By: Jim Dittmann
Wilkommen to Volksfest! – “A festival for all people.”
Volksfest translates from the German – “volk” – people and “fest” celebration. Group with “Frohlichkeit” – happiness, joviality and merriment; “gute Laune” – good mood – cheerfulness! This is Volksfest – A gathering of people to have fun!
Bavarian immigrant Sigrid Bronkhorst founded Volksfest in Waupun back in 1993. She was interested in continuing the Bavarian tradition of an outdoor festival in the downtown area of the city. She assembled a few friends – outlined a plan and Volksfest was held in the empty lot behind her store – “Sigrid’s Bavarian Trail.” A spectacular success, three years later Volksfest petitioned the city to close Mill Street during the celebration in order to erect a large tent accommodating more “Volks!”
Celebrating its 20th Anniversary, Volksfest will have an even LARGER tent erected at a NEW location near Tanner Park on East Spring Street in Waupun. Champions of the Fest are committee members Steve and Nancy Joas – Eileen Westuis – Carl Neuman and Don Kehrmeyer. Completely volunteer, they coordinate every detail in the fussy German tradition. Their efforts bring the entire festival together – a far greater task than what we might notice – but due to their passion everything goes smoothly… Imagine the grand “Bierzelte” beer tent. At the rear grills are a goin’ – Nesco roasters filled with Bratwurst und Sauerkraut – German potato salad – roast pork mit dumplings – Spaetzle – Sauerbraten line the perimeter. The sights and sounds – aromas and good cheer – AH sehr gut!
But it’s the music – familiar music – happy music! My German heritage and inherent love of those unmistakable concertina melodies is what ignites the party for me. Fond memories emerge of my dad and his buddies – Harold playing polkas on the button box, while my old man bangs on his stumpf fiddle.
While having coffee the other morning with Carl Neuman and his wife Evelyn, Carl shared how his dad introduced him to the concertina at the Irving DeWitz music store in Hustisford, Wisconsin. It was 1943 when Carl gave that first little squeeze. “Think you can handle it?” his dad asked. The answer was yes, and 70 years later as “Die Spiel Meisters” turn it on Friday September 6 from noon to 2 and 3:30 to 5 p.m., we’ll enjoy the magnificent melodies Carl plays on his handmade Hengel’s concertina with Don Kehrmeyer on vocals and Gerry Krebsbach on rhythm guitar. Carl epitomizes the concertina player – a modest and humble lot they are – a proud brotherhood with a unique respect and appreciation of the bonds that the “instrument of the common man“ creates. Instinctively, I know the concertina is the central uniting spirit of Volksfest, as musical entertainment continues throughout the festival.
In the grand German tradition, “Tapping of the Keg” will commence at precisely 4:30 p.m. on Friday September 6. Hebezeug Ihre Bierkrug – Prosit!
Another highlight of the festival is the Stumpf Fiddle contest at 4 p.m. on Saturday September 7 – the 2012 champion is Mick Marks of Beaver Dam.
Much is planned – complete details are available at www.volksfest.com
Don Kehrmeyer, pictured above with Carl Neuman, reflects on Happy Musik:
Well good folks, it looks like it was back in 1988 at the old Legion Hall in Waupun, Wisconsin, the night of the chicken barbeque. I had just sat down with my plate of open-fire-grilled chicken when this handsome little gentleman strolled past playing his concertina. I immediately felt compelled to join him in song. It was quite apparent that he had been playing this wonderful little pearly ‘button box’ for many years, actually well over 40 years at that point. We blended many songs that night and have been doing it ever since. Our English album can carry us 4 hours easily and our authentic German album easily spans 3 hours. We have played for charities – fundraisers large and small, and for small dinner shows as well as large tent festivals. We play happy music and have met so many happy people – hey, this is what keeps us happy. I always say I’m not sure if I only sing when I’m happy – or I’m only happy when I sing.
But one thing doesn’t make Carl and I happy – that is if you have a party (birthday, anniversary, farewell, etc.) and don’t invite Happy Musik. We have quality music and sound equipment for large and small functions. Congratulations to Carl on being inducted into the Concertina Congress Hall of Fame. And me? Well I wonder if I ever finished that plate of chicken.
Carl Neuman was inducted into the World Concertina Congress Hall of Fame in 1995.