Addie is from Nebraska and found a love for Czech polka music and the button accordion, at an early age for she is a freshman in high school on this CD, her first polka CD.
Amid the hip-hop, towering over the pervasive bro-country and emo pop, musician Addie Hejl stands out among peers. Addie is a freshman at Malcolm High School. In addition to music, she loves shooting as sport. She loves the accordion, the old-fashioned, handheld instrument that creates sound by forcing air through bellows when you push buttons and keys.
Invented in 1822 in Germany, the accordion has waxed and waned in popularity. At times, it has been nearly invisible outside of ethnic European and Hispanic communities.
In recent years, groups such as folk rockers Mumford & Sons and indie rockers Arcade Fire have contributed to a resurgence in accordion music.
She loves the accordion in its purest Midwestern form: as the essential sound in polka bands. As the signature piece of Lawrence Welk’s orchestra. As the instrument of choice for aging Czech musicians who play in bars and dance halls to preserve a dearly-held heritage.
As she learned more about the accordion, polka bands invited her to sit in during their gigs in places like the recently closed Loma Tavern, a remote bar in rural Butler County, home to a sizable portion of Nebraska’s Czech population. Now she books her own shows — she just played Friday during a fish fry at Abie’s Place in the small Butler County town of Abie.
Addie gets her motivation in part from her family’s Czech ancestry.
Her Hejl grandparents gave her an accordion when she was 8 years old.
“My dad is 100 percent Czech,” said Addie’s father, Dan, who is the chief deputy in the Seward County Sheriff’s Office. “He bought her a two-button accordion because he was thinking ahead to her being Czech queen.”
The Hejl family met Brad Husak at a Lincoln Czech Club meeting, and he later sent Addie a Facebook message offering accordion lessons. She started working with him for an hour each week.
She learned to play polkas and waltzes, Husak said. Addie was a quick study, especially considering that she knew virtually nothing about accordion music.
On a Sunday at the Loma Tavern last summer, Addie had her first paying gig. Behind a bandstand that said “Miss Addie Hejl” in vivid red lettering, she played with two older men: one on tuba, one on drums. She was quiet yet confident as she announced each song: “Here’s the Owl Polka,” she told the standing room-only crowd.
Band members didn’t wear traditional Czech clothing — the guys were in overalls or jeans, Addie was dressed in short shorts and a tank top. But their heritage came through in the music. They moved on to the “Red Rose Polka” and people started dancing, though there was hardly room to walk through the small bar.
The crowd whooped and hollered. “Go, Addie, go!” She went home with $300 from the bar and about $250 in tips to apply to her CD fund.
Mom Heather Hejl, who made Addie’s bandstand, said her daughter had played with lots of other bands, but this was the first time she was the headliner. The family travels throughout the area on weekends looking for polka music. She always has her accordion, just in case.“ ‘Never leave home without it,’ she says,” Heather said.