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!

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: Brave Combo

For day #16 on our accordion advent calendar, we have a track from one of my favorite holiday albums, Brave Combo’s It’s Christmas, Man! Brave Combo has been creatively bending genres for more than 25 years, and this album is no different. It’s filled with eclectic, twisted renditions of Christmas classics: a ska version of “The Christmas Song, a samba “O Christmas Tree”, and more. If you’re sick of hearing the same old holiday songs over and over again (sorry Burl Ives), this is your cure.

25 Songs: Frankie Yankovic

This is the one that started it all. Recorded in late 1947, “Just Because” sold over a million copies and catapulted Frankie Yankovic — and polka music — into the national spotlight. Legend has it that Columbia Records didn’t want him to even bother recording the old tune, but Yankovic was so confident in his Cleveland-style rendition that he promised to buy the first 10,000 copies himself. There are two accordions playing here: Yankovic (on piano accordion) and another Cleveland polka legend, Johnny Pecon (on chromatic). Pecon may not be as widely recognized but, in polka circles, he is regarded as one of polka’s greatest accordion players.

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2009 Grammy Nominees Announced

It’s that time of year again. The nominees for the 51st annual Grammy Awards were announced yesterday and, as usual, accordions dominated at least two categories. First up, the nominees for Best Polka Album:

It’s many of the same nominees we’ve seen in previous years including LynnMarie, Walter Ostanek and, of course, 17-time winner Jimmy Sturr. But I’m excited to see conjunto legend Paulino Bernal in the mix this year; he’s certainly long overdue for this recognition.

This is the second year for the Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album award; here are the nominees:

Meanwhile, our daughter’s favorite album — Here Come the 123s by They Might Be Giants — was nominated for Best Musical Album For Children. It’s certainly been played enough at our house to earn some sort of award.

We’ll post clips and reviews of many of these albums between now and the awards ceremony, which takes place February 8th in Los Angeles.

Election ’08: Palin Polka & Obama Zydeco

Back in February, we noted how both the Clinton and Obama campaigns courted Hispanic voters in Texas through cumbia and mariachi tunes. In the wake of last week’s presidential election, we found a couple of grassroots, accordion-fueled videos paying homage to presidential and vice presidential candidates alike.

First up is the “I’m in Love with Sarah Palin Polka”, from a band called “Joe and the Plumbers.” Led by Joe Rodgers — who some may recognize from posts on alt.music.polkas — the band uses classic Cleveland-style polka instrumentation including the accordion, banjo, and plunger:

On a more serious note, a group of Zydeco musicans came together in Opelousas, Louisiana, to record “Oui, On Peut” (“Yes, We Can”) — a tribute to Barack Obama (and his campaign slogan). The all-star band includes Jeffrey Broussard (of the Creole Cowboys) on accordion:

Quick Links: Cumbia, Polka, and the Righteous

  • Cumbia, My Lord, Cumbia
    You may be familiar with cumbia, the traditional Colombian (but now spread throughout Latin America) folk/dance music that prominently features the accordion. The Guardian looks at the latest cumbia innovation — Argentina’s “nueva cumbia,” where DJs are mixing cumbia with house, dancehall, and other genres. To hear it, check out El Hijo de la Cumbia or Oro11.
  • Polka for the Next Generation
    A fun, charming story by Leigh Ann Henion about her quest to learn to polka and her young niece’s blossoming into a polka princess. Art’s Concertina Bar — now Kochanski’s Concertina Beer Hall — makes a cameo appearance.
  • Featured Music: High Times
    The Fort-Worth Weekly introduces Mount Righteous, a Texas ten-piece with “feverish handclaps, helium-happy choir vocals, and dizzying bursts of trombone, snare drum, and accordion.” Imagine Mucca Pazza meeting The Polyphonic Spree, if you’re the type who enjoys defining new bands in terms of bands you already know. (And I am.)

Five Questions: Bradley Jaye Williams

Bradley Jaye WilliamsHang on tight — it’s another edition of “Five Questions”, our interview series with noteworthy accordion personalities from around the globe.

Few accordionists can cross genres as comfortably as Bradley Jaye Williams. Born in Michigan, Williams moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and then to Austin, where his music career really took off, playing with the likes of Flaco Jimenez and Mingo Saldivar. He currently plays in three bands: an authentic Texas-style conjunto called Conjunto Los Pinkys, a Cajun/Zydeco dance band known as The Gulf Coast Playboys, and The Fabulous Polkasonics, a combo that plays Polish-American “honky style” polkas, waltzes, and obereks.

When and why did you first start playing the accordion?

In 1986, I started playing the 2-row button accordion while living in a tiny studio apartment in Berkeley, California. My neighbors listened to me struggle with “La Cucaracha” and “La Nopalera” for a few months! Why did I start playing? I love accordion music! It was the natural thing to do. It felt right. To me, the accordion was always cool and it’s at the heart of many styles of dance music I love. I grew up in Saginaw, Michigan around all kinds of music… Motown, country, Dixieland, jazz, rock n’ roll and polka music… mainly the Polish-American and German music of Marv Herzog and Lawrence Welk (of course).

Living in the Bay Area in my 20’s, I experienced the music of Flaco Jimenez and it really struck a chord with me. Here was good old polka music being chopped and customized in a new and different way. I loved it. Ultimately, I think I was drawn to the international and cross-cultural appeal of accordion music and polka… the songs, customs, dance, food and pure FUN we all share. Of course, there is also something very compelling about the accordion itself: a magnificent machine…beautifully designed…and a challenge to play.

Open Season for Accordion Festivals

Memorial Day Weekend is almost here and that can only mean one thing… festival season! Whether it’s a celebration of Polish culture or crawfish, festivals are the perfect excuse to get outside, have fun, and listen to some great music. Preferably accordion music.

The season kicks off with two big accordion-related festivals this weekend; the first is the National Button Accordion Festival in Bessemer, PA. This festival is the rebirth of the old Fontana Jamboree and features three full days of dancing and jamming to Czech, Polish, Slovenian, Austrian, German, and many other types of music. And despite the name, piano accordionists are welcome.

Meanwhile, the small town of Ennis, TX plays host to the National Polka Festival. The largest Czech heritage festival in the US, the National Polka Festival has all the ingredients for a great summer festival — there’s a parade, a festival king and queen, tons of food (kolaches galore!), and a bunch of bands. Brave Combo, Polka Freak Out, Vrazel’s Polka Band, and many more will be leading folks on multiple dance floors.

And that’s just the beginning. There are Cajun/Zydeco festivals in California, Louisiana, Rhode Island, as well as another polka festival in the Adirondacks. Just bookmark the Let’s Polka calendar and we’ll take care of all your summer festival needs.

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