Polka Fans Rejoice: Blob’s Park Returns

Blob's ParkAll too often, we find ourselves writing about polka hotspots right as they’re about to close. So it’s a nice change of pace to report that, after being closed for a year, Maryland polka landmark Blob’s Park will re-open Wednesday night with a New Year’s Eve dinner/dance. Max Blob’s Bavarian Biergarten (aka “Blob’s Park”) first opened in Jessup in 1933 and was a center for polka dances until last December when owner John Eggrel retired and the land was earmarked for development. Now Max Eggrel, great-nephew of founder Max Blob and brother of John, has leased the land and is hoping to keep the place open for at least three more years. Great news for Maryland polka fans — now get out there and dance!

Lars Hollmer Passes Away

Lars HollmerSome sad holiday news to share: Swedish accordionist and Accordion Tribe member Lars Hollmer passed away on Christmas Day. I know he had been sick for some time; earlier this year, Seattle accordionist Amy Denio took Hollmer’s place on Accordion Tribe’s European tour.

Known for his improvisational and avant-garde work on accordion and keyboards, Hollmer was part of the pioneering Swedish prog rock group Samla Mammas Manna (and its subsequent offshoots) and collaborated with numerous artists over the course of his 40 years in music. Most of his recordings were made at his unique home and studio outside Uppsala, Sweden, called “The Chickenhouse.” One of my favorite Hollmer songs is “Boeves Psalm,” written around 1977 and dedicated to an uncle of Hollmer’s who had just passed away. There’s an all-accordion version on the first Accordion Tribe album, but I just can’t resist this beautiful orchestral arrangement.

(Thanks to Lauralee for passing the news along.)

25 Songs: Lil’ Wally

Ho-ho-ho! It’s the last day of our accordion advent calendar and we’ve had a blast sharing music from some of our favorite accordion-toting artists. We’ll wrap up with a tune from polka legend Lil’ Wally Jagiello — composer, arranger, drummer, singer, self-taught concertina player, relentless promoter, and the undisputed king of Chicago polka. From everyone here at Let’s Polka (myself, Anna, and Sarah), we wish you a merry and musical Christmas!

25 Songs: Riders in the Sky

Rising “hats and shoulders” above other C&W (“Comedy and Western”) acts, Riders in the Sky have been playing original and classic cowboy songs for more than thirty years. In the late 1980s, the group added accordionist Joey Miskulin (“The Cowpolka King”), known to many as the accordion prodigy who joined Frankie Yankovic’s band when he was only thirteen. On this track, “An Old Fashioned Christmas Polka,” Joey gets to mix the Riders’ Western style with his polka roots.

25 Songs: The Decemberists

When journalists write about indie rock’s embrace of the accordion, Portland band The Decemberists typically heads the list. With an oeuvre that ranges from sea shanties to prog rock, they’ve had ample opportunity to showcase their longtime accordionist/keyboardist Jenny Conlee. One holiday-themed example is this cover of a quirky, lesser-known John Denver tune, “Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas).” The Decemberists stick closely to the original’s country style, but trade the honky-tonk piano for Conlee’s honky-tonk accordion.

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25 Songs: The Klezmatics

In honor of the start of Hanukkah, we have a lively holiday track from New York’s klezmer superstars, The Klezmatics. In 2006, the band won a Grammy for its album Wonder Wheel, which brought the lyrics of Woody Guthrie to life. Soon after, the band released another album of Guthrie lyrics — Happy Joyous Hanukkah — based on a series of his songs about Hanukkah, Jewish history and spiritual life inspired by his mother-in-law, Yiddish poet Aliza Greenblatt. Whether you’re lighting a menorah or a Christmas tree this holiday season, this is a great tune to get the entire family dancing.

25 Songs: Motion Trio

Poland’s Motion Trio has a simple goal: to change the way the accordion is perceived as an instrument. Arguably, they’ve already succeeded, exploring soundscapes far beyond what most people typically associate and experience with their instrument. Their excellent album Play-Station, for example, reimagined the electronic beeps of the video game era with only acoustic accordions. The trio’s founder, Janusz Wojtarowicz, states their mission best:

“Accordion traditionalists have run out of ideas, and it is our goal to extract notes from the accordion which have never been heard before, to develop completely new sounds and forms, and transfer them onto CD as well as of course to present them live.”

25 Songs: I.K. Dairo

With less than a week left in our accordion advent calendar, we turn to a country not typically known for its accordion players: Nigeria. I.K. Dairo was a pioneer of juju, a popular Nigerian music that evolved from Yoruba percussion. Dairo introduced new sounds to juju, adding Latin rhythms, electric guitar, and his ten-button accordion to the mix. He toured the world, was awarded an MBE by Queen Elizabeth in 1963, and extended juju’s appeal while deepening its connections to its Yoruba roots.

25 Songs: Very Be Careful

It’s Friday… let’s put on some party music! The rhythms of Colombian vallenato, by way of Los Angeles — that’s the sound of Very Be Careful. Vallenato is a traditional folk music of Colombia that typically features the accordion, caja vallenata (drum), and guacharaca. The Very Be Careful quintet adds bass, cowbell, and a relentless parranda (party) style that few can resist.

25 Songs: Lidia Kaminska

Barely thirty years old, Lidia Kaminska has already set herself apart as one of the world’s premier classical accordionists. Her chamber music, concerto, and solo performances explore the accordion’s complex and expressive range, and her repertoire includes a broad spectrum of classical, contemporary, and avant-garde music. Recently, she’s taken up the bandoneon — making her debut this past Spring at New York’s Lincoln Center — and has researched the works of Astor Piazzolla intensely. This clip, however, finds her playing the bayan on a contemporary piece by Jaroslaw Bester, leader of the Bester Quartet.

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