Whether in someone’s home (where they’d roll up the rug), in a neighborhood beer joint, at a supper club, at a city band concert in an outdoor pavilion, in an immigrant hall or in a large ballroom, when southeast Kansans took time off to relax or celebrate a wedding or holiday, they wanted to hear and play music … and dance.
Especially dance — be it the waltz, country two-step, jitterbug, rock & roll or polka. First and foremost, the polka, which they danced to accordion tunes brought here by the immigrants who came to work the coal mines. Music I have come to see as “Little Balkans Soul.”
I’m currently at work coordinating and preparing an exhibit and series of programs at Miners Hall Museum in Franklin focusing on the artists, venues, artifacts and stories of not only accordion and polka, but also city bands, dance bands, rock & roll and country.
Titled “Music of the Little Balkans,” the exhibit and programs will take place the first quarter of 2020. Gene Corsini will present on accordion and polka January 26th. I will cover city bands and dance bands on February 23rd. And Jamie Ortolani will present on rock & roll and country on March 22nd.
The project is especially dear to me because I grew up dancing (sometimes four nights a week) at the Hilltop, Tower, Idle Hour and Roadhouse. Most times with my wife future wife, Linda.
It’s also meaningful because my mom and dad met and jitter-bugged together in the early 40s at the Trianon in Croweburg and my grandma Mary told me the first time she saw my grandpa, Matt, he was running full tilt in a driving rainstorm from a street car stop to dance polka with her in a community hall in Radley.
The project is coming along well but I need help. Help locating more photos (both exterior and interior) of area locations, bands (whether city, family, dance, polka, rock & roll or country) and music artifacts (handbills, posters, newspaper advertisements, and business cards).
I’m also looking for stories about the halls, the bands and the people who attended the dances.
Some of the places I’m looking to get artifacts, advertising and both interior and exterior photos of are: J.J. Richards Band Shell, The Blue Moon Ballroom, Tower Ballroom, Gay Parita Ballroom, Trianon Ballroom, Hilltop Club, The Trading Post, The Roadhouse, Lefty’s Barn, The Blue Goose, American Legion Hall, The Rose Bowl, Sitter’s, Sunflower Tavern, Club 50, Eagles Hall and ‘Cornstalk,’ the Woodstock-inspired rock festival held south of Pittsburg in 1970.
I know there’s some I haven’t thought of so feel free to contact me at the e-mail address or phone number at the end of this column with any venues I’ve missed, share a story, or to have me come by to pick up items.
Objects you choose to loan to the museum for the display will be returned after three months. You can also scan photos and send them to me or I can come by and take a picture of any item you’d rather not loan out.
I plan to also pay homage to the jukeboxes that were once located in most every live music location along with other clubs and bars so patrons could dance when there was no live band.
Not long ago, Joan Pistotnik Barbieri e-mailed me about her dad, Vance Pistotnik, a self taught accordion player who played at The Sunflower Tavern (now Chicken Annie’s Girard), and would sometimes invite a young, shy Johnnie Zibert play along with him.
Her father also owned Vance Music Company and placed Wurlitzer jukeboxes in area bars and clubs 1945 – 1955. “I vividly remember having pinball machines and panoramas in our garage and a new Wurlitzer jukebox in our living room so he could listen to all of the new songs. He would read the Billboard magazine to make sure he always had the hit songs to load onto the jukeboxes.”
Joan also sent along a dreamy photo of herself, Kenny Ginardi and Judy Pistotnik Hazzard posing with ‘America’s Polka King’ Frankie Yankovic at the Tower Ballroom in the early 1950s.
It’s a real gem.
— J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and celebrant. He also operates Knoll Training, Consulting & Training in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 620-231-0499, firstname.lastname@example.org, or 401 W. Euclid, Pittsburg, KS 66762