Big Joe’s Polka Hour
Hosted by Joe Siedlik
When the phase “folk music” comes up, most people think of the Pete Seeger / Arlo Guthrie “riding the rails and being hungry in America” sound, the tunes that Peter, Paul, and that big blonde made so famous. But there’s lots of other real music made by real people, and polka music is about as diametrically opposed as possible. Bright, bubbly, and filled with danceable beats, this was the pop music that ruled central Europe 150 years ago. I don’t know what’s on the charts in Brno or Graz today, but polka music survives in small pockets in the Upper Midwest, New York State, and Nebraska. My folks and their friends went out every weekend as I grew up, had a whiskey sour, and danced all evening long.
These folks are still around, and you need to broaden your musical horizons by visiting Big Joe Siedlik. He’s the genial host of Big Joe’s Polka Hour, rotund and often clad in accordion-themed vests. Up in front of the Big Plywood Dance Floor, a string of bands gets up to entertain the often elderly crowd. Many bands are astonishingly bad, like The Polkatones out of South Omaha, who add new dimension to the word “wooden.” Occasionally the lead accordionist breaks out in song reminiscent of a phlegmatic call to the pigs at dinnertime, but that’s the high point of their act. After two tunes, it’s on the slightly more talented is the Leonard Havarex Band, featuring dueling trombonists and a promotional suitcase strategically located in front of the kick drum. At least these guys don’t sing in border Polish. Later in the show, a pretty decent Joe Beano Band takes the stage, sounding a bit better and knocking off a few standards of the genre. What tunes did they play? Hard to say, but the titles are mostly Polish and talk about love and dancing. What else do real folks sing about?
More bands follow, but the drift is similar. The show appears to be hosted inside an abandoned aircraft hanger, with acoustics that are mercifully flat. A large CDX plywood dance floor hosts an occasional geriatric couple gingerly foxtrotting or waltzing around like they did years ago. Dozens of church tables lacking a festive centerpiece grace the sides of the dance floor. Somewhere, I sense, is a table with potluck hot dish dinner and lukewarm fruit punch from Costco. Is this fun? Actually, it is, especially if you have to milk 50 Holsteins twice a day.
I will point out you need satellite TV to get this rather obscure show on this rather obscure channel, home to antique tractor programs and other slices of the disappearing rural Americana of yesteryear. It’s a slice of Americana, but the static cameras and high school AV club editing work make this a show you need to see once, and flip over to something a bit more ironic. But, you DO need to see it once.