It's hard for me to admit it, but in my relatively short life in music I have witnessed the demise of a traditional art here in Texas, Puro Conjunto better known as Tex-Mex music. It's a long sad story that I will relate here someday, but suffice it to say you've probably seen and heard the last of the traditional San Antonio style Mexican American dance band in it's native environment. It sure will live on I'm sure on festival stages here and there, but only as a faint echo of a once vibrant culture. Texas Bohemian and Czech music is on it's knees for years and doesn't look too well, and Brian Marshall has completely shuttered his Polish dance band for simple lack of interest in his own community.
Then I read this Time article on Polka music and it's current status. My folks used to travel from our home in Northern Oklahoma to polka halls in Kansas and Nebraska, and I grew up in a house where Square Dance and Polka music were family activities. It explains a lot about my musical career since. I passed the Times link around to my local Polka people and they shared with me their perspectives.
From Brian Marshall:
"it's happening everywhere...I played in Eunice, LA last Saturday at the The Liberty Theater (with a Cajun band)...a well known gathering place....played to a crowd of about 90 people.
I believe it's just a cycle...there will always be a desire for the traditional styles....but maybe never as prominent as it once was."
And from Jeff Brosch, drummer for Mark Halata & Texavia and son of legendary Texas Czech band leader Jimmy Brosch:
"Interesting article. The decline of Polka is not news to me. I've watched decline for the past 20 years. It started in the late 70's actually. Of coarse I can only base this from playing with my dad. I did get to witness Polka it in it's hey day however. Large crowds, Etc. But even my dad wanted to play something more progressive like country music.
He always found he could draw a bigger crowd if you played everything, not just Polka.
Did I mention? I think Polka is really a blue collar love affair.
I've never met a millionaire that wanted to hire or sponsor a Polka band.
But if you mention a name brand artist then they're all over it. The sky is the limit for payment.
Playing Polka took me to many Czech wedding parties. I was NEVER over paid. Often negotiating downward to play the wedding and stay booked up. The caterer was making $5000 and the band made $500. Make sense?
The next generations of Czechs are more educated, more employed, more successful, therefore more removed from the immigration process of past years. Not really embracing there heritage. So... the culture is simply a VERY watered down version of past generations.
I can't every see this changing again in my lifetime."
Sadly, nor can I.
Insert YOUR culture here and pause for a moment. What do we lose when we let go of an unbroken chain like this? Or do we simply get the culture we deserve?