The sixtieth annual Wurstfest in New Braunfels, Texas is in the books. The weather was perfect this year, so I attended four days of the ten-day event. There was music on five stages. Attendance during the middle of the week was free and the tickets on weekends were very affordable.
I’ve mentioned previously that polka bands often include some country music in their sets. I heard at least three acts play Orange Blossom Special, at least three play Hank Williams, Sr songs, at least three play Johnny Cash songs, and at least three play the Ernest Tubb hit “Waltz Across Texas.” I heard fiddle and banjo and one act even featured pedal steel.
I’m especially glad to finally see the Jimmy Sturr Orchestra. The Grammy awards had a polka category for just 24 years and Jimmy Sturr won 18 times. He is a great American success story. Polka music is usually associated with central and eastern Europe, but Jimmy Sturr is an American of Irish descent. Jimmy Sturr has collaborated with many country legends over the years. He had a television show in Nashville at one point and played the Grand Ole Opry with the full brass section. He mentioned touring with Chet Atkins, Boots Randolph, and Floyd Cramer. Willie Nelson, whose career began in a polka band, has appeared on five Jimmy Sturr albums. Some other stars who recorded with Jimmy Sturr are Charlie Daniels, Ray Price, Mel Tillis, The Oak Ridge Boys, Whispering Bill Anderson, Brenda Lee, Béla Fleck, and Rhonda Vincent. George Jones, Alan Jackson, and Dwight Yoakam shared the stage with the Jimmy Sturr Orchestra. Jimmy Sturr’s set Sunday morning at Wurstfest included some country songs with a fiddle. His closing number was a cover of “Devil Went Down To Georgia.”
Texas Sound Check is a great name for a Czech polka band, but this act also stood out because of the steel guitar. They did traditional polkas and waltzes, but also a nice cover of “Amarillo By Morning,” followed by “Friends In Low Places.” They even worked in “Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit” in the middle of that one.
The All Mixed Up Band, as you might guess from the name, plays different types of music: polka, rock and roll, classic pop, classic country, etc. Their country selections included Hank Sr and Johnny Cash.
Rennie Guenther and the Happy Travelers mentioned that Bill Whitbeck wrote the song “There’s Only One S In New Braunfels.” Although Alex Meixner Band is best known for their version of the song, Guenther played it years earlier. I saw Whitbeck earlier this year in a bluegrass band called The Grassmen. Whitbeck is also in Robert Earl Keen’s band.
The Chardon Polka Band of Ohio is mostly polka, but they do a bit of everything, even Hank Williams. “Red Wing Polka” has an interesting history. The Tin Pan Alley song “Red Wing” from 1907 set lyrics to Robert Schumann’s 1848 tune “Frölicher Landmann” (“The Happy Farmer”). Most who play the tune play it as an instrumental, but the name “Red Wing” stuck. You’ll find this very catchy tune in “old time fiddle” and bluegrass and western swing and polka.
Auf Geht’s is a group based in Houston. I saw them in Tomball, Texas earlier this year. They put on a very good show, with yodeling and tuba and trumpet and accordion and banjo. They covered Earl Scruggs’ “Polka On A Banjo.” The drummer played a number of “specialty” instruments, such as hölzernes g’lachter (four-row xylophone), saw, and cowbells.
Terry Cavanagh and the Alpine Express were supposed to play an hour set, but they were having some unknown issue with the sound that took up half their set. They had a bit of everything from tuba to fiddle to alpine yodeling. They had an alphorn and a saw on stage before their set, but moved them off beforehand, presumably because their set was so short from whatever problem they were having with the sound. Current Nashville country artist Catie Offerman used to be in Terry Cavanagh’s band.
The Seven Dutchmen Orchestra is based in New Braunfels and has played Wurstfest 45 times. Some country bits in their set were “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” They also served as the house band for the polka dance contest.
Die Schlauberger is from New York. One of the things that stands out immediately about this band is the keytar. Those who remember the 80s will remember that instrument. For the country fans, I’ll note that keytar appears in music videos for the Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett song “Five O’Clock Somewhere” and Lonestar’s “Good News.”
The Euro Express Band from Chicago is new to Wurstfest this year. This three-piece band played songs they learned in Munich, but also Tom T. Hall’s “I Like Beer.” They fit right in.
The Joe Rogers Big Band is a fourteen-member group based in New Braunfels. The late Joe Rogers was once the band director at the local high school, in addition to being involved with Wurstfest. They played polkas, big band classics by Glenn Miller, a few Frank Sinatra hits, etc. The drummer David Smith, who was the spokesman of the group, also performs in The Oompahs. David Smith’s mother had a group for over forty years called Oma and the Oompahs. She is 92 now and retired from performing, but was in the audience for some shows this week.