Richie Yurkovich and the salted floor of Dee's Bar in the Polish/Czech town of Ely, Minnesota were my first exposure to accordion-driven music; the song sounded like it was being throttled by a hyper-ventillating piano. But if Richie's tunes were spinning crowds throughout the upper Midwest, then Denton's Brave Combo has kept the rest of the world skipping on furious feet with its own polka food processor.
Bass player and San Antonio-native Cenobia "Bubba" Hernandez of the Grammy award-winning combo fielded our interview from the driver's seat of a tour van.
"Is this Bubba?"
"What's left of me. We've been driving all night," he says.
At the end of this week, the van rolls into downtown San Antonio for a show at Incognito: Fiesta's Masked Ball. Hernandez continues: "This road vzzzz vzzzzz ..." The van dips into a valley; the phone spits garble.
When Hernandez' signal returns, he says it was more chance than intention that he earned a spot with this band of unofficial ambassadors of world polka back in 1984. Formed five years earlier by Denton's Carl Finch, the group is a polka band in its most basic form. Like a 33 rpm LP played mistakenly at 45 speed, Brave Combo ups the tempo on their tunes while dropping in elements of salsa, cumbia, acid rock, and conjunto; it's a blenderful of dance beats that's let them work with David Byrne, play for Click and Clack of NPR fame, and provide quirky mood music for film and television. Hernandez has even shopped for soap with the late Tiny Tim at an Eckerd's in Denton. The 1999 release Polkasonic, one of their more than 20 albums, earned a much-deserved Grammy: the band has been nominated five times in their 23-year career.
The Combo is playing — count 'em — three sets at the costume ball. If their jams don't have everyone skipping through La Villita, the ecstatic groove of Carnaval de San Anto should scoop stragglers out of their seats. Anybody left sitting must be dead.