Itinerant Locals – Polka Your Eye Out at the Steinhaus

It’s not every day that an accordion and tuba duo rolls into town driving a pink RV. Maybe it’s that novelty that makes it seem like it wasn’t that long ago that Zac Smith and Cheryl Roorda drove into the Spa City from Seattle. Their uniquely colored RV was towing a trailer loaded down with the essentials common to any average vagabond polka duo; including such necessities as an old hand-crank coffee grinder, a record player, and a vintage collection of polyester clothes. They called it their “Arkansas Starter Kit.”

But that was 11 years ago and The Itinerant Locals are well past getting started. Since their journey brought them here to change the musical landscape of Arkansas Smith and Roorda have multiplied, producing a daughter, Eureka, and a son, Zephyr, who are fully capable of carrying on the family tradition of having an excessively playful relationship with life.

This is the sort of thing that happens to The Itinerant Locals: after a long East Coast road trip they’ll pull into a Memphis Pilot station at 2 a.m. on the way back to Hot Springs. Someone who has seen them perform, maybe even years before, will spot them and say, “Hey, polka your eye out!”

The whimsical tag line, which began as an email account, embodies a sense of mischievousness that goes along with rattling the bones of a genre that for too long was more associated with the passé stylings of Lawrence Welk.

Cultural pretensions have been shattered on both sides of the stage lights. The Itinerant Locals can no longer make judgments on who will like their music and have learned to live by the “Rule of Yes,” with a couple exceptions. For example, if someone wants to play their saxophone amidst a German beer drinking song, the answer would be kindly swept aside with a “Nein danke.”

“Arkansas audiences are really willing to go there with you,” Smith says. “They really want to have a memorable moment. And that’s what we love. We love to create that moment.”

Serendipity, that feeling of being in the right place at the right time, seems to follow the two around. They may have gathered so much of it in their travels that they have a psychological surplus to distribute. Or it could be just that they make wherever they are the right place and people pick up on it. Whatever the case may be, the time before they get on the stage may be serious in preparation, but when they get geared up they are festively boisterous while completely in tune with their surroundings.

What they play spans a gamut of 80s Pop anthems to bawdy originals like “Girls Upstairs” and traditional serenades. “Our set has become suspiciously German,” Roorda muses. Being avid home brewers songs about beer have continued to seep in, she adds. “It doesn’t matter what we’re playing as long as people are having fun.” The Itinerant Locals play every Saturday at Steinhaus Keller in the grotto of Spencer’s Corner.

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John Lovett

John Lovett

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