Prosit!

to 50 years as a German band’s drummer

Franklin Even of Grafton has been playing drums with the Freistadt Alte Kameraden Band for about half a century. He also is charge of ordering steins with the band’s logo. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

Franklin Even of Grafton doesn’t have trouble filling his weekends each year during Wisconsin’s warmer months.

He showed a one-page schedule he keeps on his refrigerator of the Freistadt Alte Kameraden Band.

“So you see that pretty much takes care of the summer,” he said.

This year already has 22 gigs scheduled from this month through early October. Last year had 28.

Even has played drums with the band for about 50 years. He has a framed certificate honoring him for 45 years of service on his wall but it’s not dated and he isn’t exactly sure when he joined.

But Even remembers how. He was a member of the Cedarburg Civic Band, several members of which also play with Freisdtadt Alte Kameraden Band. It didn’t take an audition for Even to join them.

“They needed a drummer. The other drummer quit,” he said.

Music had been a longtime passion for Even. He joined band in grade school in Cedarburg.

“I thought it was the big thing back then in sixth grade,” he said.

It became a big part of his life for the 84-year-old.

Alte Kameraden is a German term that translates to “old comrades,” the Freistadt band plays German-style music, mostly waltzes, marches and polkas. Its singers sing in German.

“It’s crowd-pleasing stuff,” Even said. “We like to get the crowds involved with us.”

He said 95% of their tunes come from Germany.

“In this type of music you don’t see how loud you can play,” Even said, adding the goal is quality.

Even doesn’t have a favorite of the band’s three ring binders of songs, but “Of course we close with ‘Ein Prosit’” he said as he raised his hand as if he was holding a mug.

Even is one of the band’s three drummers and one of its oldest members. The youngest is a college freshman whose father also plays, he said.

Members — some of whom are music teachers — come from as far as Madison to rehearse two hours every Wednesday night in summer at Lindenwood School in Mequon, on the outskirts of Freistadt.

The band performs across the state, Midwest and even in Europe. Even made the trip overseas twice — the first was the first time he left the USA and on the second took his wife and two daughters along to make a vacation out of it. They visited where “The Sound of Music” was filmed in Austria.

Band members stay in the homes of German families, part of an exchange since Americans host German bands during Milwaukee’s Germanfest.

Even said he knows a little German, and the host families know more English than they let on.

The Freistadt Alte Kameraden Band was formed in 1942 from a group of friends in the Lindenwood 4-H Club. It was originally called The Victory Band to show patriotism during World War II. It picked up its current name in 1966, when lederhosen was added to its uniforms.

The band has played for President Ronald Reagan and for President Bill Clinton when he visited Milwaukee with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

The band was inducted into the Polka Hall of Fame in 2002 and has played for every Oktoberfest in Glendale since it started in 1969, and every Germanfest in Milwaukee since the festival’s inception in 1981, including for the annual church service. Sessions are four hours long, Even said, with a 15-minute break after 45 minutes of playing. They go through about 50 songs each session.

Among the out-of-state performances are festivals in Amana Colonies, Iowa, and Toldeo, Ohio.

Closer to home, the band regularly performs on a float in Port Washington’s annual Fish Day parade, and on Friday night it will play a one-hour show at Lasata Senior Living Campus in Cedarburg.

The band’s attire matches its music style — lederhosen and suspenders. Even decorates his hat with pins from places he has played. It’s filled.

Even said he enjoys the camaraderie of the band’s members and the music. Modern music, he said, is a “bunch of noise,” and added he recognizes that young people may say the same thing about his taste in tunes.

Music has provided Even more than just a fun outlet. He met his late wife Shirley in the Cedarburg Civic Band. She played clarinet.

Even fit the band’s busy schedule into his professional and personal life.

He began working for Mercury Marine out of high school back when the boat engine manufacturer had a plant in Cedarburg, before moving to Fond du Lac. He made the commute and worked his way from the machine shop to tuning up engines before they left the factory.

Even has served as the band’s treasurer and is involved with other community groups. He is a former director and still serves as an officer with the Cedarburg Police Auxiliary. The volunteer group mostly does traffic control for events such as the Strawberry Festival and during car crashes and fires, and its members are tornado spotters.

He lives at Village Pointe Commons, a senior apartment complex, where he has three cousins and met old friends from school and his old neighborhood.

After Friday at Lasata, the band’s next performance is from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 8, at the Eastbrook Park Bier Garten in Glendale.

For more information, visit the band’s website at www.altekameraden.com and Facebook page at m.facebook.com/FreistadtAlteKameraden.

 

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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