Rocks Off Pays a Call on El Campo

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A postcard of "downtown" El Campo in the 1930s.

This weekend, Rocks Off escaped a Czech family reunion to do some sightseeing around El Campo, the tiny hamlet just off U.S. 59. Before the silent auction, we made sure to gorge ourselves on free beer and kolaches before making a quick exit out the back.

El Campo is a sleepy town that boasts a three-screen movie theater ("Serving Wharton County since April 13, 1984"), a huge Buc-ee's convenience store on the outskirts of town and the ever-present smell of barbecued sausage in the air. Those three things pretty much encompass all we personally need in life. If we ever decide to leave the 'burbs and the Montrose behind, we are most definitely going to shack up in El Campo. Plus it's probably the only city Rocks Off has ever been to where our last name is pronounced correctly. The Garden Of Memories cemetery just down the road is awash in vowel-challenged surnames.

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One thing worth mentioning about the small town is that it is reportedly extremely haunted by ghosts of the many rural types who settled around there in the late 19th century. We have never seen anything paranormal during our travels through town, but one time the skee-ball machine at the Mr. Gatti's pizza joint in the middle of town once spewed out 100 tickets at us after our great-grandfather died. Just saying...

El Campo is not without a musical side. Driving through town, the station to listen to is KULP (1390 AM), which features a morning "Texas Polka Parade" from 8-9 a.m. for the old-timers to listen to as they wind down their midday and get ready for lunch. Directly following that show is a call-in program dedicated to selling stuff. Think of it as a rural audio version of Craigslist, without random closeted married dudes posting pictures of their genitals. The few times we listened, the wares being hawked were of the farming and industrial variety.

The rest of the schedule is made up of classic Texas country, which ranges from new to old material from the likes of Ray Wylie Hubbard, Billy Joe Shaver and the odd track from younger polka acts like Chris Rybak. Rybak (above) is a second-generation polka artist whose dad has been leading beerhall polka bands for nearly four decades. You heard it here first - Rocks Off is officially repping New Wave of Polka Bands.

The saddest thing we saw in town was the vintage accordions for sale in the windows of some of the pawn shops on the main drag. We remember many reunions and weddings throughout our childhood with combos of little old men wailing away on these until the kegs ran dry. We can't help but think that as each of these men pass on, family members our selling these forgotten and antiquated instruments for a few extra bucks. Our own aforementioned great-grandpa was a just a farmer during his working life, but even into his 80s he could play dozens of tunes like a man a fraction his age.

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Craig Hlavaty
On the southeast side of El Campo is Greek Bros. restaurant, which has been dishing out cheap drinks and legendary Texas music since 1985. The small joint is located a few blocks from an old cotton processing mill, and across the street from the city's massive post office. There were many mornings while we were growing up that we saw folks staggering around the place as we woke up at our great-grandparents house just down the street.

On Saturday when we drove through town, Austin's own Band of Heathens was coming into town for a show that night at the venue. The list of artists that have played GB is ridicously long and phenomenal, with Junior Brown, Radney Foster and Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel making their way into town from time to time. Somehow the KISS tribute act Strutter made into down to El Campo. Go figure that one.

All in all, the drive isn't so bad down to the erstwhile "Pearl of the Prairies," and we plan on making El Campo another one of our haunts. There seem to be plenty of hotels in and around town if an out-of-towner were to tie one on and not want to brave the smokeys on U.S. 59. As for Rocks Off, he would probably find himself passed out in a random yard in town. And no doubt the residents would be our distant kinfolk.


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