RFD-TV star Mollie B tours watersheds ahead of performance at Coon Valley Conservation Day

Note: The author of this article is a board member of the Coon Creek Community Watershed Council

COON VALLEY, Wis. –On May 4 the Coon Creek Community Watershed Council will be holding their second annual Conservation Day in Coon Valley, but this year’s event promises to be even bigger and better than last year with the addition of nationally known and award-winning music star Mollie B and Friends. Many people know Mollie from her national TV show on RFD TV, “The Mollie B Polka Party”, but some may also know her from her cameo in the Clint Eastwood movie “The Mule”.

Mollie has her roots here in the region, growing up in Spring Grove, Minn., and recently moved back to the area to be close to family. In March she went on a tour of the Coon Creek Watershed to get a sense of what the CCCWC is about and why they are trying to raise awareness about their work.

Mollie B with Coon Creek Community Watershed Council President Nancy Wedwick and Vice President Tucker Gretebeck

Some of the members of the CCCWC showed Mollie the site of the original 1930s Civilian Conservation Corp camp where the event will be held, and took her on a driving tour of some of the structures those workers built in the 1930s as part of the nation’s first watershed conservation project. The tour was designed to help her understand the history of conservation in the area, but also the depth of the new set of issues facing the community, and why they need help raising awareness of those issues.

After that tour, we sat down with Mollie to talk about the tour and why her music has the power raise awareness and bring people together.

We asked Mollie about her connection to small towns and why polka music is such a big part of rural life. She said her connection to small towns and music came from her childhood learning how to play with her Dad’s band, the Jim Busta Band and traveling the tri-state area.

“I am a small town girl,” said Mollie. ” I am. I love the rural life and my the relatives on both my Dad’s side of the family, and my mother’s side of the family, they’re all farmers. So I gotta be out there helping. I didn’t do a lot but I did do some, and I definitely grew respect and appreciation of that lifestyle and a beginning of understanding of what farmers do.”

Mollie said music itself became her family as she traveled more.

“Music has been a big, big part of my life,” said Mollie. “It not only tied me to my community when I was younger, and to my family, but it also created this community way beyond my family. I just refer to it as a family beyond the community. No matter where I went I always felt like I had a family surrounding me because this music that spoke happiness, that brought people in. And so wherever I play the tri-state area, because that’s where I played when I was younger, basically the tri-state area. It was just a great community, or family of people that would come out and and enjoy it.”

Mollie said she has tried to take that sense of community and family to a larger audience, even a national audience with her show “The Mollie B Polka Party” on RFD-TV.

“As I have expanded now, playing nationwide, we have a nationwide TV show, It’s interesting how much still these people come out and they support the same way they do,” said Mollie. “As if I was performing just a small town in Iowa.”

Moille says she has now played in 30 states and eleven countries. That ability to bring a small town connection to a bigger audience may be what caught Clint Eastwood’s eye when he called her in 2017 and asked her to be in a movie he was making called “The Mule”. Mollie said she got a call from Burbank California and declined the number a couple of times before finally answering. Even when she eventually did answer she still didn’t quite believe the call was real. Mollie said Eastwood had seen her on RFD-TV and he wanted to use her to do a scene where his character has a polka party at his local VFW. After a lot of planning a negotiating Mollie found herself on her way to Atlanta with a song she wrote with her husband Ted Lange, that Eastwood personally approved. The couple would perform the song in the movie.

In Mollie’s personal account of the experience on her webpage she also points out that they wanted real dancers for the scene. People who really knew how to polka. So on top of writing a song and performing, Mollie put together a long list of friends that were all a part of the polka party at the VFW. During the filming of the scene Eastwood threw everyone a curve ball and instead of dancing with the actress hired for the part, asked Mollie to dance with him instead. The scene went great and ended up in the final movie.

Beyond that brush with Hollywood, Mollie has a list of awards and honors that is too long to list but they include International-Style Female Vocalist of the Year numerous times, and awards from state and national polka associations for her singing and playing. She said she has always gravitated to polka because it is a happy form for music.

“I am a joyous person,” said Mollie. “And I have gravitated toward that. And so when I can share that with other people… hoping that they’ve experienced what I get to experience when I hear the music? Yeah, it’s a good thing.”

Mollie is hoping to bring that joy and connection to the Coon Creek Watershed in May.

“I like the fact you’re connecting,” said Mollie. “You’re making your community even bigger and more inviting, and I think it’s a wonderful thing to get everyone involved and everyone to understand the history. Where we’re at. Where we’re going to be. Where you’re trying to show everyone can play a role in that.”

Mollie said the tour of the watershed did help get a picture of what has been done in the past and what could be done moving forward.

Mollie B touring a “drop structure” built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s with farmer Al Seelow of the Bad Axe Watershed – Tim Hundt photo

“It was good to see,” said Mollie. “I’m familiar with terraces but it was nice to actually to see them and see the fields that did have them, and the fields that didn’t have them…and just seeing what the 2018 rain did in creating these big ravines.”

And Mollie said it is important to celebrate as well as bring awareness.

“It is important to educate yourself,” said Mollie. “It’s important to be realistic. By the same point, it’s really important to celebrate the joy that is present. Just the joy that you can bring in just bringing a community together. And then add music on top of that. Whatabing. It’s a little perfect combination.”

CCCWC Vice President Tucker Gretebeck

It is that joy that Mollie B creates that gave CCCWC Vice President Tucker Gretebeck the idea of bringing Mollie B to the Coon Creek almost a year ago. Gretebeck said he first became familiar with Mollie B a few years ago when his friend, Brian Brueggen, who also has a polka band, asked him to come to Cashton to see Mollie B. Gretebeck said he had no idea at the time who Mollie B was, but he did go with his family and when he got there he couldn’t believe what he saw. Busses and people from everywhere. But what impressed him the most was the happiness.

“We walked in and everybody’s having the best time of their life,” said Getebeck. “It was just crazy. I mean, I’ve never seen anything like it. But the atmosphere that was in that building was just ecstatic to be there. And it was everything from kids, to grandparents, all the way through. And she put on such a show. She is just, she’s all over the place. Like she’s on the keyboard. Next thing you know she’s playing the trumpet. Then she grabbed the trombone, and on and on and she can do it all at the same time somehow.” (she once played 14 instruments in one song)

Fast forward to a couple days after last years Conservation Days and someone handed Gretebeck a copy of Coulee Region Women’s magazine that featured Mollie B. Gretebeck was already thinking ahead to this year and how to get people to come to an event about conservation.

“And I asked her if she could help us get the water into the ground. And that’s exactly how I put it. I need your help getting the water to go into the ground. Next thing you know I got got an e-mail back”

Coon Creek Community Watershed Council Vice President Tucker Gretebeck

“So I went to her website,” said Gretebeck. “I am not very adept at that stuff. You know how it is when you get on some big performers website, you don’t think you’re gonna hear anything back. So I sent her an e-mail explaining who we are (the CCCWC), you know, and what we’re doing. And I asked her if she could help us get the water into the ground. And that’s exactly how I put it. I need your help getting the water to go into the ground. Next thing you know I got got an e-mail back.”

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