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Karl and the Country Dutchmen | The River Boys | Natasinh Dancers and Musicians
Karl and The Country Dutchmen
by Richard March
Wisconsin Arts Board
The music of Karl and the Country Dutchmen comes with a rollicking beat and an infectious spirit. With his Chemnitzer concertina stretched about a mile, Karl leads his band, shouting out key changes and using body language to “conduct” his ensemble of brass and reed players. It is polka and a whole lot more—Dixieland, ragtime and old time pop and country standards—played as you’ve never heard them before.
The group plays for dancers from coast to coast, on cruises and European tours, has been featured on Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion” and at the National Folk Festival in Lowell, Massachusetts.
Karl Hartwich was born in Moline, Illinois in 1961. His father had relocated about 200 miles down the Mississippi River from his hometown near La Crosse, Wisconsin. He was seeking the good paying factory jobs making agricultural implements in the Quad Cities area. But farming was in his blood so the Hartwichs lived outside of town in rural Orion, Illinois where they raised hogs and field crops.
Karl was raised in Illinois but his family did not lose touch with their Wisconsin relatives. Karl remembers that at least twice a month they would make the trek upriver to attend dances where his distant cousin Syl Liebl and the Jolly Swiss Boys were playing. Syl Liebl, a Dutchman-style concertina player, is a natural musician, inventive, spontaneous, passionate and original. Little Karl must have absorbed the style like a sponge.
In response to his pleas, Karl received from his parents a concertina as a Christmas present at the age of twelve. A few months later he was sitting in with the Swiss Boys, and six months after that, at age 13, founded his own band, now in its 24th year. Karl has turned out to be just as inventive and passionate a musician as his mentor. He says that the concertina is always on his mind. Karl recalls driving the tractor on his family’s farm, with dance tunes ringing in his head--the engine roaring, his left hand on the wheel, his right hand on the tool box beside the seat pressing out concertina fingerings on the vibrating metal.
As an adult, Karl has moved back upriver to Trempealeau, Wisconsin, a location more central to his band’s regular gigs. Virtually every weekend he packs up the van and instrument trailer and he and his sidemen converge on a dance hall or outdoor polka festival. Casual in his dress and personal style, Karl is nonetheless very serious about his music. He is recognized as the outstanding Dutchman concertinist of his generation. Paradoxically, his music is at once controlled and free. Karl has added more syncopation, chromatic runs and improvisational flourishes to his play than his predecessors but uses only the old acoustic instruments and adheres to the basic Dutchman style.
Karl is one of the few full time professional Dutchmen musicians. When not playing music Karl loves living on the river. He is an avid fisherman. Between his band’s dance gigs he catches Mississippi River catfish on treble hooks baited with chicken livers, then fillets and fries them to perfection.
For More infomation on Karl and The Country Dutchman visit http://www.wisconsinfolks.org.