FIVE-TIME GRAMMY NOMINEE Lynnmarie & the nashville polka guys make the accordion FUN AND sexy for a whole new generation
Dubbed “The Dixie Chick Of the Accordion” by Jay Leno, the squeeze box player and vocalist and first female artist ever to win a Grammy nod for Best Polka Album, fuses high-energy rock, pop, country and the traditional music of her Slovenian heritage to wow crowds everywhere: from Oktoberfests, to music festivals, coffee houses and all over Europe!
When Pete Townshend wrote The Who’s “Squeeze Box” in the mid-70s, he originally planned for it to be performed on a TV special by the band accompanied by 100 topless accordionists. 30 years later, LynnMarie—the first and only female ever to be Grammy nominated for Best Polka Album—is not only singing and playing her own “Squeeze Box” (aka the Button Box Accordion) on a hip, new, country rock version of the classic tune, but appears on the cover of her Grammy Nominated, Party Dress, wearing only a sassy smile and her beloved traditional instrument.
Talking about her generation? Well sort of, but LynnMarie is passionate about taking the genre out of the stereotypical image of portly, kielbasa scented dudes in lederhosen and to a younger generation starved for exciting and original new music.
And she’s succeeding. US Weekly may have said it best in a write up of Squeeze Box, the 2000 album that earned her the first Grammy nomination: “this is not your grandfather’s polka.” Jay Leno called her “the Dixie Chick Of Polka.” And Austin O’Connor of The Sun, a newspaper based in Lowell, Massachusetts where LynnMarie & The Boxhounds have played the National Folk Festival, called her “undoubtedly the sexiest player ever to strap on an accordion!” Rolling Stone chimed in: “LynnMarie is one soulful polka diva.”
Oktoberfest organizers around the country, concerned about dropping attendance, continually book her to ensure that there are as many fans from 18-30 as there are older ones. Averaging 40-50 dates a year, she’s performed at the Bethlehem Music Festival, the CMA Fan Fair (in her adopted hometown of Nashville) and South By Southwest. This past summer, she and The Boxhounds played Switzerland’s Interlaken Festival for the first time. And she is the only accordion artist in known history to film a music video; “Squeeze Box” is currently airing in Slovenia.
While traditionally, even the most popular accordion players have regular day jobs and jam only on weekends, LynnMarie is a full timer, making the accordion safe and hip for all generations.
“The music I make is for people who haven’t heard of polka before, or are overpolka’d with the traditional vibe of German men drinking and playing,” she says. “Every other genre of music it seems goes through an evolutionary process, but I was frustrated with the fact that polka never did until I decided to do something different and fuse the well known style with the pop and rock of today. I take my traditional roots in the art form and mix it with the modern sounds I love in an effort to reach the kids.
“People who meet me for the first time think I must book a lot of gigs in ‘polka’ happy places like Minnesota and Wisconsin,” she says, “but actually we do more on the West Coast and Texas, where people just want to hear good music period. My challenge is opening the ears of the young generation while winning over the traditionalists who don’t want the art form they love to evolve. For me, change is the only way to ensure the survival of accordion music.”
Although she is considered the new face of accordion music, LynnMarie’s roots in the traditional format run deep. Born and raised in an ethnic Slovenian community in Cleveland, she seemed destined to pick up the accordion from an early age. Thanks to her grandparents, who immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900s, her childhood was rich in Eastern European music and culture; singing and dancing were a natural part of life, and she and her five siblings spent weekends at the Slovenian National Home meeting hall, where everyone gathered to play music. Her father, an accomplished accordion player and bandleader, was her first inspiration. She picked up the squeeze box at age 11 and by 13, LynnMarie was singing and playing regularly at local pubs, theatres and festivals across the Midwest; her incredible energy and vivacious alto voice quickly established her as one of the most sought after entertainers in the region.
All the while recording a handful of strong, under the radar albums, she moved to Nashville in 1994 to start collaborating with new musicians and songwriters. While working as a TV producer (yes, polka was just a weekend hobby back then) for The Dick Clark Company in 1998, a colleague learned of her polka prowess and set up a show for her to play with legendary flat-picking guitarist and record producer Chet Atkins. Atkins was blown away and asked her, ‘why aren’t you doing this for a living and taking it to the people?’
“That’s when I decided to devote myself full time to developing as an artist,” says LynnMarie. “I realized that this music could reach a wider audience than the box I put it in. It’s such a fun and happy entertaining type thing, and in the world today, with so many things around us that can drag us down, that’s something to be proud of. The challenge, of course, is to do all of this without the benefit of a hit single or radio airplay, but I’ve found that if you make good, fun music with integrity and honesty, people will discover it and love it.”
LynnMarie & The Nashville Polka Guy’s musical blending of rock, country and pop, together with the accordion and guitar have garnered them worldwide recognition. Whether it’s on stage with their band keeping 6,000 twenty-year olds on their feet at one of the country’s largest Oktoberfests, or an acoustic show in your home for a crowd of fifty people, or at the largest Rock Music Festival in Slovenia, they communicate their love for life through their music
“I’m not sure where the musical road will lead, but I know that I am passionate about bringing joy and entertaining people.”
The future of the accordion looks bright, if it’s in the hands of LynnMarie.