By Jeff Gage
By Rob van Alstyne
By Jeff Gage
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Like the Spoonbridge and Cherry and frozen heaps of snow, Ruth Adams and the World's Most Dangerous Polka Band are icons of the Twin Cities. Every Friday and Saturday since the '70s, Adams and her band tear up the stage at Nye's Polonaise Room with their effervescent, and at times supremely strange, polka music.
This isn't the kind of polka one would expect reserved for 7 p.m. slots in musty church basements and VFWs. From 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. every weekend, the dance floor at Nye's turns into a sweaty mess of bodies. Young and old bop around, usually without regard to tempo or how ridiculous they look. This is why people keep coming back. What happens at Nye's stays at Nye's. And if a roomful of grown adults wants to gleefully indulge in a rendition of the Chicken Dance, it's more than acceptable—it's encouraged. Ruth Adams is redefining cool, one polka at a time. We recently caught up with accordionist Adams and her trumpet-playing bandmate, Joe Hayden, to ask them a few questions about their legendary group.
City Pages: What makes you the World's Most Dangerous Polka Band?
Joe Hayden: Her [points to Adams].
CP: Why is that?
Hayden: You're sitting close to her, right?
Hayden: Move a little bit closer and she'll bite you.
CP: Oh, no. I don't feel so afraid. Though maybe I should. Why did you decide to play polka?
Hayden: Because we live in Minnesota. It's a tradition. If you're a musician in Minnesota and you don't play polka, you don't play. It's true—in our era. Now there's rock bands and all that stuff.
CP: What's your favorite polka song to play?
Hayden: It would be better to tell you what is the most popular polka song we play. On the average night, we get 10 to 12 requests for the "Beer Barrel Polka."
CP: Do you get tired of playing it all the time?
Hayden: No. When you're playing, people are smiling. How can you get tired of that? The reason that it's so popular? The place is full of young kids and that's the one they think of first, so they just ask for it over and over again.
CP: What's the worst dance move you've seen on the dance floor? Do you see some doozies?
Hayden: Ninety percent of the people who come here—maybe more, maybe 95 percent—don't know how to polka. But they get out there, and they hop around, and they're having a good time. And that's okay. Some of them look a little funny to us, but they're having a good time.
CP: Do you know how to polka dance?
Hayden: Nope. Musicians almost never know how to dance because we're always playing.
CP: I notice when I come here that guys use dancing as an excuse to ask pretty girls out. Do you think there's something particularly romantic about polka music? Or what is it that lets people let loose?
Hayden: That's what makes it work. It's not romantic, so it's not threatening to a woman. If she gets out there and she starts dancing with a guy and she finds she doesn't like him, there's no embrace. There's no nothing. If you're playing a slow ballad and a guy comes up and asks you to dance and puts his arms around you, then that's a little more difficult for you.
CP: What do people expect from your show?
Hayden: We don't just play polka. Contrary to belief, we are the World's Most Dangerous Polka Band, but we play everything, including a little rap.
CP: I think that's my favorite part. Did anyone teach you how to rap or did you just pick it up naturally?
Hayden: The young people kept coming in and asking, "Hey man, give me a little "Freebird." And I'd look at them and say, "What—are you crazy?" And then we went from that to saying, "Okay. But we're going to give you the northeast Minneapolis version." And we'd play it to polka. We have a chef that's a rapper. So I went to him and said, "Come up and teach that old lady how to rap." And he said, "Joe, all you do is you stop the music, you change the drum beat, and you say the words." That's a piece of cake. So we became a rap band. It makes people happy.
CP: What year did you start playing at Nye's?
Ruth Adams: 1975.
CP: Why did you choose Nye's?
Adams: I just like it. I'd miss it if I stopped playing here. I've been here for so long.
CP: How long have you been playing with the band, Joe?
Hayden: This is my 13th year. Go like this, Ruth [covers his ears]. Go ahead.
Adams: [Covers her ears.]
Hayden: She is the absolute best accordion player in the Twin Cities. She makes my job easy.
Adams: [Uncovers her ears.]
Hayden: I don't want to give her a big head.
THE WORLD'S MOST DANGEROUS POLKA BAND plays every Friday and Saturday night at Nye's Polonaise Room; 612.379.2021