Cotati Accordion Festival Wrapup

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

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.

Li’l Wally Tributes Around the Web

There’s been an incredible outpouring of emotion in the polka community since polka legend Li’l Wally Jagiello passed away late last week. Here are a few tributes to check out:

  • Li’l Wally’s obituary in the Chicago Sun-Times is a well-written remembrance of his life and times; it even includes the full lyrics to the “Go-Go White Sox!” fight song he co-wrote back in 1959 (which was revived during their World Series run last year). There’s also a lengthy obituary in the Chicago Tribune.
  • All week long, Cyberpolkas has been doing a nightly online radio tribute to Li’l Wally; they also have a nice collection of photos and links to share.
  • Chicago punk/polka band The Polkaholics have some great photos of the gigs they played with Li’l Wally. If you don’t know the story of how Li’l Wally and the Polkaholics got together, check out the documentary chronicling their meeting.
  • An online guestbook has been set up where fans can share memories, leave audio messages, and submit photos.
  • Scott Simon did a short piece on Wally’s passing on NPR’s Weekend Edition.

Also, if anyone out there has any MP3s of Li’l Wally’s music, post a comment and let me know. I’d love to share some of his music here on the site.

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Weird Al’s First TV Appearance

With his 12th album due out next month, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and watch Weird Al Yankovic’s first television appearance from way back on April 21, 1981. Armed with only his accordion, his trademark curly hair, and a ridiculously loud pair of pants, he performed his Queen parody “Another One Rides the Bus” on The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder. Longtime collaborator Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz pitched in by playing Al’s accordion case as a drum.

[Found via Videobomb]

Let’s Polka Sticker Giveaway #1

What’s black and white and red all over? The first batch of Let’s Polka stickers! They’re bright, shiny vinyl and they’ll look fantastic on your accordion case, music stand, bumper, laptop, newborn baby, or wherever you enjoy sticking your stickers. Best of all, we’re giving them out absolutely free — all you need to do is tell us a story.

Here’s what you do: Write a comment on this post telling us who or what got you interested in the accordion. Was it the sound of a strolling accordionist at a sidewalk cafe in Paris? An Oktoberfest gone wild? A Weird Al rock and roll polka medley? Tell us your story (be as brief or long-winded as you please) and we’ll follow up via email and send you a handful of stickers. It’s that easy!

And if the stickers weren’t enough, one lucky (randomly-chosen) commenter will also receive a copy of the new Corner Laughers album mentioned earlier today. So what are you waiting for? Get free stuff!

The Corner Laughers, Tomb of Leopards

According to their website, The Corner Laughers are “two recovering Catholic school girls who specialize in bouncy, clever, melodic pop songs about evolution, mythology, ancient history, and guys who are jerks.” They also happen to be friends of ours who just put out an excellent new album, Tomb of Leopards. In addition to their trademark knack for catchy melodies and lyrics, the album also features our own Anna playing accordion (and musical saw) on two tracks. (She also did the album artwork.)

Check their site for clips and, if you’re in the Bay Area, you can catch them live tonight at the Red Devil Lounge in San Francisco as part of International Pop Overthrow 2006.

Flickr Find: Accordion Zombie

uploaded by malloreigh
The hills are alive with the sound of… zombies?!? Zombie mobs invaded the streets of San Francisco and Vancouver on Saturday, stumbling around and searching for fresh brains to feed upon. Looking through the Vancouver photos, I found this one of a zombie accordionist making the rounds. Glad to see that even the undead appreciate good music.

Gino Bagala: (Accordion) Boy Wonder

Earlier this week, the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat ran a fun profile of Gino Bagala, an 11-year-old accordionist from Santa Rosa. Gino is passionate about his playing: he practices twice a day, performs in public weekly, and is a member of the Accordion Club of the Redwoods. In his spare time, you can find him surfing eBay for deals on accordion sheet music, listening to Frank Sinatra records, or serenading his dog with the theme song to The Godfather. All of this as he pursues his dream:

“When I grow up, I’d like to be a professional accordion player, own an Italian restaurant and on the side, be a professional wrestler.”

Now that’s a dream. Go for it, Gino!

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