No Hokey Polka
No genre of music generates giggles quite like polka. But while many see polka as the soundtrack for lederhosen-wearing seniors, Marty Rome sees it as a life-changing force. "I don't know what kind of person I'd be if it weren't for polka," she says. A Denver polka addict for seventeen years, Rome says the music has health benefits as well. "It keeps you young," she notes. "It's a great way to get exercise without knowing you're exercising."
This weekend, Rome and fellow polka fan and Longmont resident Chris Rouse will give locals a chance to work out when they present the High Country Buttons & Ivories Polka Extravaganza in Boulder. The affair runs Thursday through Sunday, with more polka-enhanced events than a Lawrence Welk Show reunion. Thursday's polka jam session is open to area players, and on Friday and Saturday, national and local bands will perform from early afternoon until midnight. The list of national acts includes the Jeff Pecon Band and special guest Lou Trebar. Pecon is the son of the late Johnny Pecon, a Forties-era sidekick of polka legend Frank Yankovic. Trebar -- Cleveland, Ohio's "King of the Waltz" -- is a legend in the Slovenian/Cleveland style of polka. Local acts on the bill include Rouse's own combo.
For polka lovers, the event is sure to be a religious experience -- literally. Sunday's offerings include the Polka Mass, a concept started decades ago by Minnesotan Father Frank Perkovich (with approval from the Vatican). The service will feature religious hymns reshaped into polkas and waltzes, giving attendees a chance to "Roll Out the Barrel" while rolling back holy wafers. (No, beer will not be served in lieu of wine.)
According to Rouse, a pilot for America West who uses his flying privileges to attend polka gatherings around the country, Colorado looms large in America's polka culture. In the '50s, the state had more polka bands per capita than any state in the union. Polka Extravaganza attendees will pay tribute to one of the state's greatest polka nuts, Adolph Lesser, who was recently inducted into the International Polka Association Hall of Fame, in Cleveland. Even today, Rouse says proudly, "Colorado is one of your top states for polka bands."
Just about any weekend of the year, local polka fans can find accordion-related events sponsored by a number of area clubs, including the Denver chapter of the Polka Lovers Klub of America (polkaloversklubofamerica.org). Those who prefer to listen at home can log on to 247polkaheaven.com.
Rouse says polka is recovering from a backlash among baby boomers turned off by their parents watching the Lawrence Welk Show. The accordion's increasingly hip reputation in alt-country, Cajun and Tex-Mex music is also helping attract a younger audience, and Rouse says young people are gaining a greater appreciation of polka by attending Oktoberfest-style events. "The young people have a heck of a good time," he notes. "Of course, there's a lot of beer flowing."
However, Rome warns that excessive quaffing is not welcome at polka events and may present problems to dancers. "It will throw you off balance," she says. "But if you're dancing a lot, you're dancing the beer right off. You can lose a few pounds in a night."
The music's best asset is more mental than physical, however. "It's jolly," Rome says. "If you're down in the dumps, it can't help but bring you up." Rouse agrees. "Some people do make fun of polka music," he notes, "but a lot of people go to these dances and just forget all of their troubles and what's going on in the rest of their lives. They get together at these festivals and have a great time. It's a real happy music."
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