Brave New Polka

Before the Thanksgiving dishes were washed and dried, the question was on everyone's lips: "What are you doing on New Year's Eve?" The answer, an honest one at least, would sound something like this: "I'll be taking my chances on the road with all the other amateur drinkers and having the shared human experience of nightmarish parking, high prices and unconstitutional door charges to cover the free party hat and one plastic cup of complimentary crappy champagne, of course." In addition, guys and gals alike have to worry about entertaining their high-maintenance dates, just getting a date or, at the very least, acquiring a hookup before midnight. Everyone is so worried about having a great time (and the pressure is so high to make it the wildest night of the year) that most go home pledging to skip the whole thing next year.

Fear not, for we have a plan. Stage a pre-emptive holiday-party strike by getting it on a little early this year with Brave Combo, who is slipping a shindig underneath the radar, sandwiched in the tiny lull between Christmas and New Year's Eve. Called Holiday Polka Festival, the bill reads like the bathroom graffiti of The Czech Stop, that essential West, Texas, pit stop known for clean lavatories and yummy kolaches between D-FW and Austin. (West is most famous, of course, as the hometown of our own music editor, Zac Crain. Yes, you're right--that does explain a lot. But we digress.) As to be expected with Brave Combo, theirs is a curveball of an event. The band headlines, celebrating the release of its album Kick Ass Polkas, its 23rd album in almost 23 years (an amazing feat in and of itself). Fellow polka enthusiasts Czech and Then Some (promoting the release of The Good Life) and The Praha Brothers open the show.

Much has been made of how Brave Combo has made the "uncool" genre of polka "cool" with its self-proclaimed "nuclear polka" style of music. But the group's music is transcendent of styles. It simply can be filed in the "good" category. Members Carl Finch, Jeffrey Barnes, Bubba Hernandez and Danny O'Brien are all outstanding musicians and blend many influences into a seamless package of danceable force. Fronted alternately by the ceaseless verve of guitarist, keyboardist, singer and founder Finch, the Tejano turns of bassist Hernandez and the charming one-offs from multi-instrumentalist Barnes, the band can bring a positive energy to a show and make any dank, dark smoky club feel like a sunny outdoor festival. Combo shows, often family events, are some of the few gigs where hormonal trolling and jaded posturing aren't the norm. How could they be when a couple of the band's biggest live hits are guiding the audience through "The Chicken Dance" and "The Hokey Pokey"?

So mark this one a legitimate celebration, not a stress-inducing tradition. Brave Combo places the show at an opportune time with no outrageous outside expectations except for quality music (a promise the band always keeps) and a good time. Some things never change, and shouldn't.

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Mark Hughes