Waukegan Survey Fieldwork Report

Click on highlighted dates to access recordings.

Just the Three of Us

Julie Weakley (brac [e-a-d-g, 4th to 1st] & vocal), Audrey Siwula (bugarija [d-g-b-d] & vocal) & Ryan Leosis (bass - subbing for Marty Berklan)

Waukegan, Illinois

tamburitza music [Croatian]

May 15, 1987

Friday Fish Fry at the Croatian Cultural Center

The Friday night dinners were prepared by a number of women in the back. Menu choices included Walleyed Pike, chicken, and Slovenian rice sausage. I ordered the latter. Julie and Audrey later asked me how I liked the blood sausage. Food orders are placed and paid for at a table in the meeting room staffed by two women. One wall of the meeting room features pictures of the Junior Orchestra and portraits of Charles Elias, their first teacher, and of young members of the group who were accepted into the Duquesne University Tamburitzans.

The trio performs an a low stage on the bar side of the Croatian Cultural Center. The TV was turned down (but not all the way, after all it was the Cubs game!) when the band started. They have a sound system with two vocal microphones for Julie and Audrey. Ryan also sang along, rather quietly, on some numbers, without the aid of a mic. Their instruments are unamplified.

The band started their set with several Croatian numbers, then played a series of American pop and ethnic standards, followed by more Croatian instrumentals and songs. For my benefit, they announced the names of some of the Croatian pieces. Julie left the bandstand several times to ask what I wanted them to play. I told them to do what they normally do. Still, they seemed to be a bit nervous about my presence.

The band received little response from the audience, except for the end of their first set, when one older man at the end of the bar began to make requests and sang along in Croatian. I left in the middle of the second set, because it did not appear that the band would play very late.

During their break, the band members sat at my table to talk. Julie's family background is Croatian. Audrey is Polish and German. Ryan, age fifteen loves tamburitza music, performing, and other kinds of music. His favorite is Glenn Miller and "Midnight Serenade." Julie became interested in music when she was young and heard her mother sing in a Croatian chorus. About 15 years ago, she and her husband, Don, heard a tamburitza orchestra in some other city. It attracted their attention. They made some inquiries and discovered that Charles Elias, a renowned tamburasi from Racine, Wisconsin, was willing to teach and help establish a new group. The group started in 1972, thanks to a great deal of promotional effort, mostly by Don Weakley, a city alderman. Membership has ebbed and flowed in the intervening years. There are currently around fifty adults and children involved in a Senior Orchestra, a Junior Dance Group, a Junior Orchestra, and a Beginners Group. Currently, each group has a separate instructor. Julie teaches the folk dancers. This is the only tamburitza group in the world that owns their own building. Most orchestras are affiliated with churches or lodges. The Waukegan Tamburitzans are self sufficient. Their big events include two concerts a year and a big picnic and music event in July, the Tam-Lamb-Jam.

El Conjunto Fortuna

Trini Esparza, Jr. (bajo sexto & vocal, leader), Mingo Lopez (acordeon & vocal), Tavo Alaniz (electric bass & vocal) & Jorge Lopez (bateria & vocal)

Tropical del Valle

Tomas Pena (Organo & Acordion), Grabiel Saucedo (vocalista & percussion), Omar Vela (Saxofon), Dionicio Pena (bateria), David Guadarrama (electric guitarra) & Hugh Pena - bajo (electric bass)

Waukegan, Illinois

Nortena polkas, rancheros & cumbias [Mexicano]

May 16, 1987

Gran Baile at the J-M Club, Waukegan

El Conjunto Fortuna rented the J-M Club for a dance to celebrate their second anniversary. The sound system on stage belonged to Tropical Del Valle, a more established band. Fortuna played the first set, a little over an hour, and then turned the stage over to El Tropical for the second set. The third set [not recorded] was Fortuna again, joined by vocalist Maria Elena Zires. Presumably, El Tropical played a second set for the fourth hour.

Around two hundred people were in attendance. The dance floor measured about 30 x 40 feet. Once the evening got started, there were about forty couples on the floor for each dance. The music was predominantly polkas (rancheras) and cumbias. The former were the more numerous, especially when Ms. Zires was performing, while the latter attracted more dancers. One vals (waltz) and one huapango were performed.

Mexicans dance the polkas (a ranchera is a song with lyrics to which people dance the polka) as basically a one-step with a variety of turns executed by the couple, more akin to the foxtrot than to the Polish polka. Common variations involve the couple dancing forward side-by-side, sometimes with a backstep every four beats. In a fancier variation, the man leads the woman around him in a clockwise direction, sometimes changing hands so that she may always face forward, sometimes turning her under his arm instead of changing his hands. The cumbia is also danced predominantly by couples progressing forward side-by-side. Often the dancers switch places every measure, following the insistent slow-quick-quick of the bass. The fancier dancers also continually change their orientation while maintaining the counter-clockwise line of direction around the floor.

As I was leaving, I encountered Trini Esparza's wife. She wanted to make sure I had enjoyed myself, and wanted to know what I thought. I was surprised that my presence had even been noted, but it became apparent to me that Trini had told his wife who I was and what I was doing there. She wanted me to leave with a good impression. I said I had enjoyed myself, but wished that I had been able to dance. She said she'd teach me how to polka. We danced one dance simply but successfully. We waited for a cumbia, but with the featured vocalist, rancheras were featured. Mrs. Esparza told me that people in Waukegan didn't really appreciated Mexican music. But when the band went to Milwaukee or Detroit, they were well received by Mexicans and Poles alike, because the music is all basically the same. And in Waukegan, there is some kind of split in the Mexican community over the appropriateness of Tex-Mex music. [Does it involve different generations of immigrants? or a debate between cultural purists and adaptors? or between moderns and 'hillbillies'?] Mrs. Esparza with her daughter and her boyfriend had been sitting at the door taking tickets all night. She was upset because Trini's uncle had held his dance the night before just to cut down on the attendance at this Gran Baile [jealousy? family feud?] She hoped that Trini could stick with his music long enough to fulfill his potential and make something with it, but it would take a lot of concentrated work.

Waukegan Midwest Polka Showcase>

Jane Gregorin Bena (button box accordion & leader) & unknown (accordion, clarinet & drums)

Antioch, Illinois

polkas &c. [Slovenian]

May 17, 1987

at Vy's Yellow Bird

Jane Gregorin Bena's Band--five button box accordions, a clarinetist- saxophonist, and drummer--played at this small tavern from 3:00 to 7:00. Four accordionists stood just in front of the small stage at the front of the room. Jane, who did some singing, and the other instrumentalists were on the stage. Only Jane had a microphone. There was a small dance floor in front of the stage and along the bar. A dozen small tables were set up on the far side of the room.

The place was full, but not crowded. Nearly all the customers were senior citizens, most in couples. There were more women than men. About half of the people were on the dance floor at one time. Some of the dancing couples, of course, were composed of two women. Three ladies did a line dance during some of the polkas in a narrow space off the dance floor between the tables and the rest room doors.

The band was playing "San Antonio Rose" when I entered. They continued with a few more American numbers, including a swing piece written by Jane. Then came a string of polkas, fairly standard Polish-American polkas, and several American pop songs turned into polkas: r.g. "I'm Looking Over a Four- Leaf Clover."

Before I left, I introduced myself to Jane on the stage and said I wanted to hear the band again when I could stay longer. She thanked me for coming and told me to come to the jam session at the Slovenic National Home on the first Sunday of the month. I told her I was out of town for the next two first Sundays. She mentioned a dance on May 30th. I'm also booked on that date. She said "Those are the only public dances we have booked in the area. The others are private dances. Give me a call, we'll see what we can do."

Raymond Podboy

Leader of Chicago Slovene Button Box Club.

Waukegan, Illinois

polkas, waltzes, folksongs [Slovenian]

May 27, 1987

home visit

Mr. Podboy is an accordion player who leads the Chicago Slovene Button Box Club, a musical group that has recorded three LPs and has led a number of tours to Slovenia in Yugoslavia (where both his parents were born).  He grew up in the Slovenian section in south Waukegan and learned to play the button box when he was about ten years old.  But soon the piano accordion became the thing to play.  He followed the fashion and played the piano accordion until he was about 50 years old.  In 1973, Joe Umeck from Ohio helped revive interest in the button box at the Slovenian Club in Chicago.  Mr. Podboy took up the button box again, helped establish, and currently directs the Button Box Club.  Through his performing and teaching, he has become an untiring promoter of Slovenian music and culture.

American Slovenes have made changes in the traditional, old-country tunes, changes that Mr. Podboy feels are degenerative. He is firmly convinced that the proper way to play a piece is the "original" version, and such versions are to be found in Yugoslavia, not in America. The implied target of his criticism is the so-called "Cleveland Style" of Frankie Yankovic. Yankovic has told of making up second parts to fill out the single strain melodies he remembers from the Slovenian accordionists who stayed at his parent's boarding house in West Virginia.

When Mr. Podboy led the Chicago Slovene Button Box Club on it's first Yugoslavian tour, he was surprised at the generous hospitality with which they were received, as well as with the positive reception given to their music. He mentioned several times that people cried at hearing them play, because traditional Slovenian music tugs at people's hearts. One Yugoslav told him that "This is the music our parents and grandparents used to play. They're all gone now; we didn't learn it, and so we haven't heard this old music in years."

Mr. Podboy is strongly attracted to the natural beauty and lifestyle offered by the old world. He recognizes the financial necessities that have made many people leave Yugoslavia for West Germany or America. But he entertains thoughts of moving back to Slovenia now that he is retired and has been able to build up some financial security. In Slovenia, all is clean and beautiful, children respect their parents, and people--especially women--do not have to live in fear of crime.

Don Adams

Square dance caller who worked with Warren Lauer, also with his son Johnny.

Wadsworth, Illinois

interview [Anglo]

June 11, 1987

home visit

Don Adams is well known as a square dance caller around Wadsworth and the surrounding area. He is no longer able to call because of a painful pinched nerve in his neck. He has suffered from the condition for several years and currently receives treatments every day. But he and his wife Florence remember fondly the days when dances were held in local one-room school houses, and the dancers would follow the bands and callers from one dance to the next.

They talked about the changes square dancing has gone through in the 50-odd years they've been involved. Mrs. Adams remembers that "they used to have chairs all around, then all of a sudden they started having tables. It used to be that everybody mixed. Now they are in their groups. And the old dances never had liquor."

In the old days, when Don and Florence first started dancing, the dances themselves were different. The old callers used to call one called "Do-ci Balinet." The call was "do-ci balinet and the gents counter face." Don later simplified the figure to a do-ci-do and cross. Don also remembered that the old callers used to run the dancers through a number of moves like 'promenade over and back' before they ever started with a dance; "They'd call it so you did it first with the opposite couple left, then with the side couples." (What he described sounds like a quadrille sequence, possibly from one of the five figures of the "plain quadrille" of the nineteenth century.)

Warren Lauer

Dance musician who worked with Don Adams.

Wildwood, Illinois

square and round dance music [German, Anglo]

June 17, 1987

home visit

Mr. Lauer grew up hearing his father play German music on a button accordion. He, in turn, learned to play the harmonica when he was about seven years old. He used to wear a harmonica out rather quickly, and each year he would receive a new one for his birthday. When he reached his teens, he convinced his parents to get him a piano accordion. His father let him try it out and then enrolled him with an accordion teacher in Waukegan.

It wasn't too long before young Warren Lauer was playing for square dances at school houses in northeastern Lake County. He played with several dance bands over the next twenty to thirty years. One of the bands he was in included Bob May, a fiddler and guitarist who is now deceased. They frequently worked with Don Adams, the square dance caller from Wadsworth. Mr. Lauer no longer plays in public, unless he is asked to perform at a wedding anniversary party for a couple at whose wedding he played years ago. A few times he has played for a couple's wedding, silver anniversary, and golden anniversary.

Mr. Lauer has strong feelings for an older rural way of life that he feels has disappeared. He believes that people used to be more friendly and honest in the past. Two symbols for him of this old way of life are (1) the music of the WLS National Barn Dance (which he discusses in length on the tapes), and (2) a photo of a barn and farmstead that hangs in his living room. This photo has no personal connections to Mr. Lauer, but for him it represents his past and a common way of life that he feels is endangered in the 1980s.