By George Halas
As we go to press (doesn’t that sound uber cool?), there is still a body of scientific evidence that suggests that there may be no summer whatsoever this year, but The Inquisition is going way out on the far limb and predicting several days of plus-70 temperatures between now and September, 2016.
Washington, D.C., has its annual cherry blossom bloom, but Wisconsin has the vastly superior Summer Music Festival Bloom as well as the Summer Music on the Patio Bloom. The Wisco blooms last longer, sound better and are more fragrant if you prefer wafting weed and beer aromas to cherry blossoms. (The Inquisition takes no position here…)
For maximum fun, just add a live performance by The Mad Polecats.
The Polecats have been described as a “reggae/bluegrass-fusion family band,” but it might be easier to start by listing the types of music they don’t play.
“We dip our toes into a lot of different musical ponds; I’ve been telling people that we play Jamaican polka. There isn’t a style that we won’t take on,” said Jesse Alvin Kaftanski-Evans, banjo player and vocalist for The Polecats. “It’s all ground up roots music, distilled to our own taste. “I don’t use the word ‘fun’ but a lot of people do use ‘fun’ to describe our music.”
“The new album will be built around dance music and focus on bringing back the dance band feel,” he added.
The Polecats are in the studio recording their second album, Skunkgrass––“hoping the title is not probable cause”––and will feature more originals songs than their debut record.
“We’ve been playing the songs live for about six months now, and we’re getting very positive responses to the originals,” Kaftanski-Evans said. “We’re feeling very confident about including them in the new album.”
Their first album, Rastabilly, coincided with the group’s first nomination for a Wisconsin Area Music Industry (WAMI) award for Bluegrass/Americana Artist of the Year (they are nominated this year as well) and a “People’s Choice” WAMI as one of Wisconsin’s favorite bands as well as propelling The Polecats to the top of the ReverbNation charts as best reggae band in Wisconsin.
The Mad Polecats, who draw their name in part from the city of Madison and the nation of Poland, have been around “all day,” according to Kaftanski-Evans and were started by his father, Jan Paul Kaftanski, who is still the band’s drummer.
In addition to Jan Paul’s drums and Jesse’s banjo (everyone in the band sings), the “ever-evolving family affair” that is The Polecats “have had a very steady lineup for the last year and a half” that also includes The Olson Twins (not those Olsen twins, but they are identical) Jason Olson on bass, Justin Olson on washboard, ukulele and “novelty,” Keaghan O’Reilley on guitar and Angela Martin Licari playing violin. Local Fox Valley legend and family member Bobby Evans sits in on slide guitar whenever the opportunity arises.
“It’s always a treat to have Bobby on the slide guitar,” Kaftanski- Evans said.
“Angela’s fiddle playing has become an integral part of the band,” Kaftanski-Evans added. “Her classical training––she plays violin in the Janesville-Beloit Symphony––meshes seamlessly into our sound. I stand on stage night after night listening to her and thinking how lucky we are, how did we even meet you?”
Licari met Kaftanski-Evans when both were recording with mutual friend Owen Mays.
“Before the session was over, I told her that ‘we have this family band and if you want to have some fun, bring your husband and daughter, we have families, too’…things just took off from there and she hasn’t missed a gig since.”
Licari’s symphonic responsibilities have occasionally made her late for Polecats’ gigs.
“The funniest time was when we were on stage playing at The High Noon Saloon when she came rushing through the crowd in a black evening dress, a string of pearls and high heels,” he recalls. “She made it to the stage, kicked off her shoes––she always plays barefoot with us––and never missed a beat.”
In addition to the recording and release of Skunkgrass, the band is fully booked well into the fall for appearances “all over Wisconsin” and beyond that will include their first-ever gig in Green Bay, festivals and a benefit at the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum.
“We are very fortunate to be living to be living in a state where there is so much support for the fine arts,” Kaftanski-Evans said. “There is always something amazing and unique happening somewhere in Wisconsin.”
The one gig that has Kaftanski-Evans particularly excited is the Muddy Roots Festival, to be held over the Labor Day weekend in Cooksville, Tennessee.
“We are so excited,” he said. “There are going to be 5,000 people there who are directly keyed in to our music. This is going to be great for our online presence.”
The longer term is looking good for live performances and the band is already saving tunes for their third album.
In the interim, there will be a myriad of easy and convenient ways to take in a performance by The Mad Polecats this summer and The Inquisition strongly urges that you avail yourself to one or more of those opportunities.
The Inquisition is confident that, under those circumstances, the word “fun” will come to mind.
For more information, check Face Book, ReverbNation and madpolecats.com