabeat.com table at KJT Hall on Saturday and Sokol Hall on Sunday. Stop by to stock up on the latest Polka On! products--bumper stickers, fans, car windshield sunshades, and jewelry. 3. The food! OMG! 2. Celebrate Texas Czech heritage! 1. It's a family tradition.