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[imgcontainer] [img:vrazelfans510.jpg] [source]Bill Bishop[/source] Fans of the Vrazels Polka Band danced 2008 away New Year’s Eve in Elgin, Texas. They’ll gather a final time January 24. [/imgcontainer]
Do the math. If it was 55 years ago when Joe Rychlik first heard the Vrazel Brothers play at the New Tabor SPJST Hall and he was six years old then, then how many times can a busload of polka fans whirl around the dance floor before the clock strikes twelve?
It’s dizzying. To realize two farmers from tiny Buckholts, Texas, have been playing Tex-Czech music since the 1950s. And sad that tonight they’ll play “Seagull Polka” and “I Fall to Pieces” once last time.
Anton, 81, and Alfred, a mere 68, are retiring, along with their longtime sidemen — Albert Heselmeyer on bass, guitarist David Trojacek, Thomas Strmiska on drums, and Patrick Strmiska on steel guitar. “It took a lifetime to get to where we are at,” Alfred Vrazel told the Houston Chronicle’s Tara Dooley. “It was a very hard decision. We spent many sleepless nights and prayed over it before we made the decision.”
The Vrazels penultimate show was New Year’s Eve, at the SPJST Hall in Elgin (see our slideshow above). The music started at 8 pm, “but we got here at 4:30,” said Donna Rychlik. She and husband Joe had made the 55-mile drive from Caldwell. Donna sported a very special shirt, imprinted with “Vrazels’ Farewell Na Sheldanou” (“Goodbye” in Czech), autographed by all the members of the band and studded with Swavorski crystals the Rychliks bought in the Czech Republic.
Bandleader Alfred seemed pensive. Was he having second thoughts about the band’s retirement, or just trying to recall scores of names, as fans young and old dropped by to shake his hand? A triple threat, Alfred plays accordion, saxophone and guitar. He also hosts a weekly polka show at 12:15 every Sunday, broadcast over KMIL-FM (105.1) and KTAE-AM (1330) in Cameron (on the web at kmil.com). That show will go on.
During the band’s heyday, 1960-1980, they played about 125 dates a year, meanwhile keeping up with their cotton and cattle in Milam County. They’ve performed at the Smithsonian and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and in more than 100 Texas dance halls. How many accordion squeezes is that?
For New Year’s Eve in Elgin, Herbert Lovell of Waco came down by bus with scores more hard-core fans. “We’ve followed the band for the past ten years,” Lovell said. At the back of the SPJST Hall, a young woman nestled a tiny baby into a sleeping bag in the corner. Near the bandstand, the faithful were selling Vrazels CDs. “I’ve got about six in the car,” said Robert Schlitzkus, of Smithville. Every table was full, and the SPJST auxiliary had gone all out – hanging a balloon-like chandelier from the ceiling with dangling stars.
As the Vrazals played “Catherine’s Waltz,” Herbert Lovell shot video, steering out of the way as waves of dancers wheeled past the stage. “We’ve rented every room in town,” he said. “After this closes down at midnight, we’ll go back to the motel with the band and start the party all over again.”
The Vrazels’ Retirement Party takes place today, January 24, at the Mayborn Civic and Convention Center in Temple, Texas, 3 -8. Doors open at 1 pm. Admission $8.