Polka Mania!

From his modest headquarters in Little Haiti, polka legend Li'l Wally Jagiello spreads happiness the world over

The show took place at the Zakopane Lounge, in the heart of the strip and across the street from what used to be the Lucky Stop, Wally's old home base. The Polkaholics opened, playing a loud, brash form of the polka that more closely resembles punk rock. Using only drums, electric bass, and electric guitar, they sang warped versions of staples such as "Who Stole the Kishka?" and "Roll Out the Barrel." A young crowd rushed the trio while older Li'l Wally fans hung back at the rear of the hall. When Hedeker announced the presence of Li'l Wally, the crowd began chanting, "Wally! Wally! Wally!" As if he were a boxer making his way to the ring, Wally took more than fifteen minutes to reach the front of the room, shaking hands with everybody he could. Finally onstage, accompanied by the Polkaholics, he played his concertina and sang fifteen of his greatest hits.

"It was a magical evening," reports Hedeker. "It was really an amazing concert on many levels. I was really paying attention, trying to learn from him, the way he gets people involved. It was like we were at the feet of the master."

Wally so enjoyed the concert that he's penciled in a return engagement with the Polkaholics for next April. "It was beautiful," he says of the show. "We played until two in the morning. There was no dancing because it was too crowded. The more people I play for the happier I am."

Wally received an autographed baseball from the team after he recorded his "Florida Marlins Polka"
Steve Satterwhite
Wally received an autographed baseball from the team after he recorded his "Florida Marlins Polka"
Li'l Wally acolyte Don Hedeker flanked by his fellow Polkaholics
Li'l Wally acolyte Don Hedeker flanked by his fellow Polkaholics

He pauses to consider his words: "I'm a happy guy because God gave me the talent to make these songs, to make people happy. People go to church, and the priest blesses them and makes them very happy. But with my music, I make them extremely happy. This is what it's all about."

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