Who is “The Chardon Polka Band” and where did they come from?

 

Mitch Lawrence, Joey Dahlhausen, Jake Kouwe, Emily Kouwe &
Mike Franklin

 

3In 2003, 16-year old Jake Kouwe was told there was no place for an accordion in his local high school’s marching band. In response, Jake recruited a group of five mismatched teenagers to form a genuine oom-pah style polka band. This group, known as “The Chardon High School Polka Band”, was a rather motley group of teenage musicians that included in the line-up an accordion, tuba, clarinet, saxophone, electric guitar, and trumpet.

The group quickly found a following in the most unlikely of places- local nursing homes. Despite their ripped jeans, high school lingo, long (and even pink) hair, piercings and tattoos, senior citizens and nursing home residents turned a blind eye to their looks and fell in love with the polka-playing teens. However, the phenomena weren’t lost on their own generation. Soon, “Support Your Local Polka Band” t-shirts were being worn in the halls of Chardon High by fellow classmates and fans.

Now, over ten years later, the band continues and its fan base grows. In the small town of Chardon, Ohio, long haired Jake Kouwe and his oom-pah gang are celebrities. The band no longer calls itself “The Chardon High School Polka Band”, since the original group has all graduated from high school (barely), and is now simply “The Chardon Polka Band”. Though the band’s membership of sometimes eccentric and always unique individuals has changed over the years, their eclectic style and uniqueness has never wavered.

Despite the band’s sometimes gruff appearance, this delightfully eccentric gang is both friendly and outgoing. They are among the greater Cleveland area’s most recognizable performers at local parks, festivals, parades, parties and fund-raisers, and still perform regularly at local nursing homes. The polka band has a faithful fan base, ranging from senior citizens to small children, teens, and twenty-somethings.

Ohio isn’t the only place that these polka punks are a hit. The Chardon Polka Band has become a well-known act in the fall “Oktoberfest circuit”, headlining at some of the nation’s largest seasonal events. This includes festivities in Indianapolis (IN), Helen (GA), Chicago (IL), Myrtle Beach (SC), Vernon (NJ), Tampa (FL), Alamogordo (NM), Tulsa (OK), St. Louis (MO) and many more. The band also travels throughout the nation playing various other festivals and events. Their showmanship and humor has won them many fans outside the polka genre.

In the “Member Bios” section of this website, you can view details and trivia regarding the different members of the ensemble. The members of the band, though not all related by blood, are truly an eclectic family. They have a common goal of creating music that others can enjoy and participate in. Each member of the group has something of their own to add to the mix.

The band’s range of style is as equally eccentric as its members. The Chardon Polka Band plays traditional polkas reminiscent of “The Lawrence Welk Show”, a style that has endeared them to traditional polka fans, but sometimes morphs into punk-rock renditions of the same songs, modified to bring in a younger audience. They throw in comedic renditions of oddball favorites, bizarre audience participation songs, and even polka-rock covers of anything from Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” to Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” to Lady Ga Ga’s “Bad Romance”! The Chardon Polka Band also has an ever-growing library of original tunes, many of which are featured on their popular studio albums. “Pirates, Women, and Beer”, released in 2011 included the hit song “Free Beer Polka”, nominated for BEST NEW ORIGINAL SONG in the annual Cleveland Polka Hall of Fame awards. In 2013, the group released another celebrated collection of recordings called “A Fistful of Polka”, which also received nominations in several award categories. In 2014 the band released “This is Oktoberfest!”, their long awaited live album, recorded on the stage of the famous Festhalle in Helen, Georgia.