The Shmenge Brothers’ Last Polka

John Candy and Eugene Levy as the Shmenge BrothersLet’s face it — certain aspects of polka culture are ripe for parody. And when it comes to polka parodies, nobody did it better than SCTV‘s Shmenge Brothers.

Hailing from the mythical country of Leutonia (“on the dark side of the Balkans”), Stan and Yosh Shmenge (portrayed by Eugene Levy and John Candy) came to America and conquered the polka charts before their abrupt retirement in 1984. Along with their band, the Happy Wanderers, they appeared frequently on SCTV playing everything from covers of new-wave hits to original tunes like “There’s Rhythm In My Lederhosen.”

Shmenge-mania reached its height with The Last Polka, a 1985 HBO “mockumentary” about the duo’s final concert. If you haven’t seen it, it’s basically the polka version of Spinal Tap. Unfortunately, it isn’t available on DVD, but you can now watch the whole thing on YouTube (albeit divided into seven parts). Watch the first eight minutes and sing along to the Shmenge Brothers classic, “Cabbage Rolls and Coffee”:

Accordion Exhibit at the Met

Accordions as high art? You bet! The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is running a special exhibition called Accordions and Harmonicas of the 19th Century. It showcases thirty accordions and harmonicas of different styles and origins, many of which have never been displayed before. Hurry though — the exhibit ends March 31.

New! Let’s Polka Calendar

Looking for an accordion concert this weekend? Or maybe an accordion club meeting? Check out our newly-launched accordion event calendar, where you can find squeezebox events across the country. Events like:

New events will be added daily. Keep up to date by subscribing to one of our calendar RSS feeds: there’s one for most recently added events, plus feeds for each event category. (So if you’re only interested in polka events or concerts, you can just subscribe to those.) So many options!

And you can help us create the most comprehensive list of accordion events anywhere. If you have an accordion event to promote or hear about something in your area, just let us know and we’ll post it!

Concertina Bowl Saturday

The Super Bowl is still a week away, but concertina fans are gearing up for their big event this weekend — the 29th annual Concertina Bowl in Blaine, MN. It’ll be twelve hours of dancing and listening to nonstop concertina music, including an appearance by Wisconsin’s “Concertina Kid” Gary Brueggen.

Minnesota Public Radio did a feature on the Concertina Bowl today, focusing on concertina makers Bob Novak and Michael Smieja. Each year, they build a handful of custom-order concertinas that use a soft, quiet action designed by Smieja. (I love the plexiglass version that shows the concertina’s inner workings.) You can listen to the full segment (with music!) on the MPR website:

Smilin’ Scandinavians Polka Podcast

The tiny world of polka podcasting just got a little bit bigger. Seattle’s Smilin’ Scandinavians (profiled here previously) have launched a polka podcast, hosted by accordionist and leader Toby Hanson.

The first episode (iTunes link) features a wide variety of polka music (Slovenian, Polish, and “Dutchmen-style”), including tunes from Frankie Yankovic, Johnny Pecon & Lou Trebar, Whoopie John, and more. Toby does a great job keeping the show moving with anecdotes and insight on the music.

But… what’s a podcast? Basically, it’s a radio show that you can download and listen to whenever you want. You can subscribe to the Smilin’ Scandinavians podcast through iTunes and it will automatically download new episodes as they become available (every month, in this case). For more info, see Yahoo’s “What the heck is a podcast?”

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More Chicago Bears Polkas

Vlasta’s not the only one writing polkas for the Super Bowl-bound Chicago Bears. Eddie Blazonczyk’s Versatones have a new single that could be the perfect soundtrack for your Super Bowl party. The featured songs are “Chicago Cares About The Bears” and “Bear Down Chicago Bears.” You can listen to sound clips at the Bel-Aire Records site.

Entering the Accordion’s Golden Era

Warwick Thompson has an interesting piece in the London Times on the accordion renaissance taking place in “serious” music circles.

Along the way, Thompson chronicles his personal struggles on the accordion, including his lessons with Owen Murray of the Royal Academy of Music. (Murray forces him to play a free bass accordion, claiming that “the standard bass system condemned the accordion to a life of three-chord waltzes in C major and prevented it being taken seriously.”)

Thompson does a good job of conveying the challenges of accordion playing (“it’s like rubbing your stomach and patting your head, while standing upside down doing the splits”), as well as its rewards. He also talks to Russian accordion virtuoso Friedrich Lips, who suggests there’s no better time to start playing the accordion than now:

“The golden age of the violin was the Baroque era. For the piano it was the Romantic era. The accordion is still changing all the time, and we are just entering its golden era. It’s the most exciting time possible to be playing it.”

Dancing with the Polka Stars

Can Emmitt Smith dance a polka? Maybe, but he won’t be one of the contestants at Polka Dancing Stars, an event next week that will showcase five top polka dancing couples and highlight a variety of polka styles. Michelle Genrich, president of the Polka America Corporation, hopes the event will help bring polka into the mainstream:

“We want to put polka music more into the (general) music scene… It’s a lot more than lederhosen and the foofy skirt.”

Polka Dancing Stars takes place next Friday night at the Grand Theater in downtown Wausau, WI, with music by Neal Zunker and the Music Connection (named 2006 Band of the Year by the Wisconsin Polka Hall of Fame).

Those Darn Accordions “Pump It Up”

I saw this classic video over at the Those Darn Accordions blog and just had to share. It’s a clip of TDA doing their unique rendition of Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up” on local San Francisco’s Fog Town Network, circa 1994. Note that there’s barely enough room in the studio for all eight accordion players.

New Decemberists EP at iTunes

A quick note for Decemberists fans: the band has a new EP, Live from SoHo, available only through iTunes. It’s a recording of their six-song performance last November at the Apple Store in SoHo, New York City. And because it’s a stripped-down acoustic show, Jenny Conlee’s accordion comes through loud and clear on every track. (Just as it always should.)

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