ALL QUIET ON THE SOCIAL DANCING FRONT
Question: What is the direct opposite of Social Distancing?
Answer: Social Dancing.
Unfortunately, everyone is on the downside of that equation. It is nearly impossible to wrap your mind around this thing that just showed up. This invisible “thing” that has traveled the world over sight unseen, making some people sick and others dead. Those who do not die, recover within several weeks, yet are still surrounded by it and its effects. Here are several categories of people affected by this thing going on.
The best overall statement is from Ray Wylie Hubbard: “People seem to miss being a part of a live experience that shares the musician’s love of what they themselves love and the community is denied the happening that connects us together through music. Nothing bonds an audience together like when someone in the crowd yells Freebird or A Ja Sam.” (I added the last song reference.)
The absence of opportunities to play music and make people happy hits the musicians two ways. One is the obvious for the folks whose income is derived 100 percent from playing music. Full time musicians whose families, band members, and bankers depend upon them to generate a steady cash stream are slammed. Das Ist Lustig, Alex Meixner, Barefoot Becky, and Squeezebox are four that come to mind. The Alex Meixner Band and Squeezebox blocked out multi-week periods of their lives to go on multi-state tours, to bring their happy music to the people and make a living. When they cancel tours it injects a huge hole in their lives. Barefoot Becky and the Ivanhoe Dutchmen didn’t travel that far but canceled 14 shows in Iowa this April.
These bands are still finding ways to connect with their fans. Barefoot Becky recently held a drive-through polka event shown on the band's Facebook page.Das Ist Lustig has been holding virtual Saturday night Haus Concerts on Facebook with dedications to German restaurants at which they perform and one to Texas Polka News!
"Thank y'all so much for all y'all do for all the bands and venues that support polka and folk music!" Valina said. "It looks like there were about 500 views while we were live, and another 200 after the fact, plus 29 shares and a couple of watch parties - one in Canada with a German club, all their members watching from their homes. Pretty exciting!"
Alex Meixner has been streaming both solo and with his band on Facebook and YouTube. "Thank you to everyone who tuned into last night's live stream," he said of his April solo show. "Your requests, kind comments, tips and purchases from the online store are greatly appreciated more than you can ever know. My passion for my entire life has been performing for audiences and knowing that I can continue to reach y'all and bring some happiness and cheer in these uncertain times makes me believe in the immense power of music more than ever."
The Texas bands that play on weekends, as Alfred Vrazel puts it, to “play for the people”, not to get rich are hurting as well. While they aren’t depending upon playing for money, it sure is nice to get a couple hundred in cash to replace equipment and to smooth out the bumps in their family world. Also in this category, are musicians who have lost their day jobs and the old motto “I can always play music” isn’t ringing true.
“I've been doing live streams and merch sales," said Jade Patek. "But also keeping it simple and not spending a lot of money. Trying to take this time to slow down and be creative. I want to write songs and get organized during this down time. I'm on the road so much that these things get pushed lower down my list.”
Musican and polka historian George Koudelka says we have to bear up to what’s happening and follow the advice given out. George stays inside his house and periodically takes his temperature as we all should.
Lawrence Svetlik, of the Red Ravens, says the band members are all staying isolated despite their desire to practice with their newest member, Vincent Garcia, who is replacing the now retired Eugene Klekar on saxophone. Both Lawrence and Shane Lala agreed that the situation SUCKS.
Fiddler Keith Junot just does small projects around the house and practices as much as possible every day. He has lost 36 jobs so far.
The web has filled the gap a bit, by making it possible for musicians to broadcast live or pre-recorded shows over their Facebook pages. The internet has also allowed fans watching at home to tip the musicians through a website and can request songs. The learning curve for them has been steep, they’re playing to a group of fans who aren’t visible, yet are in constant communication via text messaging to the musician.
Sean Orr who generally plays two to three times a week has been having a weekly live two-hour show from the front porch of his house on Thursday nights.
Squeezebox has been performing a daily show on their page. Mollie B and Ted also had a drive-through polka show, where fans lined up in their vehicles and one by one drove by Mollie and Ted, requested a song, and they played it.
Kelsey J. Lien, the One Man Band, has streaming his music on YouTube videos with multiple screens of him playing different instruments.
There are other performers such as Brianna Adams, Bob Suttie, Al Sulak, and Jerry Haisler who have been giving frequent shows. Now we come to the unequalled Mr. Brian Marshall of Bremond Texas, one of the Polish capitals of Texas. He has been hatching multiple three-minute performances filled with a mixture of silly happiness and tremendous fiddling in the Polish vein. He has procured local sponsors for each segment and gives his own version of advertisements that would give professional admen heart-attacks.
The need to limit gatherings to no more than 10 really did a number on festivals where hundreds, if not thousands, would gather to celebrate music and heritage. The National Polka Festival in Ennis was one of the first to cancel its event in May.
"I had been in communication with the city prior to the cancellation and knew that other local festivals would not be held," said Jean Paul Beebe, festival director. "Initially, we were intending to wait until April before making a decision. However, shortly after that, Ellis County placed its initial "shelter in place" order. It was a one week order with recommendations to follow the guidelines for 8 weeks. That timeline placed the order expiration on May 12. That would be 10 days before the start of the festival.
"Being that the National Polka Festival is such a large event, it became logistically difficult to continue to plan as usual. If we did continue on as normal, we may be putting our fans, volunteers, and musicians at a health risk and the festival at significant financial risk. I felt that the longer we tried to wait out COVID-19, the riskier it was going to get," Jean Paul said.
He noted that the negative impact for the City of Ennis is pretty significant. "The city depends on local taxes, like hotel/motel tax, which will not be available this year. The National Polka Festival brings many travelers from around the area and the hotels are generally all full with those that attend multiple days of the Festival. We also have many day travelers that come in for a single day at the halls, or to attend the parade, who also buy locally during their time in town.
"Ultimately, our goal is to continue having the National Polka Festival for many years to come. Fortunately this is a temporary situation that simply forced our hand to make a very tough decision. But we are already working on the festival for 2021 and hope that everyone will be ready for it!"
The loss of church picnics is not only a financial blow to the parishes but a social loss, as it is the loss of the gathering of friends and families that only occur at these functions, not to mention the culinary loss of all those tasty meals. There is also the loss to those people (or companies) who supply all the items that make a picnic fun. The people who raise and process the thousands of chickens gobbled up at a picnic. The beverage distributers that supply the courage for the dancers. The service organizations who operate booths and count on the picnics to generate funds for scholarships and the betterment of youth programs.
The legions of folks who follow certain bands or are regulars at specific locations are really feeling withdrawals.
Helen and Junior Skolaut, the Bobby and Cissy of the dance halls (think Lawrence Welk), are feeling the effects. Helen responded that Junior says: “No dancing, no romancing.” (After 45 years of dancing together, they still “date”. Those are their date nights!). They miss their “dance hall family” and all the wonderful musicians.
Judy Foster said she really misses her dance friends! "I used to look forward to the weekend dancing – now I don’t even know when the weekends happen.”
Joe Cool Pavilcek misses photographing the events or TPN and dancing with Joyce and their friends and is working on a new line dance. He’s also getting to work on his vineyard more frequently. Joe is also training the critters in his farm pond to respond quicker to their feeding.
Betty Tidwell, membership secretary of the Polka Lovers Klub of America, Chapter 1, says it’s a bummer. She misses the human interaction that goes with being a member of the Red & Whites. "It has been so long since I danced I might have to retrain my feet," she said.
Elaine Rosquist is keeping an exercise routine in place but she is having difficulties in staying six feet away from visiting her family and the refrigerator.
Harvey and Helen Wise, who raise chickens and eggs, are still selling their eggs to local restaurants who have drive-through services. Harvey says that sometimes the buyers send free meals back home with them.
The dance halls and clubs that depend upon weekly events are really hard hit. They still have electric bills, insurance, etc., to pay. Some of them with kitchens are selling drive-through foods. There are some really good deals on beer and wine as they need to get rid of their stock before it goes bad.
Watterson Hall is selling hamburgers on Saturday nights. Mullins Prairie Store is having weekly live broadcasts from inside the store, while burgers and beer are served at the drive-through from behind a barrier of tables.
Sweet Home Hall, a constant weekend destination for many dancers seeking a real dance hall experience, is using the down period to do some repairs to improve the future dancing experience.
The Oprys being closed deprives a large segment of citizens who love music, but do not attend dances, the opportunity for live music. The revenue from the Oprys are passed on to local charities. For instance, the Friends of the Bluebonnet Opry donates over $5,000 yearly to the local hospice, which cuts back vital services to the community.
So, in the words of The Eagles, we all need to Learn To Be Still, because as Willie sez Still is Still Moving to Me or we might be doing the All Around Czechs Waltz of the Angels. Brian Marshall advises: “You know that Corona Virus? Don’t get any of that on you.”
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