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The Route 161 Happy Wanderers consist of Route 161 Happy Wanderers, from left, Jason Greenwald (keys, backup vocals, yodeling), Vince Bellomo (drums) and Dan Wolcott (accordion).
The Route 161 Happy Wanderers consist of Route 161 Happy Wanderers, from left, Jason Greenwald (keys, backup vocals, yodeling), Vince Bellomo (drums) and Dan Wolcott (accordion).

Route 161 Happy Wanderers have been playing together since forming on Craigslist six years ago after drummer Vince Bellomo posted an ad seeking musicians with an interest in forming a polka band that would blend traditional accordion-based music with modern sounds.

Since then, he says they’ve gone from doing free shows at craft fairs to managing hectic (pre-pandemic) seasons of consecutive gigs at Oktoberfests across Ohio and nearby states.

With an up-tempo cut time of 2/4, their songs take advantage of the signature oom-pah rhythm that is emblematic of polka music. And according to singer and accordionist Dan Wolcott, “Vince says we gotta be about 120 bpm or the polka dancers won’t dance.”

Although they don’t have a horn section, Jason Greenwald (who also performs as a solo artist under the moniker Jason Bennett with a repertoire that ranges from country to heavy metal) performs double-duty on the keyboard to evoke the sounds so essential to many polka tunes – the tuba.

Watch as his left hand produces the tuba sounds while his right hand executes the standard piano (and even harmonica) melodies.

Minster Polka
About their music, Jason says: “If you invite us to your Oktoberfest three years in a row, there’s a very good chance that Dan will write a song about your Oktoberfest.” That’s where you get the Minster Polka and the Dayton Polka, which have turned into theme songs for those respective events.

According to Dan, “Minster is a small cow town in Northwest Ohio. Blink and you miss it. Yet 80,000 people are there over one weekend for Oktoberfest. You really have to see it to believe it.” Vince adds: “It’s amazing. It’s basically their Main Street that they shut down and have this big party. They really do a great job.”

 

Bucket Polka
Although Dan speaks five languages, he said he “felt kinda naked wearing lederhosen and not being able to speak German.” So he’s been learning the language the past five or six years and has been slowly working it into the lyrics of some songs.

The Bucket Polka is a new song whose lyrics seems to speak to 2020 and the fractured times we are currently living in and the increasing lack of gemütlichkeit – the German expression for cheer or friendliness.

Dan: “Nächstes Jahre I brauch ka grosse Welt is actually a quote from a song called Fürstenfeld (by Austrian pop band S.T.S.), the sentiment of which is ‘I really don’t need my big great world, I’m going back to my little podunk town of Fürstenfeld.’ “ It really speaks to one’s passion about their hometown.

 

Dayton Polka
About their music, Jason says: “If you invite us to your Oktoberfest three years in a row, there’s a very good chance that Dan will write a song about your Oktoberfest.” That’s where you get the Minster Polka and the Dayton Polka, which have turned into theme songs for those respective events.

Dayton’s annual Oktoberfest is held on the grounds of the Dayton Art Institute and so it seemed fitting that the band would write a song that pairs all the figures of art history 101 with their favorite beverages.


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