Weimary Wonderfest Set for Dec. 6

By Theresa Parker

Originally appeared in November 2014 issue of Texas Polka News.

Patrick and Sue Gibson

Patrick and Sue Gibson

The land around Weimar, where I spent many a summer vacation on my grandpa’s farm, has always been known for the three Cs – cotton, corn and cattle. Imagine my surprise when I learned the land is also good for growing grapes. It kind of took Patrick and Sue Gibson by surprise, too.  
         “Sometimes life gives you a direction to follow that is not a part of your plans. When we purchased the land, we certainly did not expect to be establishing a vineyard and tasting room! One thing led to another, ideas were tossed about, and when mixed with a passion for working the land and great wine, this turned into our happy accident.”
         
The Gibsons planted vines in 2009, and now have a little over four acres of Blanc du Bois and Lenoir (Black Spanish) - roughly 3,000 vines- and boast 13 labels and counting at The Weimary on Sedan Road!
         
Originally from El Paso, Patrick and Sue had lived in Austin for 39 years until he came to live in the farmhouse at the vineyard full time a while back to tend to the farm. They now have a house in Weimar, and while Sue still occasionally commutes to Austin for work, they are loving small town life! 
         
You know the wine is going to be good because Patrick tends to the vines and grapes with the lively sounds of polka music floating through the vineyard. “We even play polka during our volunteer harvest to keep it fun. Lindsi (Graham), our Operations Manager, grew up watching polka with her father every Saturday morning, so she gets a kick out of it as well,” Sue said. The Ennis Czech Boys will be providing some live polka music at the Weimary’s Wonderfest on Saturday, Dec. 6.
        
The Gibsons found a unique way to tie in family to the labor of love in producing the wines.  All the labels on the wine bottles feature vintage photos of family members or those who have direct ties to the land itself. “Not only are the pictures gorgeous, but they each tell a story and are a great way to keep their legacies alive,” Sue said. “It is such fun to explain the labels during our tastings and see our guests’ faces light up as they share in our stories.”
         
So which wines would they recommend for a polka party to go with sausage and sauerkraut? “For a fabulous polka pairing, you can go red or white,” Sue said. “This food combination has beautiful, bold tastes that go well with medium to full-bodied wines with plenty of flavor. “For the whites, our Fred and Frieda, a Blanc du Bois done in a Riesling style, would be lovely with the sauerkraut. Our Silk Stocking, a semi-sweet Blanc du Bois reminiscent of a Pinot Grigio, would pair with the sauerkraut or spicy sausage. “If you are a red fan, our Texas Merlot, The Competition (which is lighter), or Strong Arm Jack (our full-bodied Petite Sirah) would both perfectly accompany a good sausage.” 

silk stocking

 

New Release: Brave Combo @ Blob's Park

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.

Oddball Gigs
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.

New Release: Fritz Hodde and the Fabulous Six

Fritz and the Fab Six Continue the Journey

By Theresa Parker

Fritz and the boys celebrated the band's 50th anniversary with a party at SPJST Lodge 18 in Elgin in September 2013, and just recently released a CD – Fritz Hodde’s 50-Year Journey with The Fabulous Six. The band chose the songs to record based on what their fans request the most at dances.  While it’s difficult to record all songs requested on one CD, we recorded a few on this CD and will select others on the next CD.  We do try to record new songs for each CD, as well, in hopes that they might become synonymous with our group’s name.  Others may have recorded the same song, but we hope that people might like our rendition of ‘The Fabulous Six’ style,” Fritz says.

Fritz is the only original band member still playing after 51 years. His son, Scott, joined in 1984. Russell Kalkbrenner became a member in 2002; Scott’s son, Brandon, in 2005, and Gary Greener, joined the group as the drummer last year although he sat in on occasion for about four years. Gary is also a good dancer, as he and his fiancé, Kara Walker, were voted King and Queen of this year’s National Polka Festival in Ennis.

Although the group numbers five, they decided to keep the Fabulous Six name to honor those who have gone before them. 

“After losing many band members over the years, we decided we wanted to continue with our trademark, the original name The Fabulous Six,” Fritz says.

One band member they’ll never forget is George Strmiska. George played for years with the Vrazels then became one of the Fabulous Six, playing from 1998 to 2002. George passed away in 2003. “One of the songs chosen for this CD - I Told a Lie to My Heart - is dedicated to George.  His guitar playing was remarkable and Brandon, following in George’s footsteps and loving George’s musical ability while playing guitar, did a great job emulating George’s unique style on this song,” Fritz says.

Fritz is happy that his son and grandson are continuing the polka band tradition. “Not only do they exceed my musical ability with all of the instruments they play, but both have excelled in the pronunciation of the Czech language and we couldn’t be more proud. I respect and admire their many talents and I’m proud and honored to share the stage with them,” he says. 

Brandon has also produced his own CD – All By Myself (A JA SAM) – in which he plays and sings all parts. He has also gotten some of his polka buddies together to form a new band - The All Around Czechs. Their debut performance is set for Saturday, December 13, at Sefcik Hall in Temple.

Over the years of performing, Fritz has noticed the generation gap among the dancers widening. “But we are very proud to see the younger generation’s involvement of late to help carry on the polka tradition.” 

One thing that hasn’t changed are the band’s fans, he says. “We have maintained quite a few loyal followers over the years that have always been there for us and we are proud to call them friends.” 

Fritz Hodde 50 Years CD.jpg

Fritz Hodde and the Fabulous 6
Fritz Hodde’s 50-Year Journey with the Fabulous Six
15 tracks: 6 polkas, 5 waltzes, 4 country
Polkabeat faves: Who’s Gonna Love You Polka, Grinders Polka, Katherine’s Waltz, I Told a Lie to My Heart

Brandon Hodde CD

Brandon Hodde All By Myself (A Ja Sam)
15 tracks: 8 polkas, 6 waltzes, 1 country
Polkabeat faves: A Ja Sam, El Golpe Traidor, Isabella Waltz

Available: Polka On! Store

Cleveland Invasion!

By Theresa Parker

The Frank Moravcik Band and the Chardon Polka Band are ready to invade the Texas polka scene with music of the Slovenian kind - one traditional and one with attitude. Here's an excerpt of articles featured in the print edition November 2014 issue of Texas Polka News. Click here to subscribe to the newspaper.

                                                                    Linda Hochevar and Frank Moravcik 

                                                                    Linda Hochevar and Frank Moravcik 

Frank Moravcik to Bring Cleveland Polka to Texas
Are you ready for some Cleveland-style polka? Ohio, that is. You will have two chances to hear one of the best bands from up north right here in Texas in November.  The Frank Moravcik Band will play Saturday, Nov. 8, at the SPJST Lodge 88 in Houston, and on Sunday, Nov. 9, at historic Sefcik Hall in Seaton. I had a chance to talk to Frank as he traveled to New Jersey for a Saturday night dance and asked him what he likes about playing in Texas.

“I like the people a lot,” he said. “And the music. When I had a polka show on WERE in Cleveland, I based it on Czech-style music in Texas. I played a lot of Dujka Brothers, Praha Brothers, Vrazels. I like the way they incorporate the country and western swing with the guitar lead.”

Frank said he had a big positive response to it since it was different from the traditional Cleveland bands with a faster tempo and lots of brass and tuba. He had to give up the polka show because he was playing every weekend and it became harder to find the time to record the show between that and his day job of writing computer programs for robotic equipment. A true hero of mine, he also quit his day job to devote himself full time to his music.  “Yeah, but they called me back and said, ‘We could really use you,’” he said. “I told them I had to be on the road a lot with my music, but they said that was okay, to take off whenever I needed to.” Sigh, I said.

Anyway, Frank’s band in Texas will feature his girlfriend, Linda Hochevar, who plays button box, a guitarist and drummer. He has recorded several CDs and I asked which ones he would recommend for Texans who may not have heard his music before. “I think they would like ‘Play that Accordion’ and ‘Land of Dreams.’ There are a lot of Czech tunes on both of those.”

In addition to his appearances in many states including Texas, Arizona, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan, Frank has traveled the world to play in Germany, Amsterdam and on Caribbean cruises. He and Linda have another cruise coming up on March 7-14, 2015, that will include their friend Tony Klepec, a button boxer with a smooth Slovenian style.

Frank and his band played at Sefcik Hall last year with Czech & Then Some, and was glad to see polka lovers in their 20s and 30s at the dance. “Texas is doing really well with drawing a younger crowd to the dances. It’s great to see,” he said.

Be ready to give the Frank Moravcik Band a big Texas welcome on Nov. 8 and 9. And don’t worry country music fans, Frank promises to play some tunes by Eddie Arnold and George Strait and throw in some Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Chardon Polka Band - Joe Dahlhausen (drums), Emily Burke (sax), Jake Kouwe (accordion and band leader), Paul Coates (tuba/bass) and Mike Franklin (banjo).

Chardon Polka Band - Joe Dahlhausen (drums), Emily Burke (sax), Jake Kouwe (accordion and band leader), Paul Coates (tuba/bass) and Mike Franklin (banjo).

Chardon Polka Band Ready to Feel the Texas Love
One of the hottest new groups to hit the national polka circuit is the Chardon Polka Band from Cleveland, Ohio.  Texas polka fans will get two chances to see the band – at Wurstfest in November and the Tomball German Christmas Market in December.

After wrapping up photography sessions for the band’s reality TV show, Polka Kings, set to debut next summer on REELZChannel, and a worldwind tour with gigs in St. Louis, Tulsa, Indianapolis, Bethlehem, Penn., and Hunter Mountain, NY, Bandleader Jake Kouwe and I corresponded via email.

His first comment was, “We are so excited to be coming to Texas! We have heard nothing but good things about the Texas polka crowds. There are so many great festivals there. We cannot wait to burst onto that scene. Texas is rich with ethnic flavor. We love a crowd that is enthusiastic about polka,” he said.

The band will be making the trip in their old Ford van.  “It's big and ugly and makes some noises once in a while. It's cozy though. It may be a piece of junk, but it's our piece of junk!,” Jake said.

Jake’s roots are Dutch and he said his family was not active in the polka scene when he was growing up.  “But we were always big Lawrence Welk fans!”

Jake actually started the band in high school, calling it the Chardon High School Polka Band, 10 years ago.  Uncool? Guess not, since Jake was voted homecoming king his senior year. “We were a cheerful and sprightly bunch,” he recalled.

Why start a polka band? “I just love polka! It’s happy music. Artists like Brave Combo (Denton) and The Polkaholics (Chicago) allowed me to dream big and visualize putting my own spin on it. I think everyone in our group has a different way of seeing things musically. I believe we bring a lot to the table that hasn't been done with the genre before,” he said.

The band has three CDs and Jake recommends Fistful of Polka for those Texans who haven’t heard their music before. “I think it’s the best example of our work, but it depends on what you’re into.”

Jake admits he would rather play music than be the subject of a reality TV show, but he says the band is having fun with it. “It should be a fun show and hopefully shine a lot of light on out music and the polka community as a whole.”


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.)

Polkabeat readers write

Just wanted to pass on our sincere thanks from all of us Tomball polka lovers for all you did to support the German heritage festival.  We all look forward to seeing  the various acts.  We particularly enjoyed Alex Meixner and when I saw that you were sponsoring his return here, the least I could do was say Thank You Very Much!!!!  Keep up the great work and I will keep an eye on all the latest polka happenings thanks to polkabeat.com.  Thank you again!!

Regards,
Mark Barnett
The Woodlands

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I would like to say thank you to you and Polkabeat.com, for all of your contributions to the Tomball German Heritage Festival.  I know that is sponsorship, and that you covered the event.  The truth is that you are doing much to further polka music in Texas.  I, for one, am very glad you are doing this.  Once again, I’d like you to know that The TubaMeisters support your cause. 

Ray Grim
The TubaMeisters
San Antonio

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Love ya, Mom! Way to go on bringing Polkabeat this far! You're awesome!

Alec Seegers
Houston

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Happy Birthday!  Wishing you all the luck, good health and happiness.  You are  making so many folks happy and healthy with all the dancing and laughter - best medicine.  

Ann Juricek
Ennis

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It was nice hearing that you are a sponsor of the Czech show on KOOP here in Austin.
Thank you for your great website and weekly dance listing.  We have had a great time exploring the nooks and crannies of Texas while polka dancing - and we have found out about many of these dances through your website.

G. Bacon
Austin

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Thanks for all you do to publicize bands and live music in Central Texas and across the state!

Jerry Haisler (and the Melody 5)

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Mr. McKee,
Thanks a million for all that you do to promote the heritage, my friend.  Was great to see you out again this evening.  Peace to you and yours. 

Greg Svetlik (Czechaholics)