Rockin' with pop polka

August 21, 2008|By JULIE E. GREENE

If you haven't heard die Schlauberger at Augustoberfest and you think German bands equate with polka music, just keep this in mind: You never know when the band might break out "Hey Baby," "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" or a Jimmy Buffett medley - sometimes including a button box.

Or play their trademark alpine rock: polka with a rock beat.

After playing traditional German music for about four years, the American-born and -raised band members wanted to distinguish themselves from other German bands and began writing alpine rock arrangements in which they take old-style traditional polka, tear it apart and make it more exciting, drummer Kevin Barbitsch said in a recent phone interview.

"It was a big risk we took," Barbitsch said.

The band was trying to branch out to bigger venues, doing more festivals, but without alienating its fan base, Barbitsch said. That fan base included an older crowd that wasn't always receptive to new music.


The band continued to play traditional songs while mixing in alpine rock and covering American rock songs.

"We ended up getting festivals. Once you do one or two concerts where there's thousands of people, it's infectious. It really is. If those 1,500 people had a good time, then the next 1,500 will have a good time," Barbitsch said.

Their alpine rock albums also caught on.

"What's important to me and the guys is keeping younger people interested," Barbitsch said, which the alpine rock and American rock covers do.

Their playlist is a mix of German- and English-language tunes, which they have found doesn't deter an audience that doesn't understand a word of German.

"We love to please that way. There's nothing more exciting than when the crowd is singing back to you and they don't even know German," Barbitsch said.

This weekend, die Schlauberger, or dSb, as they're also known, will bring eight new arrangements including an Eagles tune and John Denver's "Thank God I'm a Country Boy," which will give fiddler Tom Staab a chance to be featured.

"(Augustoberfest's) a festival that I really enjoy every year," Barbitsch said. The crowd has grown every year and both the band and the crowd have a good time.

If you go ...

WHAT: Augustoberfest

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 23, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 24. Gates open at 10:30 a.m. each day.

WHERE: Festival tent in Central Parking Lot off the first block of North Potomac Street in downtown Hagers-town

COST: Tickets cost $5 a day; free for ages 12 and younger who are accompanied by a paid participant.

CONTACT: For more information or to purchase advance tickets, call 301-739-8577, ext. 116, or go to

MORE: A Volksmarch, or noncompetitive walk, will be at 8 a.m. Saturday, starting at the festival tent. Choose between a 10-kilometer walk and a 6-kilometer walk.

There will be an expanded crafts area with 18 vendors. There will be more children's activities, available noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, including German storytelling, a Punch and Judy handpuppet show, a marionette show and games. Pony rides on Sunday.

A Frhschoppen, a German brunch, will be from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday under the festival tent for $100 a ticket.

Proceeds from Augustobertfest benefit the Augustoberfest Charitable Foundation for scholarship money for the Sister-City youth exchange program between Hagerstown and Wesel, Germany.

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