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Thursday, July 6, 2006 10:47 pm

The power of positive polka

Brave Combo performs July 6 at the UCT

Enjoy a “Summer Dance Party,” hosted by Brave Combo, at 9 p.m. Thursday, July 6, at the Underground City Tavern (Hilton Springfield, 700 E. Adams St., 217-789-1530).
Tell the truth. You read the headline and already you’re seeing goofily dressed guys and gals slugging steins of beer and dancing to accordion atrocities, aren’t you? “Most people write polka off as a joke,” says Carl Finch, the founder of Brave Combo of Denton, Texas, “but when it’s approached from a nonjudgmental position it’s really soul-filling music.”
In its 27 years, Brave Combo has accomplished a great deal in resurrecting the good name of polka. The group has won two Grammys and received several nominations, appeared on Fox’s The Simpsons, and worked with symphony orchestras. All along the way they’ve taken Finch’s passion for polka and run with it, fighting the stereotypes of the much-maligned music with an incredibly tenacious fervor and creative spirit. “One of our polka-specific issues was to release it from the shackles of beer, sausage, and lederhosen — those things that had nothing to do with the music,” he explains. “Folk music is a very open genre, but you never see a polka band at a folk festival that commonly has bluegrass, Cajun, zydeco, and other types of bands.”
Even as Brave Combo continues its unlikely but exciting run, Finch sees the treatment of polka as indicative of the larger field of human relations in general. “There is no way of not dissolving borders around the world, so if we can understand others better, that is a good thing,” he says. “We pushed ourselves to take our music more responsibly.”
Finch first discovered polka while studying for his master’s degree in art. He was enraptured by its sincere soulfulness and drawn to its cultural oddness. “The band was as much conceptual as it was musical when we formed,” says Finch. “I wanted to play this music as a rock & roll band — playing the hip world by playing the opposite of hip.”
Since then Brave Combo has performed worldwide and recorded more than two dozen albums. Along with the unmistakably polka production, one other common thread ties it all together. “You can go through life being bummed or entertained,” says Finch. “It really boils down to how much fun I’m having.”
Sometimes, playing the “Beer Barrel Polka” can be a barrel of monkeys.
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