The View from the Dance Floor
You meet the most wonderful and/ or interesting people when music brings together strangers (well, most of the time). This pretty much sums up the five years that Theresa and I have been working on putting out the Texas Polka News.
Since Theresa acquired the paper five years ago and I agreed to assist; we had some big Kroje to fill after Julius Tupa and John Rivard had waltzed the Texas Polka News along for 25 years. Theresa had a professional journalism background and I had an advocational journalistic background coupled with 50 years of photography experience. Being fearless and optimistic, which isn’t far removed from clueless and curious, we forged ahead making it up as we went along.
We experimented with the paper’s major strength, which is the dance schedule. Several formats were tried, and, surprise!, we couldn’t please everyone. So, Theresa chose one and stuck to it making minor tweaks along the way acknowledging some readers' requests.
The first issue of 2015 premiered the new design by graphic artist/musician/son of Jimmy Brosch - Jeff Brosch. Alfred Vrazel has the distinction of being our first cover model. Color was added to the paper as the price of color printing had come down since Julius printed. We enlarged the sheet size despite some squawks about it not fitting in the glove box of some folks' vehicles.
We experimented with a few printers until settling on having the The Eagle in Bryan handle the printing. They go above and beyond in print quality and service.
The only major obstacle we haven’t been able to conquer is to get it into your mailbox before the first of the month EVERY month. In the beginning it was sent to readers in first-class envelopes, which became cost prohibitive as we added more pages and enlarged page size. The main bugaboo is the U.S. Postal Service; for some reason, they are highly inconsistent. What may take seven days to travel a few miles from Bryan to College Station, the same edition might land in a mailbox 200 miles away in three days. Then next month, the arrival dates are reversed. Then there are the mysterious missing editions which occasionally do not reach some readers.
We chalk it up to the mail delivery person’s excellent taste in reading material, but curse them being a cheapskate in not buying their own subscription; kind of like folks who pride their thriftiness by waiting until their father/brother/cousin/friend reads the Texas Polka News and then passes it on.
The addition of an internet edition in 2018 seems to be fairly popular with the computer literate, and I, as a photographer love it as the quality of the images in the advertisements and personal photos is as intended. Since Theresa and I are both fans of printed matter in general, the print edition will always be around.
Speaking of electronic thingys, the weekly polkabeat e-blast at no cost is a real bargain for the follower, particularly the non-subscriber since it is free. To assemble the e-blast takes at least two days a week for each of us, and then the rest of the time preparing the monthly print edition.
In addition to the e-blast weekly dance forecast, the previous weeks’ dance and music photographs are a big hit with the audience. In the beginning, I was taking images for Theresa’s polkabeat.com before she bought the paper, and people liked seeing their photos online. When the paper happened, we wondered how to get fun images into the paper without it looking like an out-of-place zit on the page with irrelevant text and adverts around it. Theresa solved that by making the last page a Polka Smiles page. What connotes fun better than a smile?
While on the camera thoughts, early on, as I was taking photos of bands, I noticed a lady standing next to me pretty much taking the same picture with a camera (not phone). We had a conversation about photography and I asked her if she would be interested in having some of them printed in a paper and she said "Yes," thus Karen Williams-Kurtz became the first staff photographer. Pretty much the same scenario replayed itself many times as I noticed other folks who seemed to be taking more than a phone snapshot.
The Texas Polka News photography staff has grown to an even dozen. These folks are all volunteers who love capturing the moment to share with others. With the work of these great people, a cultural image of Central Texas has begun to emerge through documentation. I challenge anyone to visually show me the events, the costumes, the people, the culture, the dance halls, and the music in a five-year span. By reading our paper and electronic offerings, a person could learn and see the status of Czech, German, Polish, Cajun, Texian, and a little Tejano music and culture in Texas. No other publication at any time has provided such a detailed review of Central Texas.
By the time you are reading this, there will be more than 61,000 images available for viewing online on the polkabeat flickr site. The extent of our photo collection is tremendous; by using the search engine on the Flickr photo page you can… say…find pictures of tractors, or kolaches, or ZZ Top or Alfred Vrazel (bet you never saw those last two names next to each other).
I occasionally get a comment inquiring why I am at a country music dance. These are folks who do not subscribe or do not read the sub-header on the cover page which describe out vision. Because of the slow shrinking of the polka world, and to better serve our audience who we see are dancers of many styles of music (Polka & Waltz, Nuclear Polka, Cajun, Two-Steppers, Western Swingers, and a few of us old rockers). The TPN has expanded its coverage to music that is heard in dance halls of Texas.
Our covers have featured Polka Kings and Queens, Fiddle Masters, Family heritage bands, Cajun accordion squeezers, Traditional Country pickers and crooners, and many more people who bring joy to others through their music. Being the editor of Polka Beat’s Facebook page, I have developed feeds that bring in all manners of music which I share with our close to 3,000 followers, in the format called “and now for something completely different” that intermingles live performances, Bluegrass, musical instrument jokes, European accordion music, Cajun clips, a Polish polka, and of course, everyone’s favorite Kelsey Lien’s one-man mini-concerts.
Of course, the 900-pound elephant in the room, is our advertisers, without them TPN would be a thing of the past and possibly the polka and waltz scene. I was told by a musician the other evening that some years ago, he was thinking of quitting music after 40+ years, but he came across a copy of the TPN and it inspired him to keep plugging away and making people happy with his music. Back to our reliable advertisers who see value in what we do and keep renewing their adverts. THANK YOU!
On a personal level: five years, 60 deadlines, that’s a lot of deadlines for a natural born procrastinator (putter offertill-manana-kinda-guy). I’ve always been one to step off a cliff and try to figure out what’s next, sometimes you don’t. I was definitely an outsider when I began this odyssey, Scotch-Irish, lover of music which shakes things up, no 13 first cousins, four generations deep and clueless on musical structure (still don’t know what B Flat is, but I can spell it). I didn’t grow up, even in Schulenburg, going to picnics and wedding dances; that was not on my parents’ radar. However, they did instill in me a love of most genres of music, which has allowed me to easily slide into the world of polkas and waltzes that is not Lawrence Welk flavored.
So, in this journey I have gathered many new friends for life and hopefully, inspired a few non-readers to read, and broadened a few horizons to accept an old guy with a ponytail and loud shirts. Before I get all mushy, I’ll stop and say thank you again to all the folks that make the TPN possible - the dancers, the bands, the readers, the advertisers, and the supporters who take the time to compliment Theresa and I and the staff on what we do.
Polka On & Prosper.