It’s almost cliche at this point—the story of a bunch of scrappy youngsters finding their way to the top by way of playing in a rock-n-roll band. To say this is something that happens every day would be something of a hyperbole. However, UNO Sophomore Jameson Brettmann is living that story out in a uniquely Nebraskan way.
Brettmann, a music entrepreneurship major here at UNO, has been playing in one of the hottest young polka bands in the Midwest, “The Happy Players.” They’ve played all kinds of Oktoberfests, polka festivals, weddings and any central European-style gettogethers for the past six years.
The band’s first practice was about as inconsequential as it could be for Brettmann.
“It was during marching band season, I was playing with Mr. Steager (the middle school’s band director) and my friend Turner comes in and is like ‘What is that?’, so Mr. Steager teaches him the basic rhythm on the drums,” Brettmann said. “We got my brother Jackson on the piano and Luke, who I didn’t even know at the time, to play the tuba for us.”
Within a few days, Mr. Steager got them playing at the Czech Heritage Days in Prague, Nebraska. They practiced one song, the “Beer Barrel Polka,” for about a month and soon enough had them playing open mics at the Kolache Korner in Prague.
“My parents say that we didn’t sound that bad, but I know we weren’t that good either,” Brettmann said. “We were all coming in at different times… but the people there seemed to like it.”
Soon enough, four polka-playing preteens had their first paid performances, or gigs, as they are more colloquially known among the musical types. It wasn’t long after they got the opportunity to tour through Oklahoma and Texas for the first time.
“Mr. Steager came to us one day and asked for a recording of us playing to submit to the board to go play at the National Polka Festival in Ennis, Texas… we also played at a dance hall in Oklahoma while we were down there,” Brettmann said.
They have been writing their own polkas for quite some time, in addition to playing polka classics that keep the dance halls rocking.
“My drummer Turner, in addition to writing and arranging, sings in English, German, Czech and Russian,” Brettmann said. “I sing in English and German, and I also play the valve trombone in addition to the accordion. My brother plays the trumpet in addition to the piano. I have many thanks for each and every one of them, along with my parents, who deserve a lot of credit, and Mr. Steager, who is really responsible for all this.”
Through his polka endeavours, Brettmann has met many of the elite accordion players in the world, such as national champion accordion player Cory Pesaturo, Grammy-winning polka artist Carl Finch and nationally acclaimed accordionist Alex Meixner.
“That legend Alex Meixner deserves a lot of credit, too, because he’s gotten us from where we were to where we are now,” Brettmann said.
In the end, however, Brettmann is most content with the fact that he gets to do what he loves to do.
“If you went back six years ago and told me that I was going to be in my own polka band, I would have told you, ‘No way,’” Brettmann said. “It’s something I really enjoy doing and am very passionate about. It’s a shame that UNO doesn’t have their own polka program.”