Cleveland has been dubbed “America’s Polka Capital” or “Polka Town USA” and it’s identified with a particular style of polka music. From the early 1920s through to today, polka has featured heavily in our local culture with the Cleveland-style Polka Hall of Fame opened in 1985. The Chardon Polka Band, led by Jake Kouwe, is keeping the genre alive and relevant. We’re talking to Jake to learn about how he does just that, including the band’s community outreach activities with schools, churches and senior citizens, as well as details of one the shining jewels of its performance calendar, Dyngus Day on April 22nd. We have music from the band as well so get ready to POLKA!
A teenage Kouwe fell in love with polka after being inspired by Weird Al Yankovic but was told there was no place for an accordion in his local high school’s marching band. In response, he recruited some friends to form a genuine “oom-pah” style band. They quickly found a following in the most unlikely of places like local nursing homes and churches.
Today, the band continues and its fan base grows. In the small town of Chardon, Ohio, long-haired Kouwe is a celebrity. Despite the band’s rock-n-roll exterior, this most unorthodox gang of musicians brings the most orthodox of music genres to local parks, festivals, parades, parties and fund-raisers, and still perform regularly at local nursing homes, schools and churches.
We dig deep with Kouwe to understand the origins of the band, how the band approaches song writing and arranging of popular songs into the polka style. Kouwe talks about how he is inspiring the younger generation with school concerts. And of course, we talk about Dyngus Day and how Cleveland’s Eastern European heritage is synonymous with its love for all things polka.