Cultural Crossroads
Travel Ideas

Regional Traditions: Texas Polka

I stepped through the wide double doors and paid my admission. A woman promptly stapled an orange ticket to my shirt. She made it clear, "One admission, it says." I wasn't trying to read the ticket -- just seeing what kind of damage was done to my favorite shirt.

A woman off to the side was selling raffle tickets, and another was selling bumper stickers reading "Jak Se Más?," and t-shirts with dancing sausages on them. Advertisements for upcoming polka festivals throughout the region were posted everywhere.

Shiner Volunteer Fireman's Band
This photograph of the Shiner Volunteer Fireman's Band was taken in the early 1900s. Band members clutch instruments for playing polkas and waltzes in one hand, and mugs of beer in the other.
The sounds of the Shiner Hobo Band filled the Knights of Columbus Hall. Thirty members strong, they fit better in the middle of the wooden dance floor than on the neatly arranged stage. They were dressed like hoboes, playing tubas, accordions, snare drums and fiddles, as well as an odd assortment of home made instruments. Polka dancers swirled around the unoccupied portion of the dance floor. A smaller, well-regimented polka band looked down from behind their uniformly logoed music stands on stage. They appeared impatient, and a little arrogant. After all, a good polka band only plays for the audience to dance, and the Shiner Hobos were making quite a spectacle of themselves.

The crowd of several hundred, mostly older retired couples, many with bright red vests reading "Po.L.K. of A." (Polka Lovers Klub of America) in sewn-on white letters, had stocked their tables with bottles of liquor -- the half gallon variety. It wasn't noon yet, but they were prepared for the duration of the twelve hour affair.

A man at the bar told my friend, "We got every kind of beer." He wasn't referring to brands as much as brews: weizen, boch, lager, etc. Kolaches were displayed on long tables where area girls' clubs raised funds for socials and FFA projects.

We got in line at the window to the K.C. Hall kitchen for a paper plate piled with Sausage, Saurkraut and German Potato Salad -- food that is at least good for the soul, if not the heart.

The long tables in the large K.C. Hall being full, we opted to dine outside with the overflow crowd on a covered patio. Re-entering though the front, the doorkeeper looked over my ticket carefully. I wanted to ask her, "Would I staple this ticket to my own shirt?" But I'm sure that's just what they expect from city slickers.

However real or surreal, this is polka time in South Texas.

German immigrants in the 1800s brought with them a cultural passtime that thrives today in small towns across the state. And with them came the accordian, which left an indelible mark on the music of the region, including Tejano and Zydeco.

/Stay tuned, more to come:
-Maximilian in Mexico
-German diatonic button accordian
-Influence on Música Tejana and Norteña music
-Influence on Cajun and Zydeco music

Po.L.K. of A., the Polka Lovers Klub of America can be reached in Houston at (713) 480-3965. The local SPJST Hall is located at 5508 Nolda near T.C. Jester. Call (713) 682-2486.

On the second Saturday of the month, the Cajun French Music Association holds dances at the SPJST Hall in Houston.

-- Mark D. Lacy

Also of interest:
Read about the tradition of the Louisiana Mardi Gras Indians.