Forget the images of biermeisters and hausfraus swirling about in Tyrolean lederhosen and dirndls. Polka is fun, funky and much more cosmopolitan than many realize. Originating in Bohemia in the early 1800s, the music and the dance swept the fashionable Parisian ballrooms of the 19th century before coming with the central European immigrants to America.
While these days polka bands are more popular in the Midwest, Atlanta has held its own with the Atlanta Polka Band, thanks to Ron Barczykowski, who co-founded the group some 15 years ago. Barczykowski, who plays accordion and keyboard, is joined by his colleagues on saxophone, clarinet, trumpet, drums, bass and guitar. Together they tour throughout the Southeast, sometimes adding country and swing to their repertoire.
The group's latest cassette, Polkas From Dixie, attests to the merging of the two not-so-disparate musical worlds. Just as country music evolved from British folk music, polka is the folk music of central Europe and has influenced American music as well. "We're not just oom-pah-pah," says Barczykowski. "It's not your typical German polka band sound — we're Slavic in our origins. What we play sounds more like bluegrass with accordion and horns."
To Barczykowski, the reason for the polka's enduring popularity is simple. "People like to dance," he says. "It's happy music."
The Atlanta Polka Band play the Star Bar, Fri., Jan. 19.