May 26, 2021–You know what helped get me through the year-long live entertainment drought?
I’m not ashamed to admit that every Tuesday evening I tuned into Mollie B’s Polka Party, a live hour-and-a-half program put on by Mollie Busta Lange and Ted Lange, direct from Ridgeville Corners, Ohio.
So did thousands of others, according to Mollie B herself, who has brought her band SqueezeBox to Texas to restart playing live gigs this week.
“We had 130 dates lined up for 2020,” she said. “That was going to be one of our highest years, because we always try to cap it off at 100, although when I was younger, we did 165.”
Of course, every gig was canceled due to The Virus Which Shall Not Be Named. For any band that makes a living touring and performing live, it was a hit to the gut.
So Mollie and Ted decided to squeeze some lemonade. Starting in May of 2020, they set aside every Tuesday evening to do a free livestream. Soon, tens of thousands of polka fans across the country and around the world were tuning in.
And Mollie B put on a show. The very popular entertainer is host of the Mollie B Polka Party on RFD-TV and on Rural Radio, youngest inductee in the International Polka Association Hall of Fame, Favorite Female Vocalist, and has carved a career performing across the country.
She started singing at age 3 with her family’s Jim Busta Band, and went on to earn degrees in Music (Voice and Trumpet) with a Master’s in Instruction. She even appeared in the movie The Mule playing for and dancing with Clint Eastwood, and her husband and accompanist, Ted, has been nominated twice for a Grammy Award. I’m not sure even Mollie could tell you how many instruments she plays, other than “all of them.”
As uplifting as good old polka music can be, my favorite parts of her broadcast were when she brought in guest artists or when she took on different musical genres. Mollie is equally at home with Ave Maria or Let It Go as she is with The Pennsylvania Polka.
Mollie B’s Polka Party not only helped thousands of fans endure their isolation, it opened up the world of domesticity to Mollie and Ted.
“So many wonderful things came out of it. Ted and and I have been married 10 years and our marriage never bonded like it did last year. We never had this much time just he and I! We were able to explore the life that is ‘normal’ to everyone else.”
As a former touring musician myself, I grew to respect Mollie and Ted’s willingness to take musical risks on live TV. Bringing on guests who played different styles meant some serious woodshedding. They also tried to accommodate song requests, often doing selections they had little time to prepare or practice.
“As a musician, the whole thought of ‘we have to have new music every week’ was an awesome way to just explore,” Mollie said. “We never have a script, and sometimes I say to Ted we’ve never gone to E flat right here, what are you doing to me!”
Though not intentional, the live shows also were a financial blessing.
“At first it looked like we were going to be in a rut. Then fans were saying why don’t you have a tip jar. That really wasn’t our intention–our intent was to keep people entertained. A very small percent actually tip, but it kept the bills paid and food in our tummies. I am not a high-maintenance person. So, if I had to live the rest of my life this way, I could actually do it.”
That won’t be necessary, now that in-person gigs are back. While they have every intention of keeping the livestreams going, they are “excited” and not a little anxious to perform in front of people again.
“I know it will be a good show, but I got used to performing in front of cameras and will have to get used to having people look at me again.”
They are happy being back in the Lone Star State.
“Polka is cool in Texas! We find Texans are more accepting of polka music across generations. We love to use our God-given gifts. We always stress that all ages can come to our show. It is always child-friendly and rated G for general audiences. We love kids, and we need to keep the music going.”
Something they do every Tuesday.
Mollie B’s Polka Party airs live every Tuesday at 7 p.m. Central Time. Details and links at www.MollieB.com.
SqueezeBox’s Texas concert schedule:
Saturday, May 29 – National Polka Festival – Ennis, Texas – 8:30pm-12:00am
Wednesday, June 2 – Krause’s, New Braunfels, Texas – 7:00pm
Thursday, June 3 – St. Mary’s Nada Community Center, Nada, Texas
Friday, June 4 – Tomball German Market, Tomball, TX – 6:00pm-10:00pm
Saturday, June 5 – Tomball German Market, Tomball, TX – 5:40pm-10:00pm
Sunday, June 6 – Tomball German Market, Tomball, TX – 2:20pm-6:00pm