Here was "The Chicken Dance" at the height of its power.
Judy Suchey sat behind a battered drum set in a tent on the Mall reserved, as part of the Smithsonian's Festival of American Folklife, for tributes to musical Michigan. Eyes closed, blond hair flying, she attacked the instruments with gusto, hitting, pounding, then battering.
Members of her backup band -- most of them her brothers -- played and danced select movements from the poultry polka, glancing back at her to smile.
As Jim Suchey said after their raucous set, it was the best polka cover of "The Chicken Dance" they've done in a while.
The music that moves Judy Suchey of Alpena, Mich., to the edge of destruction (her nickname is "Killer") is not tinged with strains of heavy metal, or even regular rock 'n' roll. It's pure polka. As in beer-barrel.
Suchey's situation is unique: At an age when many of her peers are foaming at the mouth over Bon Jovi, she is playing this unexpected music. Add to that the whole family participation and it's a situation the writers of "Saturday Night Live" might have concocted.
"Strange?" asked brother Bob Suchey, ringleader and spokesman of the group. "Well, yeah. I mean, our philosophy is, 'What do normal people do on the weekends?' "
Or during the week, for that matter. "Judy and Her Suchey Brothers," as they bill themselves, are for hire any day of the year.
This weekend and Wednesday through July 5, they belong to Michigan's 150th-anniversary program at the folklife festival. But after that, who knows? "We'll go almost anywhere," said Judy. "Yes," chimed in Bob, sipping lemonade between sets. "Our goal is to bring polka to the people. And I mean that."
Seen on stage, all fair and pink, devastatingly enthusiastic and proud of their Polish heritage, the Suchey family is the best of ethnic Americana. And the family's festival appearance is due to a Wisconsin folklorist who brought them to the attention of the event's organizers.
They have been doing this -- playing the polka circuit -- since they were kids.
Judy, for instance, said mother Lillian Suchey has been heavily involved in the polka world since age 8. Their father encouraged them to start the band, but when he eased away from music to devote more time to his chiropractic practice, the kids stayed with it.
There's Bob, 31, on saxophone; Judy, 20, on drums; Bill, 32, on trumpet; Jim, 28, on accordion; Mike, 24, on trumpet; and add-ons Spike Kindt, 22, on bass and Eddie Siwiec, 32, on clarinet.
They careen around the stage like a modern-day Partridge family. So enthusiastic are they with their polka sounds -- modernized and slightly more pop for the sake of audience appeal -- that they occasionally lose their link with place and pitch. At one point during Thursday's version of "The Once in a Lifetime Polka," Mike, lip-syncing the lyrics of romance, missed his cue.
But there are no apologies. "Playing polka is a habit for us," said Bob. "Every day, we've got to have that polka fix. We all love it so much that we sometimes go overboard."
The audience didn't seem to mind. They were 300 strong in the tent, up about 100 from the previous act, and they all appeared to be having a ball. Feet tapped. Hands clapped. Smiles widened. And pleased reactions abounded, occasionally drowned out by a polka zealot in the front row who continually screamed, "Do 'The Chicken Dance'! Do 'The Chicken Dance'!"
"We're regulars at this festival," said Barbara Davenport, 60, here with her husband John, 65. "And we were here for this band yesterday. They're great, and today, I think, they're showing a little bit more self-confidence." She stopped to look out over the crowd. "Just look at these faces. How rare to see such a big crowd like this having such fun together."
A polka hit started up. Barbara and John Davenport -- the Astaire and Rogers of the tent -- claimed the floor. And a catcall of "Get down, Judy!" bounced off the tent flaps.
Jim Suchey explained the band's growing popularity (they play "almost three gigs a week") this way:
"We're trying to change the stereotypical view of polka, you know, the 'she's fat' concept. We're trying to make it more accessible. The fact that the Grammys have added a polka category helps, certainly. You know, we've all picked outside jobs to accommodate our playing scheduling, which I think says something about our interest. I own a ranch, which lets me do pretty much my own thing, for instance, and Bill owns a farm. Bob owns his own business. We'll do anything to be able to continue doing this."
There have been trade-offs. Bob, for example, was recently divorced, and although he doesn't pin all the blame on his devotion to polka, he admits his musical life style was a contributing factor. "She wanted a 9-to-5 husband," he said, "and I just couldn't be that."
Family tensions, tiring road trips and musical discrimination are just some of the hardships the Sucheys face as they fight to bring their enthusiasm for their music to the world.
It has always been this way, even when they were kids and were met with jeers from schoolmates because of their link with polka, seen as a nerdish musical attachment. Even though the fight may continue, it is, as Jim notes, paying off.
"You know those kids who used to tease us because of what we did?" he asked. "Well, now these are the people calling us up and asking us to play at their weddings."