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.


  1. Happy birthday, Chris.

    In reference to the raffle prize, maybe Anna is a diatonic accordion whiz already, but if not, I found the tablatures here: to be a very quick and satisfying way to learn some beautiful songs for the G/C instrument I bought a few years ago. It’s nice to be able to play something travel sized.

  2. Thanks Ian! Anna’s just getting started on her diatonic journey so that link is perfect. I think we were both a little frightened (as players) by the button accordion until we actually got one; now we’re starting to realize it’s really not that hard (just different).

  3. What a fun time I had! My first trip to the west coast and then spending all day at the accordion festival on Saturday – in fact, I planned the CA trip around seeing the fesitval while visiting my friend’s sister who happens to live in Cotati.

    I am planning another trip from DE just to visit the accordion festival and I’m sure it will be just as great this year as it was in 2006. I met the Mad Maggies and their music is absolutely outstanding. That is going to be one band to watch.

  4. We’ll look for you at Cotati later this year, Leah! I think the Mad Maggies are playing again, as well as one of my favorites from Texas — Brave Combo.