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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Copper Box's Polka Fusion

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Michelle Jerabek lacks neither excitement nor pride when describing Copper Box, the band she shares with her husband and a couple of other dudes. "Like a Texas tornado that swept through New Orleans and is tearing up the Midwest!" she says to describe her quartet's accordion-fueled roots rock. The thing is, she's right to be thrilled about the music she and her fellow Oshkosh-based band mates are making.

Milwaukee has had fits and starts of polka/punk fusion for more than 30 years. Copper Box, however, takes Wisconsin's love affairs with the squeezebox and hard-rocking bar bands by a different tack, incorporating zydeco, cumbia and other styles associated with the cheery, reedy wheeze of button boxes.

It's no surprise that the state's most ubiquitous accordion music figured prominently in the group's stylistic evolution. Of her and husband/frontman Danny's background, Jerabek relates,  "We got our feet wet with polka music since that was a family tradition passed on through generations.

"Danny's love for the accordion drew him to Tex-Mex and zydeco," she adds. "He began to practice endlessly, teaching himself how to play almost any style of music on accordion. Jazz, blues, Cajun, rock, etc."


Clifton Chenier, Esteban Jordan, Bonnie Raitt, Doug Sahm, Los Lobos, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Texas' polka fusion pioneers Brave Combo numbered among Danny's personal influences before his marriage to Michelle and their formation of Copper Box.


Nobody who sees the band more than once will witness the same set list, or spectacle. "I don't know what Danny's going to say or do half the time on stage," Jerabek says. "We are not married to any one type of music for the entire show. (It) keeps it interesting for us and the audience. No two shows are exactly alike."


If the group's recently released DVD of a gig at Oshkosh's Waterfest concert series is any indication, there is plenty of fun to be had at a Copper Box performance. Danny could tell the audience it's time for some heavy metal—then return to the stage carrying a tuba.


From the size of their crowd in that video, and considering Wisconsin's musical heritage, it may appear that the group's popularity was inevitable. But that wasn't quite the case. Says Jerabek of what she and her mates still consider a baby band, "It was extremely tough starting out trying to get clubs to hire a band with an accordion that doesn't play a full set of country or classic rock."

But one of the pluses of their persistence has been a kind of freedom. In Jerabek's words, "It's nice to be part of a band that can play whatever they feel like playing."

Copper Box plays Kochanski's Concertina Beer Hall, 1920 S. 37th St., on Friday, April 8.