Art Scene Q&A: Bob Mislivec

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Bob Mislivec poses with his accordion at Backslope Brewing in Columbia Falls on Tuesday morning. Mislivec has been playing gigs in the area since he moved to the Flathead Valley in 2005. (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

Name: Bob Mislivec

Age: 64 “going on 16”

Profession: Musician, retired special education teacher

Hometown: White Earth Nation, Minnesota

On stage: Bob plays at Backslope Brewing, the farmers market in Missoula, University of Montana and local weddings and private events.

Q: Tell me about your family.

My parents were very economically poor, but I couldn’t have grown up in a more enriching home. My grandparents would tell stories of the old country [the Czech Republic] …. it’s just something that to this day, it’s hard to describe. They had this smile on their face and this sparkle in their eye. From that time, it just intrigued me. I knew it must be a very special place.

Q: How did you come to play the accordion?

If you want to make friends in the Czech Republic, bring an accordion with you. I remember my first lessons, I was about 10 years old. My dad played, my brothers play accordion and there was a mission school [in White Earth, Minnesota] … so I took accordion lessons from a nun.

I call it backwoods, backroads and back porch music. I appreciate all types of music, but for me that’s what I grew up with and I just appreciate the simplicity of it.

Q: How did you come to Montana?

My mom had passed away [in the mid-90s] and after we settled her estate, we had some extra money so I took my sons, who were 11 and 13 at the time, and we went on a proverbial father-son road trip. We went from Minnesota to the Black Hills to Yellowstone to Glacier …. and there was just something about Glacier that so impressed me. It [was] a breathtaking experience. I literally found myself having to take a breath because it was just so amazing. …I moved to Montana in 2005. I finished a career of teaching — I was good at what I did. I worked with Native American education programs, with special education programs, specifically. I presented at a national Native American conference, but I was just spent. I was just burned out….I had done everything I was supposed to do. ….but I was never in the service, I had never traveled and there was something about Glacier.

Q: Tell me about the music you play.

From the time I started playing professionally, I was playing music that was very diverse, from contemporary to ethnic music. We do cover rock ’n’ roll, we do cover country, but then I would do the folk dances, the waltzes, the polkas and the schottisches, so you had this inclusion that is sort of removed from our culture in this day and time. But in that rural area [in Minnesota] that was part of celebrating one’s heritage and one’s roots. …[Now] I play wedding receptions, ethnic dinners so my music isn’t so much about dancing —I would say right now it’s more about complimenting the ambience of an environment. The music I play would best be described as cafe accordion.

Q: What makes a good musician?

For me, there are many professionals that are very good at one genre, but if you take them outside that genre, to me that’s really the measure of skill and level. Musicianship is not about “look at me, look what I can do” and smoke and lights and the mosh pit necessarily. To me, my music is very specialized and I would say it appeals to people who maybe have a roots connection or who have traveled and been in Europe.

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