Thursday, July 30, 2009

“Polka Proud”

c. 2009 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

It was a busy weekend afternoon in the Icehouse Home Office.

I was still recuperating from knee surgery, at the end of June. So half-finished projects were everywhere. A three-part series on the evolution of Burton Village waited for analysis by Ezekiel Byler-Gregg. An editorial by Carrie Hamglaze on Geauga County development lingered until my own finishing touches could be applied.

Meanwhile, I had just begun to compose a feature about Cleveland music icon Dennis Chandler, when an e-mail message arrived, via a popular social networking website.
It was from The Chardon Polka Band, a local group that had once included my musically gifted nephew, Juztyn.

With curiosity, I read the note. It offered details about their upcoming show in the county’s capital city:

“What's shaking MySpace, Internet buddies? It wouldn't be summertime without energetic polkas filling the air in Chardon, Ohio. This Wednesday, the world-renowned Chardon Polka Band will be playing a lunchtime show on the Chardon Square (11:45-1:00 p.m.). This years polka roster includes 20-somethings Jake Kouwe and Paul Coates along with Alex Previty, Josh Burke, and 63 year-old Paul ‘Pops’ Magooch. It's guaranteed that this is the only polka band around with mohawks and long hair! The band, now in it's sixth year of existence, is just as energetic and entertaining as ever (well, maybe we had a bit more energy during our high school days)! With fun originals, classic polkas, and rowdy sing-a-longs, you won't want to miss this event!”

Immediately, I called my wife to discuss the event. Liz agreed that it would be a perfect summer activity for the family. So with folding chairs, beverages, snacks, and my digital camera stashed in our family sedan, we departed for the show.

While traveling, I began to sing:

“Roll out the barrel, we'll have a barrel of fun
Roll out the barrel, we've got the blues on the run
Zing boom tararrel, sing out a song of good cheer
Now's the time to roll the barrel, cause the gang's all here!”

Mother Nature seemed uncertain about this concert. The skies overhead were cloudy, yet dry. Still, no one seemed concerned about the weather. A lunchtime crowd had gathered to hear and be glad!

As ever, we were fashionably late. The band was already in a polka-delic groove as we stationed our equipment directly in front of the city gazebo:

“Strike up the music the band has begun
The Pennsylvania Polka
Pick out your partner and join in the fun
The Pennsylvania Polka
It started in Scranton. It's now number one
It's bound to entertain ya
Everybody has a mania
To do the polka from Pennsylvania!”

Kouwe teased the audience while introducing his bandmates. “We have Paul on bass, and Paul on drums. So it’s ‘Paul squared’ today!”

Giggles echoed around the lawn.

“Actually, we usually have someone on saxophone,” he continued. “But I’ve grown my beard very long, to help take up some of the extra ‘white space.’ So keep your hands and feet inside the car at all times… and here we go!”

The trio offered another popular number that produced smiles from everyone:

“Here's a silly ditty,
You can sing it right away
Now, here is what you say
So sing it while you may
Here's a silly jingle,
You can sing it night or noon
Here's the words, that's all you need
'Cause I just sang the tune
Oh, I don't want her, you can have her
She's too fat for me…”

Our daughters were spellbound by the upbeat rhythms and Old World melodies. Leigh, the teenager, rocked in her wheelchair with festive enthusiasm. But Soccer Fairy tilted her head while thinking. A mood of ‘tween’ curiosity was obvious.

“Where is Juztyn?” she wondered aloud.

Liz fretted over snack mix and cans of soda. “Who?”

“Juztyn!” she repeated. “Where’s my cousin? The other accordion player!”

“He is away at college,” I laughed quietly. “Don’t you remember?”

The Fairy was wide-eyed and skeptical. “But last time, we saw him playing with the band… I remember!”

“You’re right,” I nodded. “But that performance was over two years ago.”

She concentrated with all the energy her eleven year-old brain could muster.

“Ohhhhh,” she agreed at last. “So, will he play with them again?”

Liz patted her head. “I’m sure they’d like that! Maybe before summer is over…”

“I hope so!” she exclaimed.

As we listened, the group changed their tempo with a familiar European ballad:

“Edelweiss, Edelweiss
Every morning you greet me
Small and white, clean and bright
You look happy to meet me
Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow
Bloom and grow forever
Edelweiss, Edelweiss
Bless my homeland forever.”

Liz and the girls were in a cheerful mood. But my mind had begun to wander.

“Wouldn’t it be great to start a ‘Pops’ Magooch fan club on the Internet?” I mused.

My wife was startled. “What??”

Leigh and Soccer Fairy were speechless.

“No, seriously,” I said. “The guy is unique. An oldster playing with energetic, new wave troubadours. Isn’t that tantalizingly ironic? And cutting edge??”

There was no response.

“It could start with a fan club on Facebook,” I continued. “Then the idea could develop into full-fledged fandom!”

The silence persisted.

“C’mon!” I pleaded at last. “Tell me you’ve ever seen anything like that before. Say it with a straight face. ‘Pops’ is completely original. A sixty-three year old living icon. Sort of a trans-generational link between the music of Frankie Yankovic and modern artists like The Polkaholics…”

My spouse affected a maternal grin. “Yes, Rodney. Whatever you say.”

Leigh rolled her eyes with indifference.

Finally, Soccer Fairy hugged me with a gentle squeeze. “It’s okay. I’ll join your club!”

Kouwe leaned into the microphone, as their performance neared its conclusion.

“We’re at the end of our show today,” he said. “Which means there is one more song to play… our new closing anthem!”

The group burst into a spirited rendition of ‘Old Style Polka.’ This boisterous tune brought everyone to their feet:

“Time to take a break
From all this money making
We work hard
To bring home the bacon
When the day does end
I want to be with friends
We’re living Old Style, Old Style Beer
We’re living Old Style, Old Style is here
My friends are Old Style, Old Style Beer
So have another Old Style
All our friends are here
We’re living Old Style, Old Style Beer!”

I tapped my cane in time to the music.

“This makes me think of visiting your family in Wisconsin,” I cheered.

Liz nodded. “All we need are Green Bay Packers jerseys.”

“And some hunks of cheese??” The Fairy echoed.

“Sounds great,” I agreed. “Now, where do I find Old Style Beer in Ohio?”

“I don’t know from beer,” my wife confessed. “You’re alone on that mission.”

My excitement was momentarily stilled. “Okay, how about… brats on the grill?”

“That’ll do,” she agreed.

“Polka and bratwurst, in the shadow of ‘Pops’ Magooch!” I shouted, as the band finished their concert.

“Life is good!”

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