Editor's Log In the Beginning...
Polkadate July 2020. Once upon a time, to be exact, the spring of 1987, a powerhouse in the Central Texas music industry, Julius Tupa, floated an idea among his friends and fellow musicians that would come to fruition and continue to bear fruit for several decades and into the next millennium.
Julius’ idea was to utilize his background in music-event production, spinning records at KFRD in Rosenberg, as a bandleader and musician of polka and country bands, and an energetic promoter of happy music to publish a newspaper that would alert and inform dancers to Czech, Polish, and German music events that aren’t advertised in their hometown papers. The bi-monthly Texas Polka News (TPN) was founded.
In his travels Julius found that the public would commute great distances to attend dances if they knew about them. Wurstfest was a prime example. With its large budget, it was able to advertise across the state and people came from across Texas. But what about the church picnics, local bands and clubs, and overall cultural information that would be of interest to the polka public?
In a press release found in the New Ulm Enterprise of May 1987, the TPN would give “Hundreds of polka bands, dancers, choral groups” the opportunity to make their information available to everyone.
It was during this time that Old Time Music (polka and waltz) was in a decline and country bands were becoming more popular. Bands were changing their names from ethnic monikers to either generic or country music-sounding names so as to get bookings. In Julius’ first editorial he lamented that there was not enough support for polka music anymore. Besides the obvious
generational cyclic shift in popular music, he also laid the blame on the apathy of the public in not supporting small local ethnic businesses and not contacting radio stations wanting to hear polka music. He also noted the decline of families attending dances on the laziness of parents by “sitting at home on their dollars, watching the boob tube and eating frozen pizza! ’Nuff said,” on that topic.
The first edition of this journalistic CPR attempt to a long and beautiful ethnic tradition was an eight-page, black-and-white newsprint effort. Julius had been trumpeting the arrival of the paper both personally and through advertisements in papers such as the New Ulm Enterprise which publishes in the German area of Austin County and in Véstník, the weekly magazine of the S.P.J.S.T. Over 500 friends pledged subscriptions to ensure the magazine was published. The cost of the TPN for a year's subscription was $10 for 12 issues. A Mr. Steve Tatum assisted Julius with the editorial work.
The cover page featured Julius’ story describing the paper and an article on “Cruising the Caribbean with the Adam Barthalt Band” written by Rosie Shields. The ABB was from New York and toured in Texas. Rosie reported 28 Texians made the cruise and had a terrific time consuming massive quantities of food and music. Cruises were starting to be a big thing then and an advertisement touting a floating Oktoberfest, “A Week-Long Caribbean Cruise with Ed Kadlacek and the Bavarian Village Band” was inside the paper.
Accompanying a large advertisement, a story on the Mitas Polka Festival in Saginaw, Michigan enticed Texians to escape the summer heat by attending. The festival featured “All Five Polka Grammy” winners of 1987, something which probably will not happen again, since in 2009, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences announced the retirement of the Grammy polka award category. President and CEO Neil Portnow stated that the Academy needed to do so in order to remain a "relevant and responsive" organization within a "dynamic music community”; whatever the hell that means. I’m sure that Julius would have had an interesting and scathing editorial if he had not passed several years earlier.
Another northerner, Don Peachy, was bringing his orchestra through Texas that summer and Julius let everyone know the particulars on this legendary artist, who until a few years ago was still bringing his music to Texas. (He currently runs an ad for his band in the paper on page 23.) Julius also promoted the Schulenburg Festival, which despite having country headliners; Julius noted that it was in the middle of Czech/German music territory. An advertisement for the Polish Festival of Houston with dancers and Slavic music encouraged folks to come enjoy the dance troupes.
A future regular column was the Artist’s Profile. Interestingly enough, his first choice was a biography of Gene Lichnovsky who was performing at the Praha Picnic that August in 1987. Gene recently graced the cover of the TPN in March of 2020. Another column was the Coastal Bend Comments written by Helen Pavelka concerning events happening in the Corpus Christi area.
Several advertisements that are not seen in the current TPN are Gabbanelli Accordions sales and service of Houston; Accordion Rose, who repairs accordions; and Henry Gerhart’s Accordions for sale; Shiner Beer; Prasek’s Hillje Smokehouse; VCR tapes of the Czech Fest featuring the Round Top Brass Band and Central Texas Sounds among other bands.
An interesting ad was for a Klub Kontinental: “A people to people Farm Exchange Program between Texas Farmers and Czech Farmers” which was operated by Rudy Klecka. Another eyecatcher was Pisničky České an advertisement for lyrics to over 300 Czech songs, old and new, that were being offered by the Dallas Czech Singers.
Julius had Jason Boy, a record publishing company, which listed several dozen records or tapes he had available for sale, among them were Wence Shimek, SPJST Lodge 88 Choral Group, Isaac Payton Sweat, Joe Moostash, Donnie Wavra, and Jimmy Sturr among others. Also, Norman Murrbach advertised records for sale and sound systems to rent; Norman recorded and sold 10 new square dance records a month. Ed and Marlene Kadlecek offered to record Demo Tapes for bands, as well as converting vinyl albums to cassettes.
As commented on earlier, this was a slow time period for public events as evidenced by the rather thin Calendar of Events. There were only 22 events listed for the months of July and August, but it must be remembered that this areawide coverage by Julius was a new concept. Communication was by telephone or the U.S. mail. Locations having dances were the Starlight Ballroom in Elgin (SPJST), Cat Spring Agricultural Hall, the Round Rock Polka Festival (with Eddy Ray and the Polka Dots, Fritz Hodde, and the Vrazels); the Praha Feast with Harry Czarnek and Texas Dutchmen and The Travelers; Harold Strand was at Seaton Hall, touring Don Peachy was stopping at the Chandelier Ballroom (Lodge 88) and at Schroeder Hall; the Leo Majek Orchestra was at home at the Corpus Christi Sokol, and the Bavarian Village Band was at the Texas Folklife Festival in San Antonio. The growth over the years of the dance listings has been instrumental in keeping the music alive.
There was a plethora of band advertisements starting with the Henry Repka Polka Band, The Dutchmasters, the Knights of Dixie Orchestra, the El Campo Melody Boys, Ed Kadlecek’s Bavarian Village Band, the City Polka Boys, Al Mark’s Orchestra, the Country Boys Polka Band of Ennis, The Jurecka Orchestra, The Last Roundup Band, the Wence Shimek Orchestra, and John Sullivan with his trumpet and big band orchestra all advertising to come and play for you.
Polka dancers are always looking for some good food before and after dances. The City Meat Market in Schulenburg advertised its famous homemade wieners; Gene Hackemack’s Hofbräuhus offered German food and more out in German country near Frelsburg; the Texas Grill, Rosenberg’s finest, was open 24 hours a day for bands and dancers after night dances, and the Kolache Bakery in Houston offered their specialty for breakfast.
The altering of names to attract crowds was evidenced by the advertisement of Bill’s Country Palace, which had previously been the historic Bill Mraz Ballroom.
All in all, Mr. Julius Tupa from Moravia, Texas produced an excellent first issue that successfully raised the polka flag and proudly waved it summoning like-minded people to preserve a unique music and culture. The people responded by keeping polka and waltz music in the eyes, the ears, and the dance floors of the new millennium. Thank you, Julius, for keeping Happy Music for Happy People from disappearing.