Friday, September 30, 2011

Everybody Polka!

Larry Hettinga's Little Czech Band featured
a dual-accordion attack.
As a one-time newspaper reporter/photographer in the 1980s, I loved taking pictures of polka bands. Great visuals: an assortment of musical instruments like accordions and tubas, some interesting characters (playing and dancing), and the slightly run-down settings of Czech Hall and Ernie's Polka Palace in rural Canadian County, Oklahoma.

Taking good pictures was tough, because the dance halls were usually pretty dark, and then my flash would pop and temporarily blind the musicians. (Which I thought was funny. They did not agree.) I also learned to watch out for the (usually) elderly dancers flailing around after one octogenarian couple nearly knocked me down.

These two photos came from an actual Polka Festival hosted by Ernie's Polka Palace in the late 1980s. I remember being shocked at the crowds, and all the out-of-state license plates in the parking lot. Polka is big in certain circles, apparently. The hardcore polka-ers (ists?) wore a lot of polyester and had special dancing shoes that they would not wear anywhere but the wooden dance floor.
Pete and the Polkatimers: Music-marketing synergy. 

Still, the bands themselves held the most fascination for me. Some had matching outfits (volume discount for Sans-A-Belt slacks in many cases), some wore awesome hats. The multi-generation bands were interesting. The band on the left had it all. Pete and the Polkatimers! There's a lot to see in this photo. These guys are rocking the matching outfits with Sans-A-Belts, and they're multi-generational. But it's their marketing savvy that kills.

"Happy Music for Happy People": How strong is that? Also note that they are selling postcards and vinyl records right there on the stage. Oh, and also Pete's old accordion is for sale. This band was a self-contained business unit, ready to dominate. I wonder whatever happened to them....

Full disclosure: I'm one-quarter Czech, and I can do the Chicken Dance (if my wife makes me).


Postscript: I don't remember if either of these photos were published. If you look closely at the upper left corner of the bottom photo, you can see that these guys chewed on it.

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