Ray Sands and the Polka Dots still going after 71 years

Updated: Feb. 9, 2020 at 1:56 PM CST
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MANKATO, Minn. (KEYC) - For almost 71 years, Ray Sands and the Polka Dots have toured across the country and even the world. They’ve had multiple appearances on Bandwagon in Mankato, but rumor has it they’re retiring from performing soon.

“There are rumors all over the country. It’s our 71st year this year, but I’ve got a few more gigs this year yet,” said Ray Sands.

The rumors aren’t true, and the Polka Dots are still going their signature music. Ray says his passion for music runs deep, and he still remembers when he begged his father to buy him an accordion for $25 in 1940. He practiced faithfully every night and even played in his family’s band when he was 11.

“And we played that until I was 17 or 18 years old in high school. And then the Polka Dots were being formed, so they came up and asked if I would help out to get the band going. So we started the Polka Dots in 1949.”

Being one of Minnesota’s most recognized old-timey dance bands, Ray and the Polka Dots play everything from their signature polka to waltzes.

“The fact is, the kind of music we play is happy music and when we see the crowd it’s a happy crowd and it reflects back on the crowd. So we have a great time, it’s enjoyable and it’s enjoyable for all parties. It’s amazing how it all works out.”

Many of the members have been in the band for years. Their trumpet and trombone player remembers when he first started playing with the band.

“Ray asked me to fill in when I was 14, and the guy’s had to come and pick me up and bring me to the gigs. I played quite a few times as a kid in high school as a substitute - a fill-in - and of course in those days the band played three nights a week. So I had quite a bit of subbing. I started playing full time with the band in 1972,” said Rick Keane.

“You know, nobody comes to one of our dances that isn’t happy to be there or glad to be there. There’s nobody that ever comes and is in a bad mood.”

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