Cafe Accordion Orchestra’s Cinema

We’re big fans of Dan “Daddy Squeeze” Newton’s Cafe Accordion Orchestra, a Minneapolis-based band that (as their name suggests) evokes the sounds of French cafe music, but with shades of Latin, swing, and gypsy mixed in as well. They’ve just put out their 6th album, Cinema — a collection of songs featured in films from the 1920’s through today, including tunes from The Third Man, Singin’ in the Rain, and Kill Bill Volume 2.

If you’re in the Minneapolis area, you can catch the Cafe Accordion Orchestra performing music from their new album live tomorrow night at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul (home of the Prairie Home Companion). Otherwise, check out sample clips (like the one below) on their site.

New Discussion Forum: Accordionist.org

Accordionist.org is a new discussion forum for accordion players that I found via the Accordion Guy’s blog. Share news, promote gigs, swap tips, buy/sell gear, or just hobnob with your fellow squeezeboxers. It’s only been running for about a week, so spread the word and hopefully it’ll attract a critical mass of accordion enthusiasts.

Some other good places to rub elbows with accordionists online:

  • Reyes Accordions forum
    Part of the excellent Reyes Accordions site, this is probably the best tex-mex/conjunto/norte?o accordion forum around. Lots of knowledge players (Joel Guzman drops in occasionally) and resources for beginners.
  • AccordionFreedomForum
    A more general accordion forum hosted on Yahoo Groups. Members frequently share their own recordings (which are usually pretty good!) with the group.
  • alt.music.polkas
    All polka, all the time. Sometimes gets sidetracked by polka community politics, but even those discussions are strangely interesting.
  • Cajun Accordion Discussion Group
    Lots of good cajun/zydeco accordion news and tips, straight from the Bayou.

This is by no means an exhaustive list — just a few of my favorites, all of which have a pretty good signal-to-noise ratio. Leave a comment below if you have any other good ones to share.

eBay Find: Accordion Times Magazine

Ever wondered if Queen Elizabeth II is an accordion lover? After seeing her portrait on the cover of the June 1953 issue of Accordion Times and Modern Musician, how couldn’t she be? A copy of this special “Coronation Issue” of the magazine is currently up for sale on eBay and looks like a fascinating glimpse at the British accordion community of the 1950s. According to the listing, the issue includes features on the NAO (National Accordion Organization of the UK) and the BCA (British College of Accordionists), as well as advertisements, reader letters, and, of course, a tribute to the new queen. Sounds like the Rolling Stone of its day.

Conjunto Lady of Spain

Sometimes a different twist on an old tune can make it sound totally new again. That’s how I feel about the often-maligned “Lady of Spain” after finding this conjunto-style version played on accordion and bajo sexto. Now I just have to get Anna to learn it on her new button accordion…

All My Ex’s Polka in Texas

Looking for a place to polka this Labor Day? Try the 31st annual Westfest — a Czech/Polka festival held every Labor Day weekend — currently underway in West, Texas. Westfest draws about 25,000 people annually and has most of what you’d expect from a typical polka festival, including nonstop polka music and dancing (bands include Vrazels Polka Band and Brave Combo), great food, a parade, and even a polka mass.

But how many polka festivals have a horseshoe pitching contest? Or washer pitching and Taroky tournaments? The food sounds even better; they promise plentiful Czech sausage (“sausage-on-a-stick, sausage dogs… even sausage boats”) and the town of West is famous for their kolaches, a Czech pastry consisting of fruit or cheese filling inside a bread roll. (By the way, I love that there’s a restaurant chain called Kolache Factory; it’s like the anti-Cheesecake Factory.) Mmm… polkas and kolaches… now that’s a Labor Day weekend.

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I Won the Grand Prize!


I Won!
History was made last Sunday at the Cotati Accordion Festival. I won the grand prize in the raffle: a brand new Hohner Corona button accordion!

Now, I’m a piano accordionist, but I had always wanted to learn button accordion. After initially pricing them, I realized I couldn’t afford one. So, for years, I had been eyeing them longingly, unsuccessfully searching eBay for deals, and hoping that some day I could get one.

Fast-forward to the Cotati Accordion Festival. Shortly after Chris and I arrived, there was an announcement: “Buy your raffle tickets for the Hohner Corona button accordion!” and I knew right away that I had to take a chance. Chris, knowing I’ve always wanted a button accordion, encouraged me to go buy a few tickets. I got 6 tickets for $5. What a deal! I was really excited. I felt lucky.

Chris and I walked around, browsing the accordions for sale. I mentioned that I wanted to check out some button accordions and he said “Don’t buy one. You might win the one in the raffle!”

And he was right! When they announced my name as the winner, I was completely stunned! I ran up to the stage and showed them my tickets. I couldn’t believe I won! I was ecstatic! When I looked back into the crowd, I saw Chris practically rolling on the ground with laughter. The kind and helpful Cotati Accordion Festival folks said “Congratulations!” and boxed up the accordion for me. Chris took a photo.

After much squeeing, I showed my new win to some people and was introduced to a potential new teacher. Chris helped me carry the squeezebox out to the car and we drove home to show everyone. I think my mom was the most blown away by my great luck. We took it out of the gig bag and saw that they included straps and a lesson book. Awesome!

I’ve been doing the lessons and just having a great time trying to play. I love my new accordion. It is a really cool, unique color, and it sounds really good! So I have just been thrilled to have won it.

Many, many thanks to the folks at the Cotati Accordion Festival, and to Hohner, who donated the accordion!

Cotati Accordion Festival Wrapup


Cotati Accordion Festival photos
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.

One Ring Zero Wakes Them Up

Years ago, Michael Hearst and Joshua Camp worked together as repairmen at Hohner’s warehouse in Richmond, VA, fixing accordions and marveling at the strange instruments that crossed their paths. Today, the duo puts many of those offbeat instruments — including the claviola, vocoder, glockenspiel, and accordion — to work in the music they create together as One Ring Zero. Often categorized as “lit rock”, the band is best known for the critically acclaimed album As Smart as We Are, which was a combination book/CD featuring their music combined with lyrics contributed by authors like Margaret Atwood, Dave Eggers, Neil Gaiman, and many more.

Their latest album, Wake Them Up, comes out today and includes songs about Siamese twins, marching mannequins, and decrepit trailer parks over music that’s alternatingly haunting and enchanting (and sometimes both at the same time). I highly recommend checking out The Morning News profile of the band, written around the time that As Smart as We Are came out (mid 2004).

If you’re in New York next week, you can catch the One Ring Zero’s CD release party for Wake Them Up at Joe’s Pub on Thursday, September 7th. In the meantime, enjoy this track from one of their earlier albums, Memorandum:

Dick Contino at Cotati Accordion Festival

We’re back from Cotati and we had a fantastic time! I’m ready to crash right now, but over the next couple days I’ll post a bunch of photos and write up some highlights, including the amazing story of how Anna won the grand prize at the festival raffle — a shiny new Hohner Corona II diatonic accordion. Really!

In the meantime, check out a set of festival photos from Flickr user mudpieblues, as well as this short video I took during Dick Contino’s performance on Sunday:

Bella Ciao Plays Baseball


Bella Ciao
If there’s anything I love more than baseball, it’s a good theme or promotional night at the ballpark. Hot Dog Eating Contest Night? I’m there. Vinnie Chulk Bobblehead Night? Awesome! Disco Demolition Night? Sounds dangerous, but I’d probably still go.

That’s why I’m sorry I missed the Italian Heritage Night put on by the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday. San Francisco band Bella Ciao, led by accordionist Tom Torriglia, entertained fans with a set of retro-Italiano hits in Willie Mays Plaza before the game and then took the field and became the first band to play the Italian National Anthem at a major league baseball game. Later, they led the crowd in an a cappella rendition of the 7th inning stretch classic “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

Fortunately, if you’re like me and you missed Bella Ciao at the game, you can make up for it by catching them at the Cotati Accordion Festival this Sunday. And if you’re looking for another baseball theme night, the Giants are hosting “Oktoberfest at the Ballpark” on Tuesday, September 26. No word yet on whether any local polka bands will be performing.

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