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.


It's a Free For All!

Accordion Wrestling
By Gary E. McKee

The Hot Peppers: (L-R) Bill Seim, Bob Ascott, Rambie Briggs, Rollie Revering at the 2014 Free-For-All./CTAA photo

The Central Texas Accordion Association will host its 15th annual Accordion Free-For-All, Tuesday, June 7, at 7 pm. The program is being held in the Lamar Senior Activity Center on 2874 Shoal Crest Ave, Austin.

          The crowd-pleasing program features 10 to 12 accordionists who are given approximately 10 minutes each to showcase their skills, as well as one or two accordion bands. This year's event will feature special guest Chris Rybak, the Accordion Cowboy. All genres of music, such as country and western, big band, polkas, and European styles will possibly be performed. Some accordionists perform solo and some have a rhythmic backing musician.

          "We also have had yodelers, singers, concertinas, diatonic accordions, and piano accordions, says CTAAA President Rollie Revering. "Musicians of various talent levels play while still keeping close to a professional level. And of course, a jester of some kind to bring a few laughs.

         The CTAA, 40 members strong, meets monthly at Casa Chapala Mexican Restaurant for programs and jams. The Association was a sponsor of the Texas Folklife's Big Squeeze Contest promoting youth accordion skills and is a chapter of the National Accordion Association.

          Remember June is National Accordion Month so come on down to see what all this squeezing is about.

Now Showing: The Pettit Brothers

CD Review
By Gary E. McKee

Fifty years in the making! After playing music together since they were knee high to a ukulele, The Pettit Brothers (TPB) have released their first full-length studio CD.  Backed by a seasoned group of studio musicians the TPB takes listeners on a journey from a mournful country blues ballad to a rollicking, buck-dancing bluegrass party, with a stop off at a honky tonk for a couple of cold ones to ease the pain of lost love.

White Freight Liner Blues: TPB captures the driving bluegrass feel of this song while the fiddle and guitar signals the wide open highway. Lonnie’s voice while not attempting the high notes that Townes Van Zandt sometimes attempted, captures the weariness and restlessness of the man going out on the highway to listen the big trucks whine and haul away his mind from his troubles.

Driving Nails in My Coffin: This is Ernest Tubb’s 1944 ode to excessive beer consumption over the loss of a woman. The steady lockstep of Brian Lux’s stand-up bass and drummer Terry Kirkendall pushes the band along in a delightful gallop, while steel guitarist Nathan Fleming’s prowess on old-school steel provides a counterpoint to the gallop. Lonnie is picking his mandolin as only Lonnie can.

Hold Watcha Got: TPB’s rendition of a song recounting an attempt to rekindle a relationship captures the feel of the ‘King of Bluegrass” Jimmie Martin’s original recording. Sean Orr’s fiddle kicks off a shuffle punctuated by the rhythm system allowing Darryl Pettit’s self-assured plea to his woman to wait for him to come back home to wring true.

Why You Been Gone So Long: A relatively new song written by Micky Newberry begins with Brian’s thumping bass drawing the rest of the band into a bouncy song with Darryl’s inquiring twang and Larry Wilson’s guitar plucking.

I Still Miss Someone: TPB takes you back to Johnny Cash’s lament from the 1950s, as Lonnie’s sad regret of a love lost brings a tear to your eye and the need for a beer for it to fall into. Wilson’s interpretation of Luther Perkin’s signature spare guitar work does the job quite nicely.

Trouble in Mind: TPB’s rendition of this 1924 blues song is given the bluegrass treatment with Lonnie’s mandolin complementing Darry’s weary, yet hopeful lyrics.

Dark Hollow: An old-school bluegrass song about a fellow who would rather be anywhere else besides the now empty house that his woman left him in. Sean’s fiddle and George Carver’s harmonica add sparkle to this sad song.

Way Downtown: Doc Watson’s classic bluegrass song with Sean’s inspiring “hoedown” fiddle break ties in with Darryl’s strong guitar work in this fun song.

‘Til the Coast is Clear: Hal Ketchum/Fred Koller’s song of a honky-tonk with all the ingredients of the drinking, smoking, and marital misdeeds associated with them. Carver’s gorgeous resonator guitar with Sean’s relaxed, yet precise fiddling sets the stage for this cheatin’ song.

You Done Me Wrong: Sean’s unique voice and the band’s true to the original Cajun arrangement makes it hard to miss this song by two guys named Ray Price and George Jones. Larry Wilson’s rhythm playing keeps this jaunty song bouncing along.

Bottom Dollar: Lonnie’s vocal captures the feeling of a guy who is down to pocket change, but it’s not the first time, and he realizes it’s his own doing. Nathan Fleming’s steel guitar licks echoes the vocals familiar weariness on this Billy Joe Shaver classic.

Old Home Place: Lonnie’s declaration of self-sorrow over what his life has become after his woman run off closes out this fulfilling band of songs.  This 1970s bluegrass classic is given a faithful treatment by the whole band as Lonnie’s voice carries the song like the geese fly south and the wind blows cold.

You can see and hear TPB almost every Wednesday night at Sengelmann’s Saloon in Schulenburg, and weekends playing in honky tonks from Austin to Houston. For a schedule, buying the CD, and more, check out pettitbrothers.com.



Brothers in Harmony

By Gary E. McKee

L-R: Brian Lux, Darryl Pettit, Sean Orr, Lonnie Pettit, Jim Schubert, and Chase Hrncir @ High Hill Store, Oct. 31, 2015./McKee photo

L-R: Brian Lux, Darryl Pettit, Sean Orr, Lonnie Pettit, Jim Schubert, and Chase Hrncir @ High Hill Store, Oct. 31, 2015./McKee photo

Lonnie and Darryl Pettit’s childhood wasn’t exactly the Partridge family, but Momma Pettit had a voice that was as crystal clear as Joan Baez’s and like the Johnny Cash song, Daddy played bass, and little brother, Garrett, and sister, Kari, joined right in to fill their house with music.

Lonnie and Darryl Pettit grew up in a family that cherished music. Their parents, Bill and Betty, were active members of the folk music circuit in the late 1950s and early 1960s and hosted in their home many of the touring coffeehouse circuit folkies. The touring professionals would give lessons to the whole Pettit family starting all the younger Pettits on their musical journey. Garrett became a respected member of the Houston stage musical scene, and Kari became a music teacher and the mother of The Ginn Sisters, a critically acclaimed national touring act.

What? No Amp?
When the family relocated to the Navidad River bottom in High Hill near Schulenburg, their acoustic sound was an anomaly among the local Czech/German music culture. The few rock and rollers then couldn’t figure out why they still played acoustic string instruments and didn’t plug in into amplifiers.

          After high school Lonnie and Darryl played in numerous bands, both singularly and together around Houston. Darryl sharpened his acoustic six-string picking skills with the Broken String Band, the traveling house band for the Chelsea Street Pub chain that had locations throughout Texas and neighboring states. Meanwhile, Lonnie focused on his mandolin skills and for several years, Lonnie played in a band called Rooster Junction at resorts in the Cayman Islands. The brothers reunited and did a three-year stint at one of the most unusual clubs in Houston. This was Los Truncos, a giant, multileveled enclosed tree house. The Pettits would move from branch to branch performing at each table, which was on a separate level from the others. If anyone went to Sam’s Boat on Richmond in Houston in the early 1980s, The Corona Beach Band was an institution there for six years with Lonnie’s voice serenading the crowd. For the next decade and a half, the Pettit brothers, played hundreds of weddings and parties in the Central Texas area.                

Jammin' at Momma's
In the mid-1990s, the Pettit family began holding a Wednesday evening jam session at Momma’s Pizza, which is in the Von Minden Hotel in Schulenburg. Local musicians soon began stopping by and it rapidly became the place to hear good acoustic traditional music. When younger brother Garrett began managing Sengelmann Hall, a great opportunity opened up. The Wednesday night Momma’s jam did a chord progression to the lower level stage of Sengelmann’s. Great live music, plenty of room, and great food came together to make Sengelmann’s Saloon a weekly oasis for the music lovers in the surrounding counties. As the weekly jam progressed into the new millennium, a core group, who now make up The Pettit Brothers Band emerged playing tight, extremely danceable old school country

          This ensemble consists of Darryl, Lonnie, Jim Schubert, Chase Hrncir, Brian Lux, Sean Orr, with special guests stopping by on a regular basis. 

Meet the Pettit Band
Jim Schubert, based in Austin, has been playing mandolin music over the Southern United States, embracing different styles of mandolin, jazz, and rockabilly to name a couple, in addition to standard bluegrass and all infused with a tinge of the blues, the basis of all American music.

Chase Hrncir, from Moravia, Texas, Lonnie’s protégé, has been playing mandolin for six years, learning from Lonnie and others at the weekly jam.

Anchoring the drummerless band, is a bass fiddle, Brian Lux, who has deep family roots in Schulenburg. Brian has been a musician for over three decades. While attending Texas A&M he discovered that the stand-up bass was to be his instrument of choice. In his life’s travels, he found there was always a need for a good bass man, whether it was rockabilly, rock and roll, jump, jazz, country, or swing. Brian has played them all quite well, and returning to his family’s home, has been with the band for three years.

Widening the Pettit Brothers sound is Sean Orr, from Bastrop, who has spent decades playing fiddle and guitar in a multitude of bands and different styles. He has played Texas style fiddle at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., and is an expert on getting the “twang” out of his electric guitar to replicate the honky tonk sound. In addition to Texas fiddle, he honors his Celtic heritage by playing intense Irish fiddle in Sean Orr’s Kick Ass Irish Band.

The band has been touring Central Texas playing several nights a week with a recent return engagement in New Orleans. Even more recently they filled the dance floor at the kick-off party for the Second Annual Festival of Texas Fiddling sponsored by Texas Folklife and Texas Dance Hall Preservation. Check out the band’s schedule and buy the CD at www.pettitbrothers.com, or better yet, come see them live!

Support Your Local Church Picnic

In addition to being Dairy Month, June is also the core of the picnic season. There are over 100 church-related picnics yearly and a good many of them occur in June through August. So please attend at least one local picnic and then plan a trip to a new one.

By Gary E. McKee

To a visitor from Elsewhere, USA, the idea of a picnic might conjure up images of plaid blankets on the ground with a wicker basket of cold food beside a lake containing a canoe and a delicate lady shading herself with a parasol as a gentleman tries to woo her by playing his accordion. Well pardner, come on down to the Polka Belt, and be prepared to immerse yourself into the alphanumeric drone of Bingo, an auctioneer’s rapid fire patter, the clinking of plastic rings on liters of soda water, the enticing smell of homemade food cooking, the alternating rhythms of polka bands, and the delightful sound of laughter as friends and family reunite in a yearly homecoming.

The summer picnic season runs from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend with a few picnics scattered on both sides to symbolize more agrarian times of the year, i.e. planting and harvest times. The term "picnic" is an anachronism from days of old bringing to mind the first image above without fire-ants. While church fundraisers dominate the picnic calendar, many organizations have sponsored them.

Father Ed Karasek was raised attending picnics from probably day one as his parents were in charge of making the potato salad at the Frenstat picnic. His early memories were of playing the Teddy Bear wheel trying to win one. The ball/bottle throw was a popular booth with a winner getting either a cigar or pack of gum depending upon the winner’s age. The Gil Baca or Sil Krenek Bands provided the music. This is where the “Dancing Priest” learned to polka. A “community builder” is how Fr. Ed describes the church picnic, bringing families together and providing entertainment for the kids. Now tending to his primarily Hispanic flock in Lockhart at St. Mary of the Visitation, Fr. Ed is heavily involved in their yearly picnic, named Jamaica, now in its 40th year of food, music and fellowship. This year's picnic will be held July 24 and 25.

Picnic evolution
Let’s go back a few years and take a brief look at picnics, bazaars, and celebrations to see how they have evolved. In September of 1902 the Texasky Mir, No. 10 S.P.J.S.T. Lodge of Shiner held a Feast and Picnic in Hilderbrandt’s Park with children’s games being the prominent feature of the day, along with “Orators of Repute delivering address on Questions of Vital Interest to Our People.”

Politicians utilized these large gatherings of voters to campaign and connect with the “common” people. At some picnics literately thousands of people would stand in the weather (generally hot) and listen to the politicians for hours, an inconceivable event nowadays. Not all were on Sundays as the S.P.J.S.T. lodge of Snook announced that it will give a picnic on Easter Monday, April 8, 1912 at their new hall.

The Brenham St. Peter’s Church held a picnic in May of 1915, with wagons transporting those wishing to attend to the “beautiful spot adjoining the Giddings place about one mile north of town. The members of the Women’s Guild have charge of the picnic and will take care of the children who wish to attend without their parents. All members of the Sunday school and congregation are expected (editor’s emphasis) to go and take their friends if they wish.”

Picnic during the week
The Schwertner (NW of Granger) Biennial Picnic in June of 1936 was a community happening that was held on a Tuesday and Wednesday. Among the bands performing those two days were Joe Buzze’s Orchestra of Waco, and Louis Welk’s Eleven Piece Orchestra. Two years later the Shimek Brass Band performed. The July 4th weekend of 1926 was a busy period, as it is now, in the Fayette County area, picnic and celebration wise. Hostyn’s feast hosted one of the largest political gatherings in Texas as Governor “Ma” Ferguson and Farmer Jim Ferguson were scheduled to speak. With a noon vehicle count of 3,300 vehicles, the crowd was estimated to be between 10,000 and 20,000 folks, the Schulenburg Sticker reported. The crowd stood for hours in the sun listening to the Ferguson speeches.

Politicians and baseball
Dubina’s celebration drew several thousand people to hear a well received political speech by Senator Gus Russek (Schulenburg) and Method Pazdral, a former local attorney of Czech origin. The Ammansville Snappy Orchestra played a dance that was attended by 2000 people with 300 tickets being sold to young men. From what this writer can deduce from the ads, during this time period, to actually dance, a ticket was needed, while some venues sold a lesser price ticket for “spectators” as one ad put it, People traveled to see Shiner play Schulenburg in baseball, hear Governor Dan Moody talk, and dance that evening to “most excellent band music” in Shiner.

Two weeks later High Hill had a feast that kicked off with the Blessing of the new Parish House by the Rt. Rev. Bishop Drossaerts of San Antonio followed by solemn High Mass. Afterwards a grand chicken and barbecue dinner was served by the ladies of the parish. That afternoon speeches by various politicians will be given followed by a baseball game between Dubina and High Hill. Concert Music was provided by the Ammansville Brass Band and singing by the High Hill Mannerchor. In the evening The High Hill Dramatic Club provide entertainment, accompanied by the previous band and choir (no dance.)

June of 1959, St. Martin’s Parish, in Tours (NE of Waco) held a “Fun for Everyone” picnic with “Something for Everyone to do - All Afternoon and Evening – Ride the Train – Play Games – SUPPER SERVED 4:30 to 9PM – Fried Chicken, Roast Beef and Baked Ham;” that evening Slim Haisler and His Play Boys of Temple provided the dance music.

Don't just drive thru
While the picnic format has evolved into the fairly formulaic state, that is, church service, meal, and then simultaneously live music, games for children, Bingo, a long auction, and family visiting; it has changed from an event on any day or days of the week to a Sunday for six to eight hours, with a few exceptions like the St. John Fourth of July Picnic and the Prazska Pout (Praha Feast) always held August 15 on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary.

The Fourth of July Picnic at the S.P.J.S.T. hall in West was discontinued in 1966 due to diminishing crowds. Air-conditioning, television, and newly built lakes nearby were to blame, the West News opined. In the pre-automobile days, crowds would gather in town and led by a band march en masse to the picnic grounds. While picnics seem to still attract a large number of folks, it is my observation that the drive-through dinner option of picnics, while increasing the financial income, has diminished the communal bonds that the picnics have built up over the years.

So, please support your local picnic, whether it be in Seguin, Dubina, Wallis, Frenstat, Granger, Shiner, Stoneham, Ennis, Cyclone, or Houston. And please park your vehicle and make new friends or discover extended family members. Check out the listing of Church Picnics at polkabeat.com.

Gospel with a Polka Beat

By Gary E. McKee

Bruce and Shara Repka/Gary E. McKee photo

Bruce and Shara Repka/Gary E. McKee photo

“Circuit Riders” was the name given to preachers in the 1800s who traveled the physical and spiritual wilderness bringing, on horseback, the word of God to the Great American West. Martin Ruter (Rutersville) was a great example, who in 1837 entered Texas with a stack of Bibles and hymnals to preach to and sing with the citizens of the newly founded Republic of Texas.

Among those still carrying on this tradition in the 2000s are Bruce and Shara Repka. However, instead of riding horseback thousands of western miles, they trailer their beloved horses and instead of stacks of bibles and hymnals they are equipped with voices and musical instruments to implement their horse ministry.

Bruce’s family has deep roots in Lavaca County where his father, Henry Repka along with Herbert Kloesel from Schulenburg, founded the music program at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Hallettsville. Bruce’s musical trip began at a single digit age listening to his father performing in a popular polka and waltz band, The Music Kings, around the Houston area. His father would make cassettes of their performances and bring them home, where young Bruce would listen to them and play along on a plastic accordion purchased from Sears.

One day his mother brought Henry to Bruce’s room to hear him play and he was soon playing on a “real” accordion. At the ripe old age of 10, he performed on a Music King “45” rpm record (the ones with the BIG hole in the middle). The song was the Honeybee Waltz. From that point onward Bruce accompanied his father as they played the Mraz Ballroom, Lodge 88, and various KC Halls in a 50-mile radius of Houston. Bruce’s intrigue with music, led him to learn the guitar, steel guitar, fiddle, and keyboards.

Singing with a purpose
As with most great bands, time took its toll and The Music Kings disbanded. Bruce continued playing in several country bands both in Central Texas and Houston. In 1996, Bruce decided to focus on playing and singing about God’s grace and love. Being interested in the western culture, he gravitated towards the cowboy churches that were springing up throughout Texas and the west. In 2001 Bruce was attending the Crossroads Cowboy Church in Yoakum and met a lovely lady named Shara. They realized that they shared more than spiritual feelings and were married in 2003.

At that time Bruce was singing with Mike Ables from Bellville in a duo called The Calvary Cowboys. The Christian Country Music Association of Nashville rated them in the top 5 acts in 2004, 2005, and 2006. When Mike stepped down, Shara took his place, and the Pony Express Ministry singing duo was formed.

Bruce and Shara have been traveling the west performing at different venues focusing on “ranch rodeos” which are events that involve real working cowboys and cowgirls. These rodeos are fundraisers for various charities that assist young cattlemen to continue in their chosen field and action groups that assist in livestock disease prevention programs and the protection of western rangeland among many similar worthy causes. While traveling from rodeo to cowboy churches, Bruce and Shara have released four CDs of their music, most of which are original songs.

Polka On! with God
In the last several years to widen the scope of Bruce’s respect for God and his family heritage (Czech), he teamed up with his father to deliver a great instrumental CD of gospel music performed with a polka beat. Kicking off with spirited versions of I’ll Fly Away, Amazing Grace, and The Old Rugged Cross to name a few, the CD is an intriguing listen. Named S Pánem Bohem: Sunday Polka, it features St. Mary’s Church near Hallettsville, and is the perfect music to listen to on the way to church picnics this summer. (S Pánem Bohem is Czech for "Go with God.")

Visit the Pony Express website to learn more about the ministry and purchase their uplifting music.