Matt Hodek and the Dakota Dutchmen have banded together over old-time music.

Hodek's band, made up of seven musicians who play a variety of brass, woodwind and percussion instruments, travel thousands of miles across the Midwest, as well as to Las Vegas and Arizona, to perform at polka fests and other events featuring old-time music.

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Hodek, 44, formed the band about 15 years ago. He, like the other members of the band, learned to play old-time music by listening to others play and by practicing on a variety of instruments. The Lankin, N.D.-area, where Hodek and most of his band members live, once boasted 20 old-time bands. Hodek grew up going to their performances, he said.

"I learned to play accordion at (age) 7," he said. "My dad had one in the closet, and he'd always show it to us (children) and let us play on it a little."

Besides accordion, Hodek taught himself to play several other instruments, including trumpet, bell trombone and piano, by going to dances and listening to records.

"I spent (a lot) of my nights playing music down in my basement," Hodek said.

Beginnings

Hodek played in area polka bands growing up. After graduating from high school in Park River, N.D., he enrolled at North Dakota State University where he was part of the Royal Melody Band, an old-time band in Fargo. In 2004, Hodek formed his own band.

Band members range in age from 39 to 87 and include Laddie Pecka, 84, and his wife Rose, 82. The couple's Lawton, N.D. band, called the Laddie Pecka Band, was the first band Hodek performed with.

Now, Rose and Laddie, who is known for being proficient on any instrument he picks up and the ability to play two trumpets at one time, are happy to be part of Hodek's band.

"It's just wonderful. They're just a good bunch of guys," Rose said.

"We all get along so well," Laddie said.

The rest of the band members are Mike Helt, Charlie Sunde, Rodney Bosh and Donnie Swartz. Four of the band members are retired, but the other three have to fit in performances while still doing their day jobs of farming, working construction and banking.

Hodek, who raises grain and beef near Lankin, acknowledges it is hectic juggling his farm duties while travelling to about 75 performances a year, but enjoys it nonetheless. He likes not only performing, but spending time with the other band members.

Friendships

"We all have the same interest in the music," Hodek said.

"There's a lot of camaraderie," said Helt.

The friendships extend beyond the band members, to their fans who travel long distances to dance to the music of Matt Hodek and the Dakota Dutchmen.

"Every place we go, we have a good crowd to play for and good events," Hodek said.

Unlike many bands that have a set list they go through, the repertoire of Hodek's band is fluid. The band interchanges playing a variety of polkas, waltzes and two-step numbers during its sets.

"It changes constantly," Helt said.

The band frequently introduces new songs and also takes requests from the dancers.

George and Jean Titera recently drove from Bagley, Minn., to East Grand Forks to hear Hodek's band perform at the American Legion. The couple, like others who attended the performance, enjoy dancing to the band's numbers and seeing other old-time music loving friends.

"They're all dancers, and you see the same people," Jean Titera said.

The band members are friends of the Titeras and played at the couple's 50th wedding anniversary celebration in Bagley several years ago.

"Our two boys did it as a surprise," George said.

Their friend, Arleen Dosdall, from Bemidji, who rode with the Titeras to East Grand Forks, enjoys dancing to the band's songs, such as the "Pennsylvania Polka" and "Carpenter's Waltz."

"It's good old-time music. They play a variety," Dosdall said.