Tuesday, January 01, 2019

 

Pic a Dozen 2018

One picture to represent each month of 2018... 
I call it "Pic A Dozen 2018"

I challenge you to do this for yourself... Can you choose just one picture for each month of 2018 to represent a special moment, doing something fun, seeing family or friends? Use either a picture of you or a picture that you took. When you take a look back, I'm sure you'll see it really was a good year... maybe that's why you're feeling a bit TIRED!  Ha! Good Year Tired... Get It?  WARNING: This a lot harder than it seems. I'm stressing out and getting frustrated trying to pick that one shot that highlights that month. But then to put it all in perspective I just recite this mantra to myself... "You think you got problems? Be glad you're not a math book!" Here is my year in review:

JANUARY


The Percussionation Station! Already, right out of the blocks this photo exercise is working. Without looking at the pictures I couldn't tell you when I built my homemade instruments but my photos showed me that January was a very creative month for me. Last January I built this instrument and the Polka Sound Pole (see September's pic). I played this at some open mics, the halfway to the Fest party and at Pierogi Fest. It has 3 washboards, some assorted bells, a cymbal, a license plate, a kazoo and a tin can. It's a lot of fun to play!

FEBRUARY


South Haven's Ice Breaker Festival is a great winter party which always takes place the day before the Super Bowl. Here we are on top of the cardboard sledding hill and as you can see, there isn't much snow, but we had the event anyway. On Friday night, Barb, Karan and I all entered the snowsuit fashion show. We wrapped Barb in bubble wrap and she won first place in the "Don't Laugh, It's Warm Category" On Saturday we get up early and go curling at the outdoor rink Check out the entertaining video I put together for that: CLICK HERE and then we run around town for a few hours for the great chili cook off. At 3pm we have the cardboard sled race. Barb has a flower on her head because she was racing in the Garden Club sled, which won best design in the business category. Karan in the orange tutu went down in her own sled as did I in my surfer dude sled. Nicole and Joyce had one of the best wipeouts of the afternoon in the Monty Python Trojan Rabbit. You can watch that entertaining video HERE   I'm really thankful we had such a great time. As you can see we were all smiles but then just four and a half weeks later, Nicole unexpectedly passed away. We saved the Trojan Rabbit and we're going to fix it up and run it again in Nicole's honor one month from today.

MARCH


Oh Danny Boy! It must be the luck of the Irish for me to have struck gold when I found this beautiful Irish lass and asked her to be me wife. Barb and I got to go to two awesome St. Pat's parties in March this year. Eddie Korosa was having a polka party at Joe's in Brookfield, Illinois. Gintas, Dylan Dawson and I got to do a few numbers on pogo cello with the band. The following week we traveled to Maquoketa, Iowa for the Sandberg's legendary St. Pat's Party. I got to play harmonica with the house band in Iowa on a handful of numbers which was a blast.

APRIL


I find it quite fitting that the first time I get my name on the family egg-cracking contest trophy is when Easter falls on April Fools Day. Here I am pictured with my winning Easter Egg and the painted wood trophy that my dad made in 2015. He won in 2014 and the contest has been dominated by my mom's side of the family ever since. The good-looking folks in the pictures behind me are my proud grandparents on my dad's side. It's their Lithuanian tradition that we keep alive. Well, we actually take it to the next level. March Madness brackets are nothing compared to our egg-citing bracket. The reigning champ usually gets a first-round bye and then it's the youngest vs. the oldest in the skinny end and fat end competitions. If need be, we have a playoff but my egg went undefeated in 2018 and now my name is wood burned on the trophy!

MAY


I get to have the best birthday party every year. Abbey Road On The River is a 5-day festival over Memorial Day that almost always falls on my birthday. So yes, it's rough... I have to "work" every year on my birthday. And this shows me working late at the office. I'm up on the main stage, doing my job as an emcee, about to introduce my good friends, the incredibly talented Classicstone from Bogota, Colombia. The reason there are two of me is because the images of me and Javier are being projected on the enormous jumbo screen at the back of the stage. This was a hard year but a healing year. We lost Scott Carlson in January and Nicole in March. We filled the weekend with tributes to Scott and Nicole. Scott was in Meet The Beetles and The Yellow SubMorons and Nicole was in The Yellow SubMorons and managed Meet The Beetles. It was great that Meet The Beetles played three tribute shows for them over the weekend, we played a tribute video for them on the main stage. The kid's playground was named "Nicole's Playground" and we even put on an unannounced unofficial parade for them to carry on our tradition.  

JUNE 


The Spence Family Reunion. It was great to see my mom's Spence Bakery family this summer. My Aunt Rosie from Texas wasn't able to come up but the other four Spence siblings were there. Here's me with my Uncles Tom and Joe both in their 80's.   

JULY


In July I had the opportunity to be involved in my first South Haven summer festival. They do a Harbor Fest in June (we had a garage sale that weekend) and a Blueberry Fest in August (same week as Beatlefest) so when Lotte from Foundry Hall invited me to be a part of the Rhythm On The River Music Festival, which occurred the week before Pierogi Fest, I jumped at the chance. We brainstormed and came up with two events. On Friday I would be involved in the homemade instrument petting zoo where I showed off all my homemade instruments and on Saturday I led the community-wide "Foundry Hall Music Makers Experimental Instrumental Orchestration Creation Station" It's pretty cool to see my original idea, 4 upright pallets connected to make a cube and watch the creativity take off from there. One youngster said, "You took garbage and made something beautiful out of it." 

AUGUST


The look of happy exhaustion outside the Hyatt Regency O'Hare in Rosemont, Illinois. Although I have a blast at The Fest For Beatles Fans, I have a lot of pressure and stress and deadlines to meet in order to bring laughter and smiles to the Fest attendees. This is my Sunday night relief look. I wanted one last picture with The Yellow Submarine before putting it up in dry dock. Right after this picture, I disassembled it so I could transport it and when we got home and hung it from the rafters, I declared that my Yellow Submarine is now in semi-retirement. I say semi-retirement because if someone hires me to bring the Yellow Submarine to their festival, parade or event, I'd be bringing it down faster than you can say Jeremy Hilary Boob, Phhhd. But at Abbey Road On The River and The Fest For Beatles Fans in 2019, look for a brand new Danny Donuts-built contraption. I know a lot of people will be mad at me for not bringing The Yellow Submarine, and a few years back they were mad at me when I unveiled Yellow Submarine 2.1 (pictured) which replaced the original I built out of playground equipment, but I have to keep challenging my creativity and not spend all my time riding around on past successes. 

SEPTEMBER


We had a riot in Milwaukee... a polka riot that is! I found out about the first Milwaukee Polka Riot, an alternative polka festival right after it happened in 2017. I knew we had to be a part of the second one. If there was a festival meant for our Beatles polka band, it was the Milwaukee Polka Riot and we were thrilled to have the opportunity to open up the festival. Even blowing 2 circuit breakers didn't slow us down- we simply grabbed the pogo cellos and went out into the crowd to entertain until the power came back on! I'm shown here singing, playing the pogo cello and the polka sound pole. This was also the first show we played in our new red and white polka-dotted vests that Barb made. We're excited to announce that Sgt. Sauerkraut's Polka Band will be playing the 3rd annual Milwaukee Polka Riot in 2019!

OCTOBER


This might surprise you, but I'm not really in to Halloween. I guess I'm lucky that I don't need to wait for a holiday for permission to wear a costume. Back in March, The Sandberg's hosted their final St. Patrick's Party and that meant our Irish Village People act broke up. I ended up with both the Indian and Sailor costumes. Barb and I got invited to go to Ludington Art Center's Halloween Party with Jewelya and Mark so we went as Popeye and Olive Oyl. You should have seen what Barb went through to get her Olive Oyl hair just right. It's amazing to see what she did with a wig, a wire and a black sock! Oh and the best part was that the costume contest was actually broadcast on the radio! Now that's entertainment there!

NOVEMBER


The 50th Anniversary of The Beatles White Album occurred in November so we put on a show at The Karolinka Club. Sgt. Sauerkraut's Polka Band opened, and then BeatleJam, an all-star jam proceeded to perform The Beatles double album in its entirety. We tried to sound like The Beatles on every song except one. Gintas said, "I'm going to perform, 'Don't Pass Me By' as the Saddleman." Gintas has a country music project, writing and performing country songs as the Saddleman. I asked him if I could play harmonica on the number. It was my favorite song we did that night. It was a fresh take on a classic song. It was slowed down and countryfied and as you can see in the picture, Phoenix, Gintas and I put a lot of emotion into it!

DECEMBER


The 5th Annual Christmas With The Beatles Fundraiser and Glove Drive. This year we moved to Dubin's Pizza of Burbank, Illinois. There was no room at the Inn so we moved our little party to the heated beer garden behind the restaurant and bar. This is one of my favorite pictures from my Danny Donuts Musical Comedy set. I'm surrounded by amazing talent: Phoenix Beach, Jim Hondros, Kandalyn Hahn and Winona Patterson. This was my first Christmas With The Beatles without Nicole but her legacy is represented here. Her handmade Meet The Beetles banner hangs from the back wall. The back line Phoenix, Jim and Tony Giangreco (on drums - not pictured but he was back there)  I know because of Nicole and I'm wearing my grandpa's #1 shirt for Nicole. My grandpa died in 1978 so this shirt is at least 40 years old. I would often wear it during The Yellow SubMorons shows when they would perform the Rutles song, "Number 1". When Terri Hemmert did her tribute to Nicole on her Breakfast With The Beatles radio show, her sister Julie picked out the perfect song, whose chorus goes, "Number 1, number 1... you're my number 1!"

So there you have it. A dozen pics painfully picked out by me. I wish I could show you 12 more that were equally awesome, but there's something powerful keeping it at an even dozen... Aw, what the heck, if my grandma who ran the bakery taught me one thing, it was to be overly generous. This is why the baker's dozen exists. Throw in an extra donut and the customers will keep coming back. So with that, here's my baker's dozen bonus pic and it happens to be of my grandma's granddaughter and great-granddaughter...

BONUS JULY PIC


Picking up my sister and niece from Midway airport on a Sunday night in July. I loved surprising them as I waited by baggage claim at the bottom of the escalator. I even had two female Chicago cops come by asking me what was going on. I told them I was going to embarrass my niece and one of them said, "She'll be embarrassed alright!" I had just as much fun doing the costume change at Gintas's. Karan, Joe Wood and Gintas were all sitting outside and when I came outside in my clown costume they lost it! Joe, a lawyer even offered to help me out if I got thrown into jail. I would have loved for Jaime and Kylee to have timed it better and have them come down the stairs WHILE being interrogated by the cops, but judging by their smiles, the costume brightened up their Illinois vacation!

Have a great 2019 filled with fabulous pictures and amazing memories! -Danny

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

 

Remembering Nicole Nigh Hondros

     Nicole Nigh Hondros was much more than a friend… she was a creative partner of mine for the last 15 years… and we were just getting started. I remember seeing Nicole at my first Beatlefest in 1997. We were both in the very popular Sound-Alike contest. I remember loving her high-speed rendition of “Help!” I later found out she was fairly new at playing guitar and her accelerated version wasn’t intentional. Now 21 years later our high-energy Beatles polka band plays a speeded-up version of “Help!” and it saddens me when I think about our future without her. We had so many traditions and annual events that we did together and we were always striving to make them bigger and better… but we also had other plans in the works. Only a few people knew about the surprise we were working on together… Nicole was learning the accordion and was going to someday join Sgt. Sauekraut’s Polka Band or at least come up on stage to join us for a few numbers. The last picture I took with Nicole was a posed picture of us with our matching accordions. The reason we even got to see Nicole three weeks before she died revolved around an accordion. She met Barb and I in Benton Harbor, Michigan at an Eddie Korosa Polka Party because she was purchasing a small accordion from Eddie. We talked her into staying the night so we could have a Funday Sunday together the next day. I’ll always remember my last day with her. Even though we both were working on projects, we didn’t have the pressure of overwhelming deadlines that we usually have when we’re together. We actually had a relaxing day, which is rare for both of us. Barb got called in to work so Nicole and I started our day by watching Spanish-speaking broadcasts on YouTube of the 1994 World Cup Opening Ceremonies. 
     
Our last picture together February 18, 2018

     There’s a perfectly logical train of thought that led us to this activity. We were talking about a video I made of Barb’s monarch hatching out of its chrysalis. I was unable to upload it to YouTube or Facebook because I set the video to Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out” song and copyright issues prevented me from posting it. That led us talking about Diana Ross’ appearance at The World Cup Opening Ceremonies 24 years ago. Being a huge soccer fan, I was in the stands with my dad, but how did Nicole know about this event? I found out she was ON THE FIELD, one of four high school kids holding the Netherlands flag. I asked if she had it on tape (VHS still existed in 1994) She never got to see herself because the TV coverage in the USA was preempted by the O.J. Simpson police chase. I figured the Opening Ceremony footage has probably surfaced by now. We found several poor-quality versions from Spanish-speaking broadcasts and we were able to watch her flag-carrying team’s international blooper from the Goodyear Blimp’s sky-cam. As the flags from the 24 competing countries were revealed, the Netherlands’ flag was unfolded into a bow-tie and Nicole’s crew had to quickly run back to the center to exchange corners.
     
     After watching all the broadcasts we could find, and basking in Nicole’s satisfaction that the Opening Ceremony she was involved in was ranked amongst the all-time worst opening ceremonies (not because of the Netherlands flag blooper, but because of Diana Ross’ terrible attempt at scoring a close-range goal) we settled in to get some work done. I wanted to make a proper video to highlight our Trojan Rabbit cardboard sled disaster and Nicole was hard at work wood burning a Jeremy Hillary Boob character which was going to fit into a giant art piece she was creating for the Beatlefest art contest in August. I told her if she sits here with me we can get this video done but otherwise it will probably go on the backburner. She sat on the floor giving me constant feedback and suggestions as we pieced together a very entertaining video. (Watch it here: https://youtu.be/7QGeOlId8hE )
     
    Ice skating was still on the agenda. Two weeks earlier, Nicole and I were the only ones who wanted to go ice skating during the very busy Ice Breaker Festival. I suggested we wait and go when she comes back for a visit. Barb gave us her blessing to go without her but Nicole insisted that we wait and convince Barb to go with us when she got off work at four. We were all glad that Nicole convinced Barb to come with us. It’s especially meaningful for us now as our ice skating adventure was the last time we got to play with Nicole. Ice skating was one of our annual traditions. Nicole actually had the honor of the only person to have perfect attendance at Donuts On Ice, our annual costumed ice skating party in downtown Chicago. One year Barb and I had van trouble and missed our own party… but Nicole was there. It’s really hard to get adults to dress up in a costume when it’s not Halloween, but Nicole was always game and put a lot of thought and work into her Donuts On Ice costume. We always held it in December and we were both super busy with Christmas shows and activities. I think Jim and Nicole also had perfect attendance on our annual Holidaze Trolleydaze Lights Tour of Chicago. Nicole would move mountains to attend events that brought her joy and this was one of them. Jim and Nicole once got home from vacation and less than an hour later they were on the trolley.
    
     Our annual Christmas show was also a joint effort. For the past five years we partnered up to produce “Christmas With The Beatles” but before that when I was putting on my own Danny Donuts Christmas Extravaganza, Nicole was usually involved. I found a picture of a Christmas show we did at The Underground Wonder Bar in Chicago in 2003. As you can imagine, I have a lot of memories of performing Christmas shows with Nicole. In fact, our first creative project was working on a Danny Donuts Christmas Music Comedy album in 2003. I invited my friend Angeline King to the studio to record some background vocals and Angeline invited Nicole to join us. I mentioned earlier that I first saw Nicole in 1997, but she was just one of the Beatlefest girls I would see every year. I’m sure we had a few conversations, but I didn’t really know her until that one night. Jim Marlowe and I arrived at the studio and found Nicole already there. We showed her Jim’s arrangement of “Santa Claus is Grooving Thru Town” and showed her where we wanted the simple background vocals. We went downstairs to lay down some tracks and finish up some songs as we waited for the always late Angeline to show up. It was getting late and there was a chance we would have to record without Angeline. To our surprise Nicole, having just heard the song an hour or two earlier, created an entire background singing arrangement that really elevated the song to new heights. Once Angeline showed up, we recorded the song live, which Jim Marlowe insisted upon, and it’s by far the best recording on the album. It was in that moment I realized just how talented Nicole was.

     Our first picture together... 2003.  Rallis, Bob Dobro, Angeline, Nicole and Danny

     In 2009 when I was recording my second Christmas music comedy album, “Crabby Road” I drove over to Jim and Nicole’s condo for Nicole to lay down some background vocals. We recorded her parts in a few hours and I took them back to Gintas to work his magic. Even though Nicole laid down just a few tracks, she quickly became the glue that held the medley together. It’s a very difficult piece to play live. Crabby Road is a 23-minute non-stop medley that has a lot of surprising stops, starts, song changes and left turns. Many Beatles musicians can play the entire Abbey Road medley in their sleep, but throw in changes and it all goes out the bathroom window. Nicole jumped in and instantly became the music director. She knew where all the changes were, she knew what was coming next and she knew how to communicate all this to all the other musicians. We performed it live each of the last nine years and I can’t imagine performing this annual medley without her.   
     
     There are many great impromptu Christmas memories too, like the time she made a game up on the spot where everyone in the audience took an item out of their purse or wallet and threw it in a basket and then we raffled off these crazy prizes. That same night she started singing Jingle Bells over “Twenty Flight Rock”. But perhaps the most impressive improvised performance was at Fitzgerald’s in 2016. Late into the night, after the main show is over we would do BeatleJam and after awhile we would usually stray from Beatles songs and do some blues or original songs. Jim Marlowe wanted to do an impromptu blues jam. Jeff Fronczak is a very accomplished blues guitarist and I had my harmonicas. Karl Sperling was on bass and drummer Tony Giangreco will play forever if you let him. Nicole had the microphone and for the next 10 minutes straight sang Christmas lyrics to this blues jam. Now this is a great example of how gifted and talented Nicole was and those of us who knew her were always blown away by her amazing mind. Most of us would have a hard time naming 10 Christmas Carols without getting stumped. There are even fewer people who could remember all the lyrics to all the Christmas songs…. but to think of a new song each verse, remember all the lyrics and then sing them live to a different melody that was being improvised… almost impossible, yet Nicole did it without breaking a sweat. I lovingly would call her a freak of nature and this is a good example why. Thanks to Gintas for catching this amazing moment on camera. You can watch it here: https://youtu.be/Sqtijz5lZJU
     
The impromptu Christmas Carol blues jam, Fitzgerald's 2016

     My first Abbey Road On The River music festival was 2006 and the only one I attended as a fan. I heard of this Beatles/60’s music festival from other Beatlefest friends back when it was in Cleveland and then it moved down to Louisville. I made it down late on Thursday night and went out to explore the grounds on Friday. In the elevator I met Mike, The Yellow SubMorons first bass player who was inviting everyone to their show. Nicole was the only band member I knew. I can’t remember for sure, but that might have been the day I first met Jim. I had my video camera and tripod with me and I recorded all of The Yellow SubMorons shows that weekend.

     In 2007 I wanted to celebrate my birthday at my one-room schoolhouse in Michigan so I didn’t go down to Abbey Road, but I did miss it so I went back in 2008. Thanks to Nicole, my life was changed forever. No matter what happens in the future, the experiences I’ve had at Abbey Road On The River and with the Yellow SubMorons certainly are life highlights. I remember the brainstorming call I had with Nicole. I was walking my dog Blossom southbound in my Bridgeport neighborhood in Chicago. I can remember these details but I can’t remember if the idea of me parading around in a home-built foot-powered Yellow Submarine was my idea or hers. I remember pitching the idea of me being involved with The Yellow Submorons… maybe as their T-shirt and merch guy and the guy who helped them throw cheese out in the audience, which they did at Beatlefest. But that’s how things went with Nicole… one minute you’re asking if you can help with anything and the next you’re parading around in a very heavy costume passing out postcards and inviting people to come play with The Yellow SubMorons. You might think that Nicole and I sat down and planned what activities we could do which each song, but I can assure you this conversation never happened. How most of The Yellow SubMorons fan activities got started was like this… as soon as a song ended, Nicole would say in the microphone something like, “Now Danny is going to get in his Yellow Submarine and we’re going to have a Yellow Submarine Conga Line.” I’d be hearing these activity announcements for the first time right along with the audience!
     
I think 2009 was the first year of The Yellow Submorons Parade. There must have been some sort of planning for this because I brought down my alley bass drum (a bass drum I found in the alley) for this epic event. I think the idea was that we (the band and the fans) would parade to the stage before the Yellow SubMorons evening show. We had so much fun that Nicole announced we all had to get up early the next morning and parade to their noon show. Eleven a.m. is considered very early at a music festival where the sing-alongs literally go all night long. Being the first show of the day, we knew no one would be on the grounds and we were delighted to think that our spontaneous parade was helping wake up the festival-goers in a fun way. We heard many accounts of people looking out their windows and seeing a small group of paraders marching throughout the empty festival grounds, led by a guy in a Yellow Submarine. Although I didn’t know too many of the not-yet-named SubManiacs (super fans) at the time, it’s great to look back at the picture and see the original gang who laid the foundation for all of the fun The Yellow SubMorons became known for.

The first unofficial Abbey Road On The River parade, 2009     

     The Official Abbey Road On The River Parade became a festival highlight for many years. Festival promoter Gary Jacob liked the idea and gave Nicole a budget to buy lots of wacky parade props, noisemakers and parade handouts. We always did the parade on Saturday night. The Love Show was always a huge draw and we would be playing at the same time at the small pool stage or at the Ali Center. While most of the festival goers were caught up watching the show, all of a sudden a HUGE group (sometimes what looked like hundreds of people) would come marching by. Many people would jump right in behind us and blow noisemakers and dance along to the ukulele and marching drum music. Maniac Mike would lead the way pushing a cart with a professional bubble machine creating a ridiculous amount of bubbles. I was always in The Yellow Submarine. We had flags and banners, a giant inflatable peace sign and a huge octopus that took up to 10 people to operate. Ben even followed us with a push broom like the guy at the ending of Mr. Peabody’s Improbable History cartoon. One of my favorite parts of the parade was showing up to the Fountain stage. While the main stage was packed, the Fountain stage usually had a small crowd. We would show up and triple the size of their audience. Our group brought so much energy with them and we would stick around and dance to a song before moving on. Nicole put so much work into the parade. She would come up with a new theme each year (peace signs, tie-dye, hats, masks, pirates, glow-in-the-dark, royalty, 60’s TV shows) and organize a craft around her parade theme. She usually had to make a bunch of costumes for the band and she would spend every available moment operating a crafting area for kids and adults to make a souvenir craft to be used in the parade. The lives Nicole infected with joy just from the Abbey Road On The River parade is staggering. She invited everyone to participate and was very successful in getting people to change their plans of leaving early to give their kids an opportunity to be in a real parade. The magical part was that it was often the adults who had even more fun! Nicole was a master at bringing the kid out in all of us.
     
     Nicole told me about this wacky festival in Northwest Indiana that The Yellow SubMorons got involved with. She told me Pierogi Fest in Whiting would be perfect for me and my unique brand of musical comedy. She couldn’t be more right and I owe it all to Nicole for opening that door for me. In 2006 The Yellow SubMorons first performed there and continued to make it an annual tradition for 12 straight years. In 2007 I showed up to film their show and was immediately caught up in the zaniness of this festival. In 2008 they were given a two-hour time slot but they only had about an hour of songs so with Jim Marlowe backing me up on guitar, I got to be the opening act! In 2009 the annual tradition almost came to an end. Jim and Nicole were spending the summer with Meet The Beetles in residence at The Wisconsin Dells and a communication breakdown led the fest to book up all their stages with no time slots left. My never-take-no for an answer negotiating skills went in to full effect. I worked it out to get The Yellow SubMorons booked at back-to-back shows at two different stages several blocks apart for each other… far from ideal but I did get them a raise! They played an early show at The Kids Stage and then we all drove down to the Beer Garden and discovered there was no sound system there. Between the equipment in my van, Scott Carlson’s van and Steve Hurd’s car, we were able to piece together a working sound system but Nicole realized we left a cord and maybe a microphone back at the kids stage. Only two women could possibly pull off the next feat. Wonder Woman and Nicole are the only superheroes who could run several blocks in knee-high go-go boots through slow moving street festival traffic to retrieve the forgotten sound equipment and make it back in time to join me on stage for my opening-act finale at the end of my 20-minute set.
     
     It took a few years to convince Nicole that we had to partake in the world-famous Pierogi Fest Parade. They were usually busy on that Friday night, but in 2009 we first entered a Yellow SubMorons “float” in the parade. We hooked a U-Haul trailer up to my van and hooked my sound system up to my battery. The band played on the trailer while Alex and Amy drove my van. I’ve always been in The Yellow Submarine and Nicole’s parents always carried the Yellow SubMorons banner in front of the float. Steve Hurd accompanied the Morons with his portable uke-and-vocals portable set-up and the Giangrecos and other SubManiacs always marched and danced behind the float. We never missed a parade. It was always an exhausting but thrilling adventure. We will be doing a very special tribute to Nicole and Scott at this year’s parade.     
     
     The Yellow SubMorons always performed on Sunday and on several occasions they closed out the festival. For the past few years we took over The LaPorte Street stage and filled up a whole day of non-stop performing. It was another day of exhilarating exhaustion. I could never understand why Nicole wanted to host her own party that same weekend. There was already a huge party going on at the festival and Saturday was our only day to rest but she always insisted in throwing a huge party. There was the house warming party and the outdoor concert. These parties were always all-nighters for Nicole. Even when someone else hosted the party, she did so much… like the time she organized the build a 13-foot submarine sandwich party at JoAnne’s. That would be more than enough work for anyone, but she combined it with a music jam party.
     
     Once in a while we got the chance to see Jim and Nicole outside of a festival, but we were usually preparing for an upcoming festival, which is why we made time to get together. The only time I ever saw Nicole fail at something came during one of these festival preparation parties. One of Nicole’s more memorable spontaneous ideas came during our first Pierogi Fest parade. Nicole said we needed to make an octopus to put on top of the van. Her only explanation was “because an octopus would be fun.”  Our first octopus was a very-rushed thrown together collaboration. Barb and I supplied the giant beach ball and the 8 arms, which were hot water pipe foam insulation (picture very skinny swim noodles in a dark grey color). We wrapped the beach ball in a black garbage bag, but Nicole brought him to life. She made giant yellow sunglasses for him and gave him a beach towel bandana to wear on his head. He probably looked more like a spider that was stepped on, but to us it was an octopus. We even came up with a clever title that connected the Beatles, Pierogi eating, and the Bible. We wrote “The Octopus’s Garden of Eatin’” on the side of the van. If you’ve ever seen a Yellow SubMorons show, I put those same sunglasses on the submarine during their original song, “Shining Armor Knight”.  The first octopus was not a failure. He even went swimming in Nicole’s parent’s pool that night. No, the failure came when the four of us attempted to build a giant paper mache octopus. Instead of doing a traditional tried-and-true newspaper and glue paper mache project, Nicole wanted to experiment with a new paper mache idea she came upon. Barb refers to it as the paper mache recipe from Hell! We burned up a blender trying to mix up this concoction which combined toilet paper, glue, drywall joint compound and mineral oil. We did make some of this paper mache clay but we realized it was going to take forever and it was going to be super heavy. After several hours, Jim and Nicole left us with one-fifth of the beach ball covered in this thick goo. After it dried Barb and I were to finish the project but we never got the chance. Before Jim and Nicole made it across the state line we heard a big splat. The weight of the paper mache rolled the ball right off the table. Nicole had a great sense of humor and re-told the story of Splat, the octopus several times.
     
     A wise man said, “failure is only temporary”. Although none of us ever attempted a paper mache project again, it seems like just weeks later the four of us were now gathered in Nicole’s parent’s basement for a serious octopus building project. Our failure led us to a much better design that is lighter and easy to store. I bought a giant weather balloon which would ride inside a hula hoop. The three ladies were hard at work with yards and yards of green material. They whipped up an entire octopus in the same time Jim and I took to make giant cartoon eyes. The octopus went on to be a star in several parades. I remember looking back at the Abbey Road On The River parade and was blown away by what we created. What started out as a little parade with about 11 people now had hundreds of people marching in it and about 100 people back I saw 10 people operating a giant green octopus. It was our own version of a Macy’s Thanksgiving parade giant balloon. And just for the record, we did look into seeing if we could get it filled with helium!     
     
     We were both very busy with The Fest For Beatles Fans, especially the last three years with both Sgt. Sauerkraut’s Polka Band and The Yellow SubMorons being booked on The Apple Jam Stage. Each year I always attempt to do more than what’s humanly possible and it stresses me out to no end to pull it off. Unfortunately I’m sure I stress out the people around me and I’m so thankful they continue to help me out. The past two years at the Fest, Nicole not only helped me out… she bailed me out. I was way behind on my musical slide show presentations that I was performing in a few hours and Nicole was there for me. She could have hung out near the art room encouraging folks to vote for her or have been listening to special guests talk about their interactions with the Beatles, but the past two years, she spent several hours in our room throwing together a slide show on one computer while I was working on the other one. After Nicole won first place with her amazing “Words Of Revolver” art piece, I offered to make a little 10-minute mini-documentary on “The Making Of Words Of Revolver.” Nicole contributed so much to me and I thought this would be a nice way of saying thank you. We first made a little promo video for her Kickstarter fund so she could afford to get prints made and then we started in on filming the story of how she made this incredible piece of art. The stories were fascinating and in-depth. I think I filmed her for 3 hours. We were both slap happy and we always talked about releasing the blooper reel. There was no way this video was going to be 10 minutes. I decided to make a 4 part series with a total running time of about 32 minutes. I have a lot of great stories and back stories and tangent stories that didn’t make the final cut that I hope to share with you all someday. I’m so glad I did that.  I also had the privilege of showing Nicole's artwork at Grand Rapids' huge city-wide art show, ArtPrize. The first video project I did with Nicole was a Yellow SubMorons DVD which also features Jim and Nicole talking about how the Yellow SubMorons came to be. We sold those at Yellow SubMoron shows in 2009. I feel I was able to give friends of Nicole a chance to experience her brilliant mind and brilliant talent. You can watch the entire “Making Of Words Of Revolver” on her website at http://WordsOfRevolver.com
         
Nicole and Barb posing with "Words Of Revolver" at ArtPrize
in Grand Rapids, Michigan, September 2017

     I think we all got frustrated with Nicole but I’ve analyzed this in great detail and I realized that none of us could keep up with her. It’s not like we didn’t enjoy what she was creating… it was all fun stuff. Her life’s work was bringing joy and happiness to everyone. She had an amazing vision of what she wanted to see in her world and she was a master at recruiting others to join her in these adventures. And when we got tired and gave up, she always saw it through to the finish line. Her determination was unlike anyone else I’ve known. Our last big project was creating the giant cardboard sled of a Trojan Rabbit. Somehow she recruited us to drive all the way down to Indiana to pull an all-nighter sled-building party even though Barb and I were both going to be going down the hill in our own cardboard sleds. We put a lot of work into it but if you would add up all the hours that Jim, Barb and I put in, it wouldn’t come close to what Nicole did. Her attention to detail even on this “throw away” project would make your head spin. She tried to get more work/play out of all of us, but we just couldn’t keep up with her.
     
     When Barb saw Nicole at the bottom of the hill, Barb gave Nicole a sad face because Barb felt so bad how the Trojan Rabbit was destroyed in the crash. Nicole however was grinning from ear-to-ear. “The worst thing would have been if it went down the hill and turned 90 degrees and came to a stop like all the others. It was so much better spinning out and have the whole body come off the sled!” Nicole was a great competitor and she really wanted to win. She designed it with the hopes of breaking the distance record, but after the crash she really really wanted to win a trophy for the best crash (even though that wasn’t a category… she thought they should create one).  Jim suggested we fix up the Trojan Rabbit and enter the race again next year. I was thrilled to hear this. Nicole wanted to build a cardboard sphere for next year. I’m sure I would have attempted to build such a sled in her honor, but I like the idea of fixing up the Trojan Rabbit even better.
     
     As Nicole was leaving that night, she knew that she would be seeing us in a few weeks to pick up her accordion. After Christmas show adventures in December, sled-building in January, sled racing, ice skating and a polka party in February, she realized we didn’t have anything planned the following month. She told me she’s going to have Danny Donuts withdrawal in March. Little did we know what March would bring. I still feel close to her. I feel a responsibility to carry on the torch. We played together for so long, I feel like I know what Nicole would want and she knew what I would want. Barb made a WWND bracelet. We know that Nicole would go for it. She would say YES and figure out how later. She would look for the opportunity to have fun and invite others to join her.
     
     This year will be filled with Nicole tributes. I can almost hear her giving me suggestions and directions and her ideas to make these tributes fun for everybody. She definitely imprinted her way of life on me along with all of her friends. I started a “Remembering Nicole Nigh Hondros” Facebook group. I invite you to join it if you haven’t already. I will keep everyone notified on all of these tributes that I know about.  When I broke the news to the Fest For Beatles Fans community I left them with these final words and it feels appropriate to share them again…

     I think Nicole would want her Beatles family to play hard, sing loud, laugh and parade often, make art with no excuses, be a dreamer with lofty visions and always remember that LOVE is all you need.
 


-Danny Donuts Raudonis or as Nicole always referred to me…
DOUBLE D!
2018

Monday, January 01, 2018

 

Pic A Dozen 2017

One picture to represent each month of 2017... 
I call it "Pic A Dozen 2017"

I challenge you to do this for yourself... Can you choose just one picture for each month of 2017 to represent a special moment, doing something fun, seeing family or friends? Use either a picture of you or a picture that you took. When you take a look back, I'm sure you'll see it really was a good year... maybe that's why you're feeling a bit TIRED!  Ha! Good Year Tired... Get It?  WARNING: This a lot harder than it seems. I'm stressing out and getting frustrated trying to pick that one shot that highlights that month. But then to put it all in perspective I just recite this mantra to myself... "You think you got problems? Be glad you're not a math book!" Here is my year in review:



1) January: Filming the final scene of "Sgt. Sauerkraut's Polka Band: THE MOVIE." This was in the back room of Schaller's Pump House in Bridgeport. We were shocked three months later when we found out Schaller's was closing after 136 years.



2) February: My entry into South Haven, Michigan's first Cardboard Sled Race at The Ice Breaker Festival. Those are fake hands on the steering wheel. I spun out but I got a big cheer from the crowd when I kicked out the front grill and made my exit out the front of the car. 




3) March: The Dans and Barbs (Big D and Momma D... the other Dan and Barb) go visit the Magical History Tour Exhibition in Davenport, Iowa and pose next to Sam Sandberg's Beatles collectibles that were featured at the museum. It was a nice way to spend the day after The Sandberg's World Famous St. Patrick's Day Festival.




4) April: Barb and Danny as ARECESS Franklin and his back up singer. We led a conference-wide interactive presentation on RECESS at The Association For Applied and Therapeutic Humor's Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida. We dressed like this for our opening number, "RECESS (not just for little kids)"



5) May: we got my mom up to Michigan for the 1st time since we've been here to enjoy Tulip Time in Holland. 



6) June:  a jam-packed crowd of friends and family jam into The Karolinka Club for Chicago's premiere of "Sgt. Sauerkraut's Polka Band: THE MOVIE." The two empty seats up front were where our guests of honor, Carolyn and Laine, Whiting's favorite buscias were sitting. They were up on stage entertaining us before the film. 



7) July: The Donuts "extended family" picture taken Friday night of Pierogi Fest in Whiting, Indiana. From left to right: Barb, niece Kylee, Eddie Korosa (we adopted him) mom Jean, sister Jaime and me. We're posing in front of a picture of our good friend, Polka-hontes who appears to be in the middle of a donut. I got to perform with Eddie after driving my submarine in the Polka Parade (and once again ended up in the paper).




8) August: We made the promo picture for The Fest For Beatles Fans. We're between Big D and Mark and Carol Lapidos. They did a Sgt. Pepper's album motif and we were thrilled to be included in The Fest Family Photo. 





9) September: A little rest and relaxation in the middle of paradise. We missed Mark and Julia's (one of our wedding officiants) wedding in August because we were at the Fest For Beatles Fans so we made sure we attended their party in September at their home on Gooseneck Lake in Michigan. I took advantage of the moment and took the kayak out for a moment of solitude.



10) October: Barb and I celebrated our 6th Wedding Anniverstary at an Eddie Korosa Polka Party! We did dance some but while Bobby Mutz sat in on accordion, Gintas and I got Eddie out front for some pogo cello pandemonium. We paraded around the Oktoberfest tent and performed every rock and roll, vaudeville and circus clown trick we could think of. 




11) November: For the past three years, my best man Chip and I got together for iDeer Camp. It's basically deer camp with out the hunting. We hang out and come up with good idea-rs. We made chilli and omelettes, made music, watched soccer and went hiking. This is the first time Chip hosted the weekend at his new place in Wisconsin, right next to Parfrey's Glen. 





12) December: Backstage at Christmas With The Beatles. I selected this picture because it wraps up the fun and friendship I experience when I'm doing what I do... living life to its fullest! Barb and I are joined by Gintas (who finally made the Christmas show after producing the Crabby Road album in 2008 and 2009) Nicole Nigh Hondros who appeared on the album and has been the musical director for Crabby Road Live since 2009, Karan Payne who really made the event happen and took it to a whole new level with free pizza and raffle prizes valued at $1400... and how did that Korosa guy get in another picture? Eddie stopped by on his way home from his polka gig. It's such a fun night, I hope you'll join us in December, 2018!  


If you put together a "Pic a Dozen 2017" be sure to send me a link, I'd love to see your 12 pics from 2017. Now on to make great memories in 2018. Happy New Year!
-Danny


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