Soulard Oktoberfest Showcases some new Polka Faces

BY DIANE TOROIAN KEAGGY • > 314-340-8343

On July 21, 1998, Texas act Brave Combo recorded Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" to an oom-pah beat.

Polka has never been the same. 

Since then, a new generation of bands has paired traditional polka with contemporary country, rock and alternative hits. Turns out, even Slayer sounds better with an accordion. 

"We have huge respect for Brave Combo," says Wade Clark of metal-polka act the Polkanauts. "They made what we all do possible."

The Polkanauts, Polka Floyd and Copper Box join Brave Combo at Soulard Oktoberfest in its new location this weekend at Third Street and Lafayette Avenue. The festival features German food, plenty of beer, wacky contests and four stages of live music. Go! magazine reporter and resident potato-pancake connoisseur Diane Toroian Keaggy learns more about the new wave of polka acts: 


Polkanauts: Polka + metal

Polka Floyd: Polka + Pink Floyd

Copper Box: Polka + zydeco, blues and rock


Polkanauts: "Like the best ideas, this one came to us when we were a little drunk," says the Polkanauts' Wade Clark. "I grew up in Texas listening to Tejano music, which has a lot of accordion, and (frontman Paco Vansistine) grew up in Green Bay (Wis.) listening to polka. One night he was like, "You know what we need to do …' I love all things metal, and the next thing you know we're doing polka versions of Slayer and Black Sabbath."

Polka Floyd: "I was in a large cover band with two guys who played polka," says Polka Floyd singer Ken Haas. "I used to rib them about it, but they made a better living doing that than in our band. One day, and I couldn't tell you why, I started to play the chord progression to the Pink Floyd song 'Comfortably Numb' with a polka shuffle beat. When we were done, we started laughing. We booked a gig just to see what would happen, and the response was just overwhelming." 

Copper Box: "We come from Oshkosh (Wis.), where people appreciate the accordion more," says Michelle Jerabek. "Danny (Jerabek's husband and Copper Box accordion player Danny Jerabek) got started on his grandfather's accordion. He learned a couple of songs from his grandfather, and it evolved from there. I also grew up playing music because my family was all German and Polish. That's what we did for fun — go to polka dances. In fact, I met Danny at a polka dance."  


Polkanauts: "I didn't know if it could work, but we were determined to try," Clark says. "We realized early on you need to have a song with a melody. Surf tends to work well; so does thrash. It also helps if you've had a few drinks before you come see us." 

Polka Floyd: "It has been really fun to immerse myself in Pink Floyd," Haas says. "They started as a British pop band, and they were kooky, and that lends itself very well to the accordion. But even their darker stuff works, too. I think that speaks volumes about how timeless their music is — that it can be reinterpreted in so many ways." 

Copper Box: "We didn't want to lose what we grew up with, but as we grew up we realized that there is so much good music out there — zydeco, blues, Steely Dan, CCR," Jerabek says. "And it could all work with polka. A lot of bands like ourselves and Brave Combo have a lot of respect for the polka music, and this is a way of presenting it to a new audience in a way they can relate to." 


Polkanauts: "Some of the old guys have come around, and some are really offended," Clark says. "We readily acknowledge that we are a novelty act. But the spirit and fun of traditional polka is there."

Polka Floyd: "I've had 80-year-old women come up to the stage and say, 'Which one of you boys is Floyd?'" says Haas. "Then they'll point their fingers at me and say, 'This is not polka. I don't know what you think you are doing, but this is not polka. Shame on you.'"  

Copper Box: "There are old-timers who always want to hear the 'Blue Skirt Waltz' and 'Beer Barrel Polka' played at a certain tempo and hear two polkas and then two waltzes in that order," Jerabek says. "My grandfather is proud of what we've done. We're not his favorite band to listen to, but he knows we're doing it for a reason, and he's one of those reasons." 

P O L K A N A U T S |  |  Denver, Colorado, USA, Planet

Polkanaut hats are now in!