By Theresa Parker
Brave Combo celebrated its 35th anniversary all year long last year with shows at various venues. The most anticipated that didn’t disappoint was the band’s sold-out performance at the Kessler Theater in Dallas in August. It was the only performance by the original band members – Carl Finch, Tim Walsh, Lyle Atkinson and Dave Cameron. Three more reunion shows in December featured Carl and early band members Bubba Hernandez, Mitch Marine and Jeffrey Barnes (still with the group). And they are just wrapping up a series of shows in the Denton and Dallas area in March.
The band recently released a new CD – Live at Blob’s Park (denTone). All part of the 35th anniversary celebration? “We had not planned to record an album this year, but we hadn't planned to not record one either,” Carl says.
THE Place for East Coast Polka
Live at Blob’s Park is a good news/bad news release. The good news: it showcases some of the band’s best party tunes. The bad news: it marks the end of an era as two weeks after their performance, the popular Blob’s Park dance hall in Jessup, Maryland, was razed to make way for a mega church.
Blob’s Park was built by Max Blob in 1933. It became THE place to play for Northeast polka bands like the Rheinlanders. Brave Combo had been playing rock venues in the DC/Baltimore area and had built a good fan base in both cities by the time they had their first gig at Blob's. “A lot of our fans up there really love to dance. And many of them are quite good at it. So, Blob's was a perfect spot for many reasons. It was between the two cities in a quiet and safe area, had a great dance floor and lots of parking,” Carl recalls.
As Brave Combo continued to play at Blob’s over the years, their audience grew and the little ol’ band from Texas became one of the best draws at the club, pulling in polka fans and non-polka fans. “Playing at Blob's meant you had made it in a certain corner of the polka market. That was definitely gratifying,” Carl says.
Brave Combo, whose music has been described as nuclear polka and polka on acid, has had many gratifying moments during the past 35 years. Carl says it’s impossible to narrow it down to a Top 10. “All our performances are important and stand out for different reasons. Some of my favorite performances didn't have anything to do with career advancement, just art, like when we marched in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade or when we played on the Labor Day Telethon and Jerry Lewis introduced us, or when we played at The Simpsons 200th episode party on Sunset Strip. Our first few gigs in NYC were amazing and really humbling. This list of oddball gigs could go on for days,” he says.
Like being the house band for the annual Halloween Costume Contest in Boston thrown by Tom and Ray Magliozzi, better known as Click and Clack, syndicated columnists and Car Talk radio hosts. The band can count other media personalities as fans, like Drew Carey. Brave Combo played for seven of Drew’s Vegas shows last year.
A few international performances stand out as well.
“One gig that really blew my mind was when we played Berlin, headlining an alternative polka festival. The band before us, a polka band from Berlin, opened their set with one of our original songs. We had never played Germany before. A week later we were playing at Westfest and a couple of members of that band just happened to be in Texas with a documentary film crew, shooting various bands at Westfest,” Carl says.
Brave Combo's history is full of strange, unique events.
They played a concert in Holland with a Brave Combo tribute band, named Strange Combo. And on their first trip to Japan, they were presented with the same kimonos as The Beatles were presented when they performed in Japan. “The same company sponsored both the Beatles tour and ours. Our promoters had super high hopes,” Carl says.
Back in Texas, Brave Combo is always a big draw at the National Polka Festival in Ennis every Memorial Day weekend and Westfest in West every Labor Day weekend. “Our very first gig at Westfest was a mind-blower,” Carl says. “We talked C.W. Cernosek into letting us set up in a corner of a little tent on plywood. People went immediately nuts. That was a very important moment.”
A moment that would establish Brave Combo’s acceptance by the traditional polka community.
The current band features Carl, Jeffrey, who has been with the BC for more than 30 years, Alan Emert Mansfield and Danny O’Brien who joined in the early 1990s and Little Jack Melody who has been with the band since 2009.
Blob’s Park CD is available in the Polka On! Store.