Accordions at the Texas State Fair

In Texas, the State Fair isn’t just a place to gorge yourself on fried Coke (seriously, they’ve elevated fried food to an art form) and ride the Scrambler until your head explodes, it’s also a great place for an accordion history lesson. “The Accordion and its Roots in Tejano Music” will be one of the showcase exhibits at this year’s fair, which starts Friday in Dallas and runs until October 22nd. The exhibit will feature artifacts, photographs, video and performances highlighting the role of the accordion in Tejano music.

The centerpiece of the exhibit will be a display of vintage accordions on loan from private collections, which include 1940s-era Hohners played by Narciso Martinez and Los DonneƱos. There will also be numerous accordion workshops and performances at the fair, including appearances by El Conjunto Bernal, Conjunto Motivo Hermanos Martinez, Barajo de Oro Conjunto, Los Texmaniacs, Joel Guzman, and Mingo Saldivar.

Debra Peters and the Accordion Roundup

The Broken Spoke in Austin, TX, is a legendary honky-tonk country music dance hall, a place where names like Strait, Tubb, and Acuff have all graced the stage, and Willie Nelson still stops in for chicken-fried steak (reportedly the best in town, possibly the state). On the last Tuesday of every month, it’s also home to the Austin Accordion Roundup hosted by Debra Peters.

At each Roundup, a guest accordionist shows up to play a few of their favorite tunes, followed by more accordion music from Debra and her band the Love Saints, who specialize in blues, zydeco, classic country, and Tex-Mex. Debra also teaches accordion lessons in the Austin area, and has recorded a blues accordion basics DVD. So if you’re in Austin this Tuesday, head on down to the Broken Spoke for some accordion music and chicken-fried steak. Mmm…

Talking Polka on alt.music.polkas

There’s a spirited discussion going on over at alt.music.polkas on the current state of polka music. It started with some criticism of recent polka albums and has gone on to cover the role of disc jockeys (online and offline) in promoting polka, what current (often older) fans want to hear, what might draw in a younger generation of polka fans, and more.

It’s worth checking out if you’re interested in the future of polka music, particularly what can be done to further its appeal. Personally, I don’t think it matters whether bands are playing originals or the old standards, as long as they’re playing good music and are trying to reach out to new fans (particularly online; how many polka bands have MySpace pages?).

In the meantime, if you’re looking for some new polka music, Nostradamus’ exhaustive page of polka album reviews and Jimmy K. Polkas are both great places to start. Especially if, like me, your local record store’s polka section consists of nothing but Frankie Yankovic and/or Jimmy Sturr CDs.

Garfield, Why Can’t You Be Funny?

Jim asks Liz to polka.  Hilarity ensues.

As a matter of fact, Garfield, polka-karaoke night sounds awesome. I’ll bring the accordion, you bring the Lil’ Wally records. (Thanks, Micah.)

Cajun/Zydeco Festival in Fremont

The sounds and smells of the bayou come to Fremont, CA, tomorrow when Ardenwood Historic Farm hosts the 10th annual Ardenwood Cajun/Zydeco Festival. I’ll admit to being taken in by the festival description in the Contra Costa Times that claims “the air will be redolent with crawfish etouffee, gumbo, fried beignets drenched in powdered sugar, and the joyous, rollicking sounds of accordion, fiddle, washboard and French-accented singing on Saturday.” I couldn’t get past the part about the beignets without drooling…

The festival boasts an impressive list of headliners: Mark St. Mary Blues & Zydeco band, Les Amis Creole, Queen Ida & Her Zydeco Band, Andre Thierry and Zydeco Magic, and Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas. Tickets are $18, but parking is free and admission includes access to all of the farm’s activites, including tours of the historic Patterson House, a ride on the horse-drawn train, and visits with the farm animals. The festival runs from 10am to 7pm, and dance lessons will be offered for those of us who need the help.

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The Three Suns Shine On

Let’s jump into the time machine and set a course for the 1940s, when pop accordion/guitar/organ trio The Three Suns were topping the charts with “Twilight Time” and their cover of “Peg o’ My Heart.” Now a favorite of lounge music aficionados, the group had a very successful run through the mid-1960s, spawning imitators and even appearing in the feature film, Two Gals and a Guy.

Check out this video of the group’s original lineup (Artie Dunn on organ/vocals, Al Nevins on guitar, and his brother Morty Nevins on accordion) performing “Beyond the Blue Horizon.” For more on The Three Suns, don’t miss Michael Toth’s exhaustive history of the group.

[Found via Weirdo Video]

Smythe’s Accordion Festival

Kimric Smythe — accordion repairman extraordinaire, Junkyard Wars veteran, and owner of Oakland’s finest accordion shop, Smythe’s Accordion Center — is holding his seventh annual accordion festival this Friday night at 21 Grand. The show starts at 8pm and the eclectic lineup includes Kielbasia, Duckmandu, La Familia Pena-Govea and Culann’s Hounds. Anna and I will be there, too, so come say ‘hi’ and we’ll give you some Let’s Polka stickers.

Let’s Zydeco in NYC

Started by Laura Selikson more than ten years ago, Let’s Zydeco (no relation to Let’s Polka) is devoted to promoting cajun/zydeco music and dancing events in the New York City area. Every show starts with a free dance workshop in the basic zydeco dance steps to help newcomers get up to speed. So far this summer, she’s already put on shows with Beausoleil, Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys, and Geno Delafose.

The Savoy Family Cajun Band headlines this Saturday’s show at Connolly’s on 45th. The Savoys are one of zydeco’s most famous families. Marc and Ann have played together for years as part of the Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band (with fiddler Michael Doucet) and they run an accordion store in Eunice, Louisiana, known for its Saturday morning jam sessions open to all (but only one triangle player at a time, please).

Golden Gate Bavarian Club

As I attend more polka events, I’m starting to realize there are three key ingredients for a rollicking polka party: good music (preferably accordion-fueled), good beer, and lots of dancing. I’ve developed a healthy appreciation for the first two ingredients over the years, but I need some help with the dancing.

Fortunately, the Golden Gate Bavarian Club is here to help. The Golden Gate Bavarian Club is dedicated to preserving the traditions of southern Bavaria — including regional dialects, costumes, dances, and music — and passing them on to future generations.

We were lucky enough to see them in action last Friday night at Schroeder’s in San Francisco, where they sported authentic Bavarian costumes and danced the night away to the sounds of Big Lou’s Polka Casserole. They looked like they were having a fantastic time and they’ve even promised to help us with our dancing. Catch them at Schroeders’ next “polka happy hour” on September 29 (also with Big Lou) or at the Speisekammer’s Oktoberfest in Alameda later this month.

Oktoberfest Season Begins

It’s time to break out the lederhosen, dust off your beer steins, and roll out the barrel. Oktoberfest season has begun and it’s a busy time for accordionists. Just ask Nick Ballarini who played at Addison Oktoberfest last weekend and was profiled in the Dallas Morning News. In the piece, he talks about the variety of musical styles available to an accordionist:

“It’s a great way to express yourself. You can get a different feeling out of it by controlling the bellows or even the way you attack the keyboard. If you want to sound like a Frenchman, you put on a beret.”

Nick is a veteran of the accordion scene, having performed with Luciano Pavarotti, Mel Torme, The Chieftains, among others. Along with Frank Marocco, he also runs the annual Marocco-Ballarini Accordion Camp, which takes place January 24-28, 2007, in Mesa, Arizona.

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