Meisner works hard to keep polka vibrant
October 27, 2003
By Jason Keil
Polka music is often associated with a range of clichés, but Wisconsin musician Steve Meisner has been playing the music for 35 years with a mission to reverse those stigmas attached to the sound he grew up with.
"Polka music still has a stigma attached to it, even today," Meisner says. "People don't realize that it's one of the last forms of American music. I believe that good music is simply good. I believe that people know the difference. They may not always understand what the mechanics of it are, but they feel it, and that is where I have always placed my faith in people. They too feel that good music is simply good and it makes them feel good. I will play to young kids and they will tell me, 'I'm surprised! This isn't what I expected at all!'"
Meisner is the son of polka legend Verne Meisner, who has had a successful career for more than 50 years. His father has been the biggest influence in Steve's life and in his music.
"I have tried to maintain my roots, whether it is in my family or in our musical style," he says. "The family style has always been a different style. We've always tried to be a little on the cooler side."
The 42-year-old accordionist has been working the squeeze box with success never too far behind. Adding his own unique style to a genre steeped in tradition, Meisner has performed coast to coast along side such popular accordionists as Frank Yankovic and Joey Miskulin, released countless albums and singles and was featured on ABC's July 4th special, "In Search of America: A Fourth of July Celebration." He is also a three time Wisconsin Area Music Industry (WAMI) award winner for "Favorite Polka Artist."
The younger Meisner's talents can also be heard on the big screen in the recent film "Red Betsy" and in the upcoming movie "Chump Change," which is set to premiere at the Milwaukee International Film Festival.
Director Steve Burrows found Meisner's music "a perfect fit" for the comedy that pits West Coast attitudes against Midwest values. In addition to playing "The Chicken Dance" for a pivotal scene in the film, Meisner was able to branch out and record Maureen McGovern's "The Morning After" for the film's soundtrack.
"Playing for the film was a great opportunity," Meisner says.
Meisner's 1984 song "The Meisner Magic" can be heard in "Red Betsy." The tune has had a successful life since its inception nearly 20 years ago, popping up in everything from polka competitions to the old Nashville Network show "Crook and Chase."
"There is something in that song that everyone likes. It's such a slow process with these tunes because we don't have the same commercial drive like other music does."
Meisner, who lives in Whitewater, continues to surprise listeners by showing the cooler side of polka, but he always looks forward to returning home to Wisconsin to be with his wife and three children.
"I love to travel and meet people, but I love to come home even more. It's never, 'I can't wait to leave,' but it's, 'I can't wait to get home.'"
Meisner has already started planting the seeds of music with his three children, just as his father did with him. He sees the talent budding in his daughters Whitney, who has excelled in saxophone, and Lindsey, a natural singer. His son Austin has already proved to be very multi-talented, dabbling in accordion, saxophone and drums.
"I think that music is a wonderful thing to learn to do," says Meisner.
Meisner is also keen to help other young polka musicians break into the field. He and other established musicians are starting the Polka Alliance, an organization to help up-and-coming polka musicians learn the business and make connections.
Ever the optimist, Meisner never seems to have been touched by disappointment. With all the success he has achieved so far, he feels that his greatest achievement is yet to come.
"I've has so many great opportunities in movies and television," he explains, "All of these things have been stepping stones. I don't have a clue what my great accomplishment is yet, but it's out there."
Perhaps he has already achieved it by being able to move out of the shadow of his famous father.
"They say that your children will be better than you. I hope I have at least accomplished that."
Steve Meisner is expected to appear at the premiere of "Chump Change," November 7, as part of the Milwaukee International Film Festival. He also plays November 13 at American Serb Hall at 1 p.m. For more information, visit www.stevemeisner.com.
Comments from OnMilwaukee.com:
I consider Steve Meisner to be a friend. He has been the source of many true moments of joy for me. A waltz, a fox trot, or a "Sentimental Ole'You" brings to life the real Polka experience. Thank you Steve for sharing your talent with so many.
My husband Bob & I Love Steve & his Music. Hoping to see him at the Film Festival of Chump Change.
Steve Meisner and his "boys in the band" deserve some "rousing applause"!! I have had the privilege to see them perform many times these last 2 years--both locally and out of state. Dancing to live music and hearing the "happy" sound of polka music is truly a fun time. Don't think Steve just does polkas. He has a voice that will "grab" your attention as he delivers a variety of styles of music. I encourage music lovers to take the time to attend one of his performances near you. You will have a smile and a happy heart as you listen to the Meisner style!!!
Steve IS the coolest in the accordian world. I am a fan who lives in California. I travel many miles to see and hear Steve play his accordion.
I'm glad to see and hear that Steve is doing what he like to do best, making people happy. He is such a professional when it comes to music. A talented person and one I that I can say is a true friend. Good luck in many more adventures.
Great article. We are so happy that finally some attention is being paid to some of our great "polka players". They are not really polka players. They are great musicians who play great music! Steve is very talented and I think the polka band title is misleading. He is a great musician and plays music that you can tap your feet to and also can sing along with if you want. We love both him and his Dad and their music. We've been great fans forever. Request more coverage for all of the great accordian and concertina players in our area!!!!!