Friday, October 15, 2010

“Polka Pride Grows In Geauga”

c. 2010 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Where is polka music most beloved in America?

On the shores of Lake Erie? In Chicago? Or Pittsburgh?

Guess again. The polka-universe has shifted focus to a spot closer to home – Geauga County, USA.

Over Labor Day weekend, Jacob Kouwe’s Chardon Polka Band appeared at the Time Warner Cable Amphitheater at Tower City, as part of the ‘Taste of Cleveland’ celebration.

The event offered a chance for new fans to experience the power of homegrown, maple-country polka music. But for Kouwe, the performance was special for a more personal reason.

Headlining the show was Weird Al Yankovic, perhaps the best known of all modern polka performers.

Kouwe was ecstatic when describing the experience.

“Being asked to be part of the opening line-up for Weird Al was a dream come true!” he said. “I actually have Al to thank for picking up the accordion. I was always an Al fan when I was a kid and when I was 14 I saw a live show of his on VH1. After that, I convinced my parents to buy me an accordion and I started taking lessons. I would have never picked up an accordion if it hadn't been for seeing Weird Al play one on TV. It just looked like fun.”

In addition to Jake himself, the Chardon Polka Band lineup included his father, Phil Kouwe, plus Paul Coates, Mike Franklin, Emily Burke, and Paul ‘Pops’ Magooch.

Magooch, elder statesman of the group, has proved to be such an audience favorite that he boasts a fan page on the Facebook website.

Kouwe first encountered Yankovic backstage, as they were preparing for the show.
“As we're getting sound checked and tested and whatnot, who walks in?” he said with lingering excitement. “Weird Al! My dad says, you gotta talk to him. I wasn't sure. I didn't wanna sound like a geek or stalker.... but my dad said I had to go tell him that he was the reason I picked up an accordion. So, I went over to al who was working on his computer off to the side of the stage. I introduced myself and told him about how I started playing accordion. I said that although I don't really play the same type of music that he does and whatnot, it was his inspiration that originally got me playing the squeeze box. Al thanked me and the whole band got a photo with him. He was such a nice guy.”

When Kouwe and Yankovic finally appeared together on stage, it was a pairing of kindred souls.

“We were a little more than halfway through our first set when out of nowhere, Al comes strolling out with an accordion and starts playing behind me,” Kouwe said. “We were playing the old polka ‘I got a wife at home.’ I couldn't believe it!”
He who remade polka for the masses had joined those who were remaking the colorful ethnic genre - again.

“I can't even describe how it felt inside,” Kouwe explained. “The dude just smiled and jammed on his squeeze box. The crowd went nuts! I asked AL to stay one more song and the band went into our rendition of Twisted Sister's “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” Al just smiled and played along. He seems like such a humble dude. He just stood behind me backing me up on the accordion. He didn't come out front and center or nothing... he just joined in the fun.”

Kouwe felt transformed by the interaction with his mentor.

“Seeing one of my heroes on stage with the band I been working on for seven years - that's one of the best moments I've ever had. Definitely one of my most proud moments. Surely one of the coolest things to happen to me in my musical life.”
Afterward, Yankovic offered his own performance. The ‘Taste of Cleveland’ crowd received a dose of polka power like no other.

“Al's show was amazing,” Kouwe proclaimed. “It was a real cool multimedia event like nothing I had seen before. What an entertainer!

The Chardon Polka Band has been active for several years, after forming as an after-hours group at Chardon High School.

Recently, they recorded their first studio album ‘Pirates, Women and Beer’ at Kravos Productions. The audio document features several original compositions, and a roster of traditional favorites:

Free Beer Polka - (Jake Kouwe)
Two Sisters Polka - (Jake Kouwe)
I've Got A Wife at Home - (The Mark IV)
Polka Dancing Girl - (Jake Kouwe)
The Pirate Polka - (Jake Kouwe)
Old Style Beer - (George Kraynak, the Polkaholics)
Leia's Waltz - (Jake Kouwe)
Oh Marie Polka - (Frankie Yankovic, Joe Trollie, John Pecon)
Hymn Medley - (Lewis E. Jones/ Elisha A. Hoffman/ George Bennard)
Too Fat Polka - (Ross MacLean, Arthur Richardson)
Who Stole the Keeshka - (Walter Solek)
Deli Girl Polka - (Jake Kouwe)
Polka All Night - (Jake Kouwe)

Engineer for the album was Bob Kravos. It was mixed and mastered at Suma Studio by Paul Hamman. For ordering details, look at:

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