Off The Grid

Wolfgang, Otto, and Hans form Off The Grid, the polka band that lives down to its name. Photo by Phil Houseal

June 6, 2018–For a bunch of guys who call themselves “Off The Grid” they sure seem to be “on the stage” a lot. They don’t even know how many gigs they have every year.

“We’re somewhere every weekend,” said “Otto,” the accordion player. “We will go wherever there is electricity and beer. And money. Electricity, beer, and money. That’s what will get us to your location.”

You could call Off The Grid a polka band, but that wouldn’t capture the, well, ontological essence of the trio.

Joe Klaus is “Otto,” accordionist. The guitar play is “Wolfgang,” who is really John Merz from Albert. “Hans,” is Mike Campasso, “our token Italian and the only known polka Zen drummer in the world.”

They used to have a bass player, but they had to let him go, because “he drank too much.” Which is hard to swallow, as a cold stein seems as much a part of their wardrobe as their lederhosen.

Like any performers who combine comedy with music, the comedy only works if the musicianship precedes it.

“First of all we are real musicians,” Klaus said. “We don’t use backing tracks. What you hear from stage is played by us live. We are the real deal as a trio, but sound like there are more than three of us on stage.”

For example, if you think you are hearing a full drum set, but you can’t see it, relax, you are not hearing double. That’s just Hans on his Zen drum. Zen drums are an invention that looks like a stringless dulcimer with large black pads that create every sound a drum would.

But Klaus describes it better.

“The Zen drum is a magical Bavarian instrument, made from wood harvested under the full moon at midnight deep in the heart of the Black Forest, that gives it its unique musical qualities…” He pauses, then adds, “This is all BS, you know.”

They are now into their seventh year as a band. But watching them turned out in German garb and hearing their “all polka all the time” repertoire, it’s hard to believe they started out doing swamp rock, country, and Americana. With a change in personnel, they shifted to full on German polka.

Not that they left behind all those other influences. This might be the only band at your next Oktoberfest that gets down with polkified versions of such rock classics as Paint It Black, Stairway to Heaven, Purple Rain, and yes, Freebird. It started out as “a fluke,” according to Klaus, but now it is part of the DNA of the band.

“We play all those tunes as straight polka, and somehow it works,” he said.

That “let’s try it and see what happens” attitude is what makes listening to Off The Grid so much fun.

“Our approach from stage is to be spontaneous and respond to the audience,” Klaus said. “We’re not scripted in any way. If the audience is responding to traditional polka, we stay traditional. If they respond to alt-polka, we’ll go alt-polka.”

Their name was the one thing they chose deliberately.

“Rather than label us with a name like The Polka Boys or Country something, we chose Off The Grid, because that way we can cross over into Cajun, zydeco, rock, polka, or country.”

However, when they get a gig like Oktoberfest in Fredericksburg (which they do), they stick with straight polka because that’s what the tourists and purists expect.

Still, as the night goes on, and the beer taps flow, and the crowd forgets where it’s at, you might hear a side order of Led Zeppelin with your chicken dance.

“As the set goes on we will deviate, according to the crowd,” Klaus said. “All polka bands play the same songs. We don’t need to always be playing the Beer Barrel Polka. We can, but why? Let the other bands play it. That’s when we go off the grid!

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Learn more about Off The Grid at
www.facebook.com/OFF-THE-GRID-BAND-328484793838430/