Polka Fest in Floresville
Polka Fest in Floresville
Polka: “It adds years to your life, and life to your years!”
“Accordion cowboy” Chris Rybak to perform April 4
When many think of polka music, they think of older generations of people, playing old tunes of days gone by. Many don´t picture a man in his mid-20s who has been influenced by country favorites such as Hank Williams to jump on the stage and keep them entertained for hours.
For Chris Rybak, who is affectionately known as the “accordion cowboy”, polka music and an affinity for polka music run in his blood. And for many on the polka scene, Rybak is quickly becoming a way to bridge the gap between those who are used to hearing old polka favorites and a newer, younger crowd that is discovering the accordion can be used for a newer, cutting-edge type of music.
“The crowds are definitely expecting someone older”, said Rybak. “But that´s what makes me different. I come out with my high-energy style and by the end of the show I´ve won them over.”
A star is born
From the time Rybak was a child, he has been surrounded by polka music and festivals. Rybak´s father, Leroy, started a band called “Leroy Rybak´s Swinging Orchestra” that still exists over 30 years from the time it was founded. Rybak said that he saw how much fun polka music was and decided to join in the fun, taking up the accordion when he was 11 years old. He quickly found his talent for the accordion and has been entertaining crowds ever since.
“The accordion looked cool and I discovered that there was a lot that you could do with it,” said Rybak. “It has allowed me to play a wider variety of music from polka and waltz to Tejano and country.”
Although Rybak´s classmates at Hallettsville High School were skeptical when he took up the accordion, their skepticism quickly turned to admiration when Rybak became a regular on the local polka circuit and he began to market his music.
“My classmates´ first reactions were not positive, but when they saw people coming to my shows, and me making money at this, their reaction began to change,” said Rybak.
Rybak began to gain a following as he became a regular at country music shows in Yoakum and surrounding areas, sometimes playing for over 1,000 people. He said people kept asking when he was going to release an album so that they could continue to hear his talent, so Rybak decided to produce an album. He recorded “Chris Rybak Instrumental” in 1993 and waited to see what type of response it would get.
“I went to my first show and sold over 100 tapes,” said Rybak. “That´s when I decide that this was pretty cool:”
A career in polka
Rybak produced two more albums, “Chris Rybak: I Love To Polka,” and “Let´s Have A Party,” before signing with GLAD Music in Houston in 1999. Rybak said that the move has allowed his music to go more mainstream. It has also allowed him to play with variety of stars, including Flaco Jimenez and Augie Meyers.
While Rybak has played in places around the world from Czechoslovakia to Germany, some things don´t change. Rybak still favors playing the 50-year-old accordion his parents bought him when he was starting out.
“I was playing with Flaco Jimenez at the Broken Spoke in Austin and when I told him my accordion was over 50 years old, he said, ´ That´s all the accordion you´ll ever need,´ ” said Rybak.
Since signing with GLAD, he has recorded two more albums, “Chris Rybak” and “Accordion Times,” where has not lost his polka flavor, but been able to also take on local favorites such as “Hey Baby, Que Paso” and “Waltz Across Texas.”
There is also a Floresville connection to Rybak. His last two compact discs have been recorded by Tommy Detamore of Floresville at Cherry Ridge Studios.
Rybak said that he is lucky to have found a career that he is so happy with.
“As long as people keep enjoying what I´m doing, I´ll continue doing it,” said Rybak. “It has been a lot of fun and I´ve gotten to travel to a lot of places.”
Some of the highlights of Rybak´s career have been month-long trips to Slovakia and Germany, where he has entertained all over those countries. He even came out with a music video: “European Vacation with Chris Rybak.”
In addition, Rybak has performed on cruise ships, at festivals, and at clubs.
The biggest moment in his career came when Rybak was given the honor of playing for Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla on July 18, 2003, when Spidla was at the University of Houston for a reception for the honorary council for the Czech Republic.
Rybak said that he was only supposed to play a couple of songs to entertain the prime minister and his wife, Viktoria, but the dignitary enjoyed Rybak´s music so much that he played for over an hour. Rybak said that the prime minister and his wife got up and did the “Chicken Dance” and were entertained by many of traditional Texas polka songs.
“That was a cool highlight of my career and an honor to get to play for the prime minister,” said Rybak. “I treated the show like every other one by playing songs I thought he would like, and by the end of the show I had won him over.”
All of the polka festivals where Rybak has played also came with one other benefit, an introduction to his wife, Edita.
Edita, who is originally from Slovakia, was showing her dad around San Antonio while he was in town to attend a language institute. She decided to take her father to the Czech Fest and there met Rybak. The pair married on June 27, 2000, and Rybak said the fact that he is involved with polka music has allowed the couple to visit Slovakia several times and he has learned more about his wife´s background and culture.
“We are able to do a lot of traveling and wherever we go I can always play some kind of music that keeps people interested,” said Rybak.
His “high energy” style of accordion music attracts an audience wherever he goes. In 2001, Rybak did over 200 shows.
“My main goal is to get younger people interested in polka music and to spread polka music into bigger areas,” said Rybak.
He said he is amazed at the interest in polka music in areas such as Minnesota and Wisconsin.
As for the future, Rybak, who currently resides in Hallettsville, plans on branching out to more country-style music and finding success on the Texas music circuit where trailblazers such as Robert Earl Keen have led the way.
“The music is good-feeling music and a little more spicier,” said Rybak.
He said the opportunities for accordion music are endless, whether it be through country, Tejano, or polka.
He would also like to get a regular band to back him up in the next year or two, and continue to take his act out on the road.
“Whatever type of music I play, I won´t forget my roots in polka,” he said. “Wherever I perform, I will always throw in polka music.”
Residents will have the opportunity to see Rybak perform during the Polka Fest on Sunday, April 4, from 2-5 p.m. in the Wilson County Show Barn. The event is being sponsored by the Wilson County News and will benefit KWCB 89.7 FM Public Radio in Floresville.
Tickets for the event are available at the Wilson County News and KWCB in Floresville. For more information, call KWCB at 830-393-4703.
Photo: Chris Rybak will perform Sunday, April 4, in the Wilson County Show Barn in Floresville