Forty years ago, around this time, Brave Combo played its first gig. All NTSU (now UNT) students, we were going to perform our debut in the courtyard outside the Union Building, right in the middle of campus. We put flyers up like crazy and told everyone we knew. Unfortunately, it rained and Lyle and Dave (now Lisa) bailed. So, Tim and I set up inside a classroom in the dance department and played a little concert for about 30 people. As I remember, it went well enough. I can still see certain people sitting there. Some of them continue to experience Brave Combo live.
Two special opportunities, with historical significance, are happening soon. On Friday, May 3, Brave Combo returns to Ft. Worth Mayfest. 40 years ago, almost to the day, we played our sixth gig at Mayfest. This was a just a few days after our fifth gig, at Hip Pocket Theater, also in Ft. Worth. So, all you fans in the western side of the Metroplex come out and tell us how much you love us. And the Dallas polkaholics will have their shot at bliss a week later, on Friday March 10, at the legendary Poor David’s Pub, where we performed (at the original location) our first club show in Dallas, also in 1979. Follow your heart straight to the dance floor. We’ll provide the soundtrack for this moment of release. Dig?
And, once again, The National Polkafest in Ennis, Texas is here. Memorial Day weekend. Bring the family. The halls are all air-conditioned, comfortable and inviting, full of food and drink. And everyone is friendly and gets friendlier with each pivo. Seriously, this is a state-of-the-art wing-ding, as far as current Texas-Czech polka dance music is concerned. The songs are traditional and the arrangements, modern and thoughtful. Czech and Then Some are the heart and soul of the festival and always present a master’s class in this groovy sound when they perform. I think Alex Meixner will be there again this year, as well as Mollie B. and Ted Lange. Star-studded! We take the stage Saturday and Sunday nights.
Speaking of performing, as most of you know, or remember, we used to travel all over regularly. We did it with varying degrees of intensity for over 35 years. It was just part of the deal. Well, things have changed. We still go out a few times a year and just might show up anywhere. Last summer we played a Carnegie Hall-produced show at Bryant Park in NYC. Still a typical event, but we’re just not really into career-building anymore. You know, we are what we are, and no longer much interested in knocking ourselves out to increase our fame. There are new, more efficient ways to spread the word, as fewer and fewer regular folks go out to live music venues. But back to the nuts and bolts of touring and the unpredictable rewards, just the basics, like getting from Denton to wherever is so much more challenging than before. If you drive, highway construction will stop you 100 times between here and New York City. And everywhere you stop is generally very crowded with other travelers. On top of that, hauling around 4-6 humans who are used to a certain level of well-deserved comfort is expensive. Five hotel rooms, every night of a two-week run can add up. I peruse the motel/hotel reviews myself and book the rooms. The average rating’s gotta be 7 out of 10 or higher. And flying is a nightmare. Carrying on guitars and accordions and horns used to be super easy. No big deal. If they wouldn’t fit overhead, the attendants would let us put them in the little closet with the bridal gowns. Those days are long gone. But, also, if you fly you have to rent a vehicle or two and most of your stage gear (amps, keyboards, drums, etc.) when you arrive at your location, which is a huge drag and then you’re not even playing on your own stuff. And the sustain pedal is always missing. On top of these logistical issues, the money for a band such as Brave Combo is about the same as it was 10-15 years ago, but expenses have risen a lot. Plus, the club scene, across the board, was a happier, healthier place 10-15 years ago. We used to count on having good weekday club shows between anchor dates on the road. Those pesky Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. But, as everyone knows, live music, at the club level is at an all-time low, attendance-wise, unless the club is hosting cover or tribute bands. And in Texas and Oklahoma, young country acts. So, we have taken a much less aggressive approach toward long-distance travel (but if the situation and the $ is right, we’re there) and are trying to limit our number of shows a year to just those with obvious value beyond “just a gig for the night.” Thankfully, for Brave Combo, but not so good for faraway fans, we tend to get plenty of good offers (knock on wood) within 7-8 hours of Denton every year. This means I am home with my animals more, able to be in the recording studio more, able to concentrate on creative efforts, like video, more and that sounds way better than spending hours and hours in a van or a plane. Brave Combo has visited a lot of places. One night we were about to play in Berlin and the opening act, a local German punk polka band, started their set with, “Do Something Different.” The first time I visited ROLLING STONE magazine in NYC I met Bill Murray on the elevator. One time in Hollywood, Brave Combo shared a backstage dressing room area with Phyllis Diller and Shecky Greene the time we played the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon. We marched in the Macy’s Parade in front of Dionne Warwick and behind Woody Woodpecker. During our first trip to Japan, we were presented with the same kimonos as the Beatles received during their first trip, by the same company, Isetan. You might find us playing a wedding in Boston, Seattle or Playa del Carmen, Mexico. We don’t even stop at the Grand Canyon anymore or even Rock City in Minneapolis, Kansas (look it up). Niagara Falls was so packed with people you could barely get up to the fence to see it. We played a cool gig under the Brooklyn Bridge and did a cool pirate radio show in the Netherlands. We performed at a festival in northern Finland, just below the Arctic circle. It looked like a desolate rest area. All concrete. Damn good accordionists, though. Scary good! We’ve been in the mountains a lot. On ocean beaches a lot (Atlantic City in the late 80s was quite a sight, dark, funky, down and out and depressing in an inspiring way), in the desert a lot (Vegas in the 80s was quite a sight, the opposite of the Disneyland it is now and Salt Lake City and the Great Salt Lake is high on the “weird, but we dig it” list. And the mighty Midwest is practically our second home. We have covered the middle of the USA like mofos. Even made it to PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION a couple of times. Whatever, I’m not telling you this to brag or to show how worldly Brave Combo is. I could literally go on and on if I wanted you to start thinking less of me. My point is that we have really covered the miles, as anyone on the road for 40 years would have. And, for what it’s worth, compared to some musicians/artists we ain’t done nothing. My good friend, Mike Dillon, puts us to shame every week. He’s in China one night and at the Continental Club in Austin the next. But, I have more cats than he does! I can assure you, Brave Combo is still creating new sounds and, combined with my new solo project, music is getting plenty of action. We have twelve new tracks almost ready to release. I am trying to shoot a video for each song (a new necessity, but, why not?). We hear from fans every day, asking us to come back to wherever and we appreciate it, but the reality sucks, too. If we could be magically transported, I would try to be everywhere at once all the time. But we are not quite there, yet. Close, though. In the meantime, I want to make Brave Combo’s unique appeal so important to you that you will start to make our shows your destination, no matter where you are from. And if you’re really putting a lot of “above and beyond” effort into your special trip, please let us know and we will play a song, your choice (perhaps, we have to know it), for you at the show.
Anyway, I am starting to think as outside the box as I can, which is just a little concerning, to expand our reach without spending 2/3 of our lives in transit. There’s something to ponder.
Since I started writing this two tornado warnings were issued for Denton; two areas of circulation heading straight for us. My wife, Jane, and I had to secure lots of worried cats and dogs. We thought both storms passed over without incident and just found out a tornado, indeed, touched down about a mile from our house. Wow! Okay. Sleep well and dream about Brave Combo riding twisters like a bunch of Pecos Bills! We are weathering the storms of life to bring you hope or something like that.