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Karl Hartich

The "Dutchman" style of polka is beer-drinking, good-time dance music, developed by German immigrants in rural Minnesota and Wisconsin (the name is derived from "Deutsch," or German). Sometimes called "oompah," it is distinguished by the thumping bass sound of the tuba, and by its use of a distinctive member of the "free reed" family of instruments, the German concertina. Karl Hartwich is a concertina player and singer who leads one of the most popular current bands, the Country Dutchmen, based in the area around La Crosse. With the recent boom in polka music, he has been touring all over the central United States, from Wisconsin and Illinois down to the Southwest, filling dance floors wherever he goes.
       Hartwich was a child prodigy on concertina, playing at dances between sets by his mentor, Syl Liebl, a legend in Dutchman music, and he has some of the nimblest fingers in the field. River of Song filmed both Hartwich and Liebl at a polka festival at the Hilltop Lounge, a dancehall high on the bluffs above the Mississippi River. As the dancers, many of whom spend the whole summer traveling from festival to festival, twirl and circle the floor, Hartwich leads his band through a rollicking selection of traditional and original polkas, with the occasional waltz or Dixieland jazz number thrown in for variety.


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