A few months ago, Anna asked me how I wanted to spend my 30th birthday. A big party? A quiet dinner? Just ignore it and pretend I’m still 29? Fortunately for me, the answer was easy. So last Sunday, I spent my birthday with a couple thousand fellow accordion enthusiasts at the annual Cotati Accordion Festival just outside Santa Rosa.
For those who’ve never been, the festival is an accordionist’s dream — two days of non-stop music, numerous accordion-related vendors, and a dance tent with polka and zydeco music. We arrived around 11am on Sunday and spent about nine hours taking in the sights (see photos) and sounds. Some of the highlights:
- Meeting Dick Contino
I’ll admit, I’d been looking forward this for a long time. Dick and I share the same hometown (Fresno), and he even went to school with some of my relatives. He was as nice as can be; he talked to us for a few minutes, signed a poster, and then went on to play an excellent set (see video).
- Joel Guzman and Aztex
It didn’t take long to recognize that Joel Guzman can make his accordion do pretty much anything he wants it to. Add in a tight band (Aztex) and a great singer (his wife, Sarah Fox) and it’s no wonder he’s a two-time Grammy winner. (Update: I found a great video of Joel’s performance on YouTube.)
- La Familia Peña-Govea
Going into the festival, I didn’t know much about them, but they’re probably the band I had the most fun listening to. Really fun and lively. And the crowd agreed — there were more people dancing during their set than at any other time on Sunday.
- Lady of Spain ring
Every year at the festival, in the middle of the day, all accordionists are invited up to the stage to play Lady of Spain together. Then, as they play, dozens of white doves are released over the park. Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up.
- Promising young accordionists
At 76, Dick Contino can still bellows shake with the best of ’em. But on the other end of the age spectrum, the festival featured some great performances by young accordionists like Ben Creed and Gino Bagala. The future looks bright!
- Anna’s raffle prize
I’ll let Anna tell the story herself but, needless to say, we never expected a $5 investment in raffle tickets to pay off that well!
And there was so much more! Finally seeing Polkacide live… hanging out in the Golden State Accordion Club’s jam tent… watching the crazy rubboard player in Mark St. Mary’s zydeco band… what a day. Needless to say, I already know where my 31st birthday party will be.