The New Blue Denim Farmers' float in the Chatfield Western Days parade featured two-thirds of the longtime polka band. Shown are Ron Vorwerk and Larry Meeker, while Wayne Bicknese took the day off to enjoy a slower pace.
The New Blue Denim Farmers' float in the Chatfield Western Days parade featured two-thirds of the longtime polka band. Shown are Ron Vorwerk and Larry Meeker, while Wayne Bicknese took the day off to enjoy a slower pace.

The three members of the New Blue Denim Farmers are accustomed to being at the fire hall as the official German beer keg-tapping band, rousing the audience with lively polkas, but this year the band will be riding a parade float as the grand marshals of the 2016 Wykoff Fall Fest grand parade. 

“It’s quite an honor, I thought. We’re not actually living right in Wykoff, but we’ve been part of the town for so long…we’ve played there for about 40 years between the old band and the new,” said accordionist Ron Vorwerk, a resident of Preston.

New Blue Denim Farmers polka band is now comprised of Vorwerk, drummer Wayne Bicknese and guitarist Larry Meeker. Historically, the band has been the official German beer keg-tapping band at Fall Fest, rousing the audience with lively polkas as the crowd filled mugs and steins with deep-golden beer.   

“We used to do the official tapping of the keg,” Vorwerk noted, “but they’re already drinking when we get there, so we always have a barrel of Schell’s.”

No matter whether the keg has already been tapped, the polka band has its followers who anticipate their lively contribution to the town festival.  Vorwerk cited that while he lives in Preston, Meeker resides in Chatfield, and Bicknese lives north of Fountain, so coming to Wykoff each fall is a chance to come home to the town that calls them its own band. 

The current lineup of the New Blue Denim Farmers is the second generation of native Wykoff polka players as Vorwerk, Meeker and Bicknese carry on the good-time legacy of the original 1950s Blue Denim Farmers members, Walt Bicknese, Ray Zimmer, Kenny Niemeyer and Walt’s son, Darold, Wayne’s late older brother.  The original Denim was begun when Walt Bicknese and Niemeyer were asked to perform at a Farmer’s Union meeting, at which the pair was met with applause, so Zimmer and his wife, Gladys, and Darold Bicknese joined, forming the Farmer’s Union Band, traveling across southeastern Minnesota and playing at dances and weddings.   

The Farmer’s Union Band developed a following, and it eventually changed its name to Blue Denim Farmers. However, Darold was killed in a car accident in 1963, and as the band recovered from its loss, his younger brother, Wayne, took up the drumsticks.  Meeker joined in 1965 and showed his versatility as a musician – starting out on the concertina and switching to the bass guitar. 

The Blue Denim Farmers played for polka music fans during the mid-1960s and 1970s in a 50-mile radius of Wykoff, recording its first 33-rpm long-play record album at the Pla-Mor Ballroom in Rochester while playing for a St. Patrick’s Day dance.  “Old Time Favorites” featured the talents of Walt and Wayne Bicknese, Niemeyer, Zimmer and Meeker. 

Vorwerk pointed out they made that record before he joined about 35 years ago.  

The original Denim members performed their last concert in Wykoff in 1978, calling it “retirement,” but that “retirement” lasted only a decade because Wayne and his wife, Helen, were marking their 25th anniversary and wanted to celebrate it with a dance…serenaded by the un-retired Blue Denim Farmers.  The reunited band briefly toured this corner of the state during the 1980s, but soon found fewer and fewer performances to give. 

New Ulm native Vorwerk, a polka button accordionist who had put the buttons and bellows away years before, lent his notes to the band’s repertoire after jamming with them while working on a contour farming project at Wayne’s farm.  Walt Bicknese, Meeker and Niemeyer resurrected their polka grooves, welcoming Vorwerk to the Denim…it was back, and its popularity grew throughout the 1990s, at which point they once again had engagements to play. 

“We used to play at the Pla-Mor Ballroom and Dogpatch once a month, but both are closed now,” Vorwerk recalled. “We also used to be guaranteed four hours a night.  It was fun because Kenny Niemeyer was playing the piano accordion and I was playing the button accordion, so we’d change off a bit.”       

Niemeyer dropped out in the mid-1990s due to failing health, and the only remaining original Denim member, 87-year-old Walt, died in 1998, playing music until the time of his death.  The remaining members chose to change the band’s name to the New Blue Denim Farmers to honor the changing of the guard.  The New Denim recorded a CD in 2001 – featuring favorites such as the “Beer Barrel Polka” and the “Blue Skirt Waltz” – and the old Denim’s polka groove kept them inspired to play at least twice a month, often according to Meeker’s availability and fishing schedule.

Vorwerk recounted late nights out on the town, stopping at the Windmill truck stop at midnight outside of Dexter on their way home from a gig and then having to get up for work the next day. 

“When we had a seven-piece band, it would get to be midnight, and we’d stop at the Windmill on the way home for dinner, then we’d have to get up for work the next morning after getting home at 2 a.m.,” said Vorwerk. “It’s tough to find a place to play and where people dance anymore, but we love to play.  I guess it’s the enjoyment when people listen or when they come up and say how great the band is.”   

Meeker, Bicknese and Vorwerk are certainly perennial favorites of Fall Fest celebrants, pleased to be named as this year’s parade grand marshals.  Coming to the north end of town after the parade, just listen for that three-piece oompa sound and pass the lager. It’s the New Blue Denim Farmers at their hometown Wykoff best.