Calexico’s New Sound

Tucson band Calexico has built up a loyal following over the years, based on a unique, expansive sound that runs the gamut from mariachi to bluegrass to jazz and a few stops in-between. Their latest album, Garden Ruin, though, is a big departure from that sound, and sounds heavily influenced by their recent work with Sam Beam (Iron & Wine). Tired of being pigeonholed, Calexico singer/guitarist/accordionist Joey Burns talked to the SF Chronicle about the evolution of the “Calexico sound,” and how the nuances and subtleties of that sound have been lost on some people over the years:

“Here in the States we’ve been written off in reviews as white guys playing mariachi music… people don’t hear the Portuguese fado influence, or the Gypsy influence, or how the use of the accordion relates to Eastern Europe.”

If you’re in the Bay Area, you can catch up with Calexico tonight and tomorrow at the Fillmore in San Francisco. Otherwise, check out a minute-long snippet of “Praskovia”, a track from Calexico’s 2004 EP Convict Pool that prominently features Burns’ accordion:

(Viva) Las Vegas International Accordion Convention

It seems like every profession or industry these days has an annual convention in Vegas, and accordionists are no different. The Las Vegas International Accordion Convention runs from June 26 to June 29 at the Gold Coast Casino & Hotel. If you can manage to pull yourself away from the craps table, you’ll enjoy three full days of entertainment, special events, and workshops on topics as wide-ranging as “Bellows Shakes,” “Digital Accordion Voicing,” and “Slovenian Polka Styles.” There’s also a dinner/concert each evening during the convention — headliners include Art Van Damme and Dick Contino. And don’t forget all the opportunities to network with fellow accordion players from around the world. That’s priceless!

Well, actually, there is a price: $435 for individuals, $765 for couples, which includes all daily events, meals, and evening concerts (not including hotel). If you still need some convincing, check out some photos from last year and previous years.

For the Kids: Breakfast with Enzo Garcia

Are your kids tired of the same old clown-and-pony show? Then check out San Francisco accordion player Enzo Garcia, who’s available for birthday parties and bills himself as “cheaper than a clown, cleaner than a pony.” He also holds a weekly “Breakfast with Enzo” (bring your own breakfast) every Saturday morning at the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center in San Francisco, where he plays classic and original songs for children and their families.

In addition to performing professionally, Enzo’s been teaching music and movement to toddlers for the last few years. One of my coworkers takes his kids to see Enzo regularly (and even hired him for a birthday party) and raves that “he totally rocks!” So check out some samples and then let your neighbor know you won’t need his magic act this year:

Coming Back to the Accordion (and Happiness)

Frank Cerebino wrote a great piece referencing Accordion Awareness Month in his blog for the Palm Beach Post. At first, I thought it was just going to be another excuse to make bad accordion jokes, but he instead writes about how he played as a youngster, abandoned the instrument, and then unexpectedly picked it up again after 25 years. Frank was lured back by his “accidental discoveries” of the instrument’s beauty, like strolling accordions in cafes, Yann Tiersen’s beautiful Amelie soundtrack, and the powerful tangos of Astor Piazzolla.

The whole piece is worth reading, but I wanted to share a fantastic Carl Sandburg poem he quoted. It’s called “Happiness” and was first published in Sandburg’s Chicago Poems in 1916:

I asked the professors who teach the meaning of life to tell me what is happiness.

And I went to famous executives who boss the work ofthousands of men.

They all shook their heads and gave me a smile as though I was trying to fool with them

And then one Sunday afternoon I wandered out along the Desplaines river

And I saw a crowd of Hungarians under the trees with their women and children and a keg of beer and an accordion.

Amen, Carl!

Finnish Metal + Accordion = Korpiklaani

After Lordi’s Eurovision 2006 victory, I’ve jumped head-first into the Finnish metal scene. I’ve grown my hair long, invited friends over for animal sacrifices… you know, the usual stuff. During my conversion, I stumbled across Korpiklaani, another Finnish metal band, but with fewer theatrics and more folk flavor than Lordi. Korpiklaani mixes a healthy dose of accordion and fiddle in their head banging music, as evidenced in this video for “Hunting Song” (from their “Voice of Wilderness” album).

I’d love to find more hard rock/metal bands that incorporate the accordion — leave a comment if you have any good ones to share.

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Dick Contino on Chicago TV

Watch out ladies, Dick Contino, the “world’s most handsome accordion player,” is on the prowl. Contino performed in Chicago last night and the local CBS affiliate did a segment on him titled “Accordion-Playing Hunk Pushes The Right Buttons”. Seriously. Watch the accompanying video and listen to Dick talk about being an original “American Idol” and how Colonel Tom Parker used his moves to coach Elvis.

In related Dick Contino news, Anna and I recently received a VHS copy of his movie, “Daddy-O”, as a wedding gift. That’s right — the same film that was once featured, and mocked mercilessly, on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Needless to say, as soon as we can manage to sit through the whole thing, we’ll post our review here.

NPR Gets Accordion-Aware

Even NPR can’t help getting excited about National Accordion Awareness Month. There was a segment on it yesterday during “All Things Considered,” featuring some friendly banter between Tom Torriglia and Gary Sredzienski (whose weekly polka radio show was profiled here previously). They talked about history, people’s reactions to the instrument, and their shared goal of bringing joy to people through the accordion. Check out the full clip here:

San Francisco Accordion Festival Wrapup

Culann’s Hounds at the San Francisco Accordion Festival
uploaded by banjohead
If you felt an earthquake in the Bay Area on Sunday afternoon, it was probably caused by the foot-stomping, booty-shaking good time had by everyone at the 16th annual San Francisco Accordion Festival. Here’s a roundup of audio/visual highlights from the weekend:

  • “Squeeze Play” is a juicy cover story about the 2006 festival from Sunday’s SF Chronicle Datebook (the pink section), with quotes from local squeezebox luminaries like Tom Torriglia (the festival organizer), Big Lou, and Paul Rogers of TDA. Be sure to check out the accompanying photo gallery, too.
  • Jan Sluizer from Westwood One Radio did an interview with Tom (MP3, 1.5 MB) at the festival.
  • Jamin posted a fantastic short video that includes an interview with Skyler of Accordion Apocalypse and some festival performance clips. (I love the shot of all the bemused onlookers watching from above the courtyard.)
  • Flickr user banjohead posted a huge photoset of Culann’s Hounds’ performance. (Renee de la Prade, button box player for the Hounds, also won the festival’s annual Main Squeeze pageant. Congratulations Renee!) He’s since added photo sets of San Francisco Accordion Band, Kielbasia, and Conjunto Romero.
  • Flickr user melastmohican also posted a bunch of festival photos, including shots of TDA, Kielbasia, and Bella Ciao.

I’ll update this list as I find more, but it sure looks like everyone had a fantastic time. Tom deserves a gigantic thank you from the local squeezebox community both for putting the festival together, and for his tireless promotion of accordions everywhere. Thanks Tom!

Happy Accordion Awareness Month!

Just in case it isn’t already marked in bold on your calendar, June is National Accordion Awareness Month! Accordion Awareness Month is the brainchild of Bay Area accordionist Tom Torriglia (who also helped make the accordion the official instrument of San Francisco back in 1990). It’s the perfect excuse to pull that ol’ squeezebox out of your closet and make your neighbors, um, “aware” of its existence.

To kick off this important month, the 16th annual San Francisco Accordion Festival will be held this Sunday, June 4th, at the Cannery at Fisherman’s Wharf. The event is free, runs from noon to 6pm, and features some of our favorite accordion-flavored performers, including Those Darn Accordions, Big Lou’s Polka Casserole, Conjunto Romero, Bella Ciao, Culann’s Hounds, Kielbasia, and the San Francisco Accordion Orchestra. As mentioned previously, the festival features the San Francisco Main Squeeze Pageant, a contest to crown the most talented (and colorful) accordion player in town.

We’re planning to be there on Sunday, so if you see us (probably not wearing lederhosen), come up and give us a big squeeze!

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