The Leader of the Band

Festivals, Hometown Heroes, People, Traditions
on March 25, 2001

The familiar strains of A Ja Sam, Di By Ptacek, or Sirotek, waft through the town square as a roving band of musicians serenades the crowd.

The Original Kolache Festival Band, led by Bob Schlechte of Bryan, is one of the most enduring traditions at the annual Kolache Festival in Caldwell, Texas, (pop. 3,533).

The band formally kicks off the festival, named for the Czech wedding pastry, then yields the stage to a series of well-known Central Texas polka bands. But the 15-year-old tradition almost ended in the early 1990s, when the bands original leader, Edmund Cedidla of Caldwell, died.

After Cedidlas death, Bernard Rychlik asked Schlechte to lead the band.

I told Bernard I would do it for one year and then let someone else take it. And I told him I thought someone from Caldwell should do it. Every year, it seemed, he (Rychlik) would come up to me and say, Well Bobby, how about it? One more year? That Bernard. He could sell a deep freeze to an Eskimo, so I said I would do it, Schlechte says.

Schlechte recalls the first time he saw the band. He was manning a food booth for the Bryan-College Station Brethren Church when a small polka band led by Cedidla, Albert Kubena, R.B. Hunger, Don Haisler, and Rychlik approached, singing a familiar tune. Schlechte yelled out to Rychlik, who was manning a bullhorn, Hey! How do I get a piece of this action? Rychlik replied: Show up! Join!

In 1987, Schlechte played the trumpet and trombone for the band and was instantly drawn to the spontaneity and improvisational style. There was little rehearsal.

Schlechte, who is three-fourths German and only one-fourth Czech, doesnt understand much of what he sings. I know a little German and very little Czech. I was never able to grasp Czech, Schlechte says.

Fellow band member Brady James, a button accordian player, does speak and read Czech fluently and loves the response from Czechs who follow along.

This is the one venue where you get a lot of feedback, and it is such a wonderful feeling to be able to play and have people step up and start singing with you, James says.

Gene Schlechte, Bobs son and a trumpet player in the band, agrees the music is contagious. Those songs you listen to all tell a story, a love or a lost love or going to a tavern to have a beer, he says. You have got to keep that way of life going and help people remember that heritage, he says.

Drummer Pat Foster says the band picks up new members each year and is getting larger.

There has always been somebody new that I have played with each year. And Bob is the head motivator. He definitely keeps the band going, he says. And the band doesnt seem rusty from only playing twice a yearat the festival and at Snook Fest, an annual community celebration in the town of Snook (pop. 500). Rychlik, a lifelong polka aficionado, knows who sounds professional and considers The Original Kolache Festival Band one of the best.

It is just so ingrained in all their heritage. You get a bunch of people together with a song, and it is like you are singing the national anthem. Everybody should know it, whether you are singing it in Texas or New Mexico, Rychlik says. The Green Meadow Waltz is always going to stay the same.

George Hlavinka, one of the festivals original organizers, says the band helps the festival retain its small-town charm.

Too many festivals become commercialized, but this is a local group. They do it from the heart, and they entertain people, he says.