The Sauerkrauts - who have entertained millions at Epcot Center, Six Flags, and Las Vegas - will make a rare appearance at Night In Old Fredericksburg this weekend. Their show features German folk music, folk instruments, and lots of audience participation. Below, Trumet plays the saw. Photo by Phil Houseal
The Sauerkrauts include Gary Trumet, Robert Atwood ("the finest accordion player anywhere"), and C. Kevin Hatcher, Former National Champion Yodeler. They will perform at Night In Old Fredericksburg on Friday, July 14, from 6 - 7:30 p.m. and from 9 - 10:30 p.m. in the Adelsverein Halle.
For bookings and information, go to www.sauerkrauts.com, or email email@example.com
Oompah with Attitude
by Phil Houseal
July 5, 2006
Gary Trumet majored in Music Education at the Eastman School of Music. So how did he come to be standing in a hardware store in a small town in Vermont asking if he could play their saws?
"That was the first unusual folk instrument I tried to learn," explained Trumet, who also plays Alphorn, hammered dulcimer, accordion, drums, tuba, bass, baritone, valve trombone, and cowbells. "I saw somebody play a saw and I said 'I can do that.' So I bought a bow, went home and tried three of my dad's saws. I finally found one that even made a squawk. I thought, 'I have got to get a better saw.'"
That's how he found himself playing Edelweiss in the tool department of a hardware store. (He eventually settled on a Stanley 8-point crosscut.)
Trumet is founder and front man for the Sauerkrauts, a somewhat unconventional German folk band (he calls it "oompah with attitude") that will perform at Night In Old Fredericksburg this weekend.
The Sauerkrauts have played Las Vegas and Hot Springs, headlined five years at Epcot Center and another nine seasons at Six Flags Fiesta Texas.
A Sauerkraut show is a total immersion experience for the audience. Trumet and his troubadours pull out the novelty instruments, lead sing-alongs, and demand lots of audience participation (think chicken dance on feed additives).
But the madcap onstage antics should not obscure the deep musicianship of the band. This philosophy goes back to the early 1970s, when Trumet started playing with his buddies and his father in a weekend group popular at weddings and family events in upstate New York.
"We played at the Bavarian Chalet on Lake Erie every Friday night for 10 years," he said.
While wildly popular in parts of the United States, the traditional American polka band is sometimes the butt of jokes. (What's the definition of an optimist? An accordion player with a pager.) Trumet wanted to change that perception.
"I had heard recordings of European bands that were playing the heck out of their instruments," he recalled. "I wanted to bring that level of musicianship to the genre. My ultimate goal was to play German folk music as a full-time profession."
To take polka beyond the usual Oktoberfest season, Trumet figured he could turn it into a career by playing year round at fairs and festivals. Forming a show band was the best route to do that.
"I saw how a show entertained people best, and would allow me to do more than just play dance music," he said.
So he added novelty instruments and yodeling to the Sauerkrauts. In 1982, he was the bandleader for the very first show at the new Epcot Center.
You might think that endless evenings of playing polka standards would take the starch out of anyone's Lederhosen, but Trumet manages to keep it fresh.
"If you ask a painter to paint a straight line, he's going to make art out of it," Trumet said. "It's the same with music. Anyone can play an accordion, but not everyone can make music. The challenge in playing the same songs year after year is to continuously make it work. To try to shape it into what you want is a never-ending process."
Although Trumet "retired" the band in 2004, people still recognize him as a member of the Sauerkrauts.
"People are always asking me to play," he said. "Even I didn't realize how widespread our appeal has been."
Trumet does the math.
"You figure five shows a day, 150 days a year... it's entirely possible we played for 5 million people at Six Flags over those nine years."
He still puts together a group for special occasions, such as NIOF. His goal remains to " bring out the folk instruments, have a fun time on stage, and make music the best we can."
"It's about more than playing music really well, or even the money," he said. "The most satisfying part is seeing people's mood get elevated. If I can't affect a person's mood in 90 minutes, I don't want to do it anymore."
Even if it happens to be in a hardware store.