Milking cows and playing polka

It was a case of mistaken identity.

Actually it was my ignorance that got the best of me when I walked into the Wabasso Community Center on June 28 for the Lions 46th Annual Pork BBQ.

The first thing I noticed when I walked inside was the tantalizing aroma of barbecue. Next I noticed the familiar sound of polka music. It was in the corner of my eye that I noticed where the sound was coming from.

I noticed the tuba right away. But then there was the guy wearing a baseball cap with a long beard playing what I believed was an accordion.

He moved that music box with ease. Every so often he would reach down to his can of Bud Light laying on the floor and take a swig. I also noticed the blue cooler nearby.

During a small break in between songs and another swig of beer, I walked up to the music box man.

“You have a request?” he asked, as I approached.

“No,” I said. “But I would like to talk to you for a few minutes during your next break.

“Sure. We will take a break soon,” he said.

When he finally put down his music box, he picked up that blue cooler and headed straight to the back room. When he returned, I approached him.

“Can we talk now?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said.

“What’s the name of your band?” I asked.

“The Dain Dutchmen,” he said.

How long have you been playing together?” I asked.

“Well, tonight we started a little after five, and the drummer didn’t get here until about 6:15, yep, yep,” he said. His humor was disguised by a straight face. And then he smiled.

“We started as a band about — as an organized, disorganized group about the year 2000,” he said.

“Have you always liked to play polka?” I asked.

“That’s what we started out with. Polkas and waltzes. That’s where we started. Yep,” he said.

I eventually found out that the man with the music box was Dain Moldan. And the Dain Dutchmen are actually all family members from Sleepy Eye. His dad, Fred, plays the tuba. His mother, LuAnn, and sisters Marissa, Lori, Marissa and Molly also participate.

When they are not playing music, the family milks cows for a living.

I asked him if he always had an interest in music.

“When I was way little — like very small — I remember dancing in the barn, milking cows. And it was always old-time, polka and waltzes. That’s how we started.”

I also found out I was wrong about the music box.

“It’s a concertina,” Moldan said. He was understanding with my confusion.

“There’s not a whole lot (of difference between accordion and concertina) besides the physical size and reed selection. They are still operated by levers and buttons,” he said. “They are all very similar as far as function and you can play just about any sort of music on either of the instruments.”

He shared the time when somebody requested a Pink Floyd song.

“I have played the concertina since I was about 6 years old,” he said.

“On Easter vacation of my first grade experience at a private school we went on a little trip to visit a guy by the name of Christy Hengel. He was the guy in charge of manufacturing the Hengel name brand of concertinas.”

Moldan said he ended up borrowing one of the concertina’s to bring home to play.

“He (Christy Hengel) said go ahead and borrow it before you buy it. See if you can figure it out so you don’t waste all that money,” Moldan said.

He said one concertina can cost $400 to $500.

“So what are you playing now,” I asked.

“It’s a Hengel. A 1974 model. There was demand for those machines in an era that in some sorts has pased. You can still buy a Hengel box,” Molden said.

“Do you continue to learn new songs?” I asked.

“Yep, yep, sure,” he said. “You know I think it helps to be open minded and as well versed as an individual can be.”

And the Dain Dutchmen, as it turns out, are pretty popular around these parts. Last year, Moldan estimated that the band played at 108 events between June and September.

“That’s everything from Oktoberfest to anniversaries,” he said.

“Do you have a favorite song?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said. “I guess it’s always pretty much the last tune of the day. It’s kind of a medley between ‘Good Night Irene’ and ‘Home Sweet Home.’ We are saying goodnight and we are going to go home. And while I’m playing those songs, I’m thinking about the lyrics.

“And I’m looking forward to the next event, which would lead to the next time I would be trying to mimic versions of ‘Goodnight Irene’ and ‘Home Sweet Home.’ Because there is no place like home.”

With that, he smiled and I laughed.

And that’s when I realized that home for Moldan is either on the farm milking the cows or sitting in front of a crowd with that music box on his lap, his family helping with the tunes and that blue cooler within his reach.

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