My Day at Camp AccordionLand

Remember the good old days when mom and dad would pack you up and send you off to accordion camp? The friendships… the polkas… the poison ivy… ah, the memories!

Well, accordion camp wasn’t part of my childhood, but fortunately, I got a second chance this past Sunday when Anna and I grabbed our accordions and headed across the bay to Crown Beach Park in Alameda for the 2nd annual Camp AccordionLand (see photos). Organized by local accordion teacher Henri Ducharme, the camp promised workshops, jam sessions, and plenty of opportunities for hobnobbing with fellow squeezebox enthusiasts. There were about 30 accordionists there on Sunday, many of whom attended both days.

The day started with campers sharing highlights from Saturday’s festivities (which included an accordion sand sculpture contest) and then we broke up and headed to the first set of workshops: klezmer, jazz, and transcribing tunes. I went to Rob Reich’s klezmer workshop where about 15 of us learned two songs: Ch’sidishe Nigunim and Broyges Tantz. Rob did a great job making sure beginners could keep up, while still giving the advanced players tips for further exploration (harmony lines, etc.). By the end, we had a rockin’ little klezmer orchestra!

After a tasty lunch, we had a special treat — legendary Bay Area accordionist Lou Jacklich sat down and talked about his career and played a few songs for us (see video). Then it was off to the next round of workshops: accordion dissection (led by Lou), Tom Waits ensemble, and polka jam. Anna and I joined the polka jam where Henri led five of us through an arrangement of Tinker’s Polka. Dan and Charlotte played melody and harmony, I played rhythm, and Anna and Julia (who had a bass accordion) played bass. I enjoyed getting a taste of ensemble accordion playing — with a little more practice, we might even be ready for Oktoberfest.

At that point, we had to head home, but we did sit in on the discussion of suggestions for next year’s Camp AccordionLand. I think Henri’s done an excellent job putting together a camp that appeals to accordionists of all levels — there’s a good mix of activities for both beginner and advanced players, balanced between genre-specific and technique-focused workshops. (And where else will you find an accordion workshop built around the music of Tom Waits?) I think there’s a lot of potential for growing this into an even-more-incredible annual accordion event. I’m already picturing Camp AccordionLand 2010: a week-long event drawing a thousand accordionists from all over the world, playing in harmony around a forty-foot-high effigy of Dick Contino… It could happen.


  1. I (we) have an interest in perhaps attending your Camp Accordionland, even though we live in western NY. That’s because there seems to be a dearth of accordion get-togethers nationwide that are not just mutual admiration outings for 60’s vintage accordionists, but that try to accomodate young people. And we have three youngsters who thrive on involvement (especially talent shows).

    So, I have a couple of questions. What’s the cost factor, and is this a situation where my wife can get along, since she has MS, and whose range of walking at one time is limited to 50 yds. or so ? (Needs close-by bathroom, etc..)

    Regards / Chas. Ghent

  2. Last year’s camp, if I remember correctly, was somewhere around $125/person for one day. That included all workshops, as well as lunch. I don’t think Henri has set a price yet for this year’s camp, but I assume it’ll be in the same ballpark.

    The camp is held outdoors in a local park (the 2007 camp will be at Tilden Park in Berkeley). Last year, there were public bathrooms, etc., nearby but I’m not sure about the situation at Tilden Park.

    If you’re considering attending, you should definitely contact Henri Ducharme at . He’s in charge of Camp AccordionLand and can answer any and all questions you might have. Hope that helps!