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.

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.

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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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Flickr Find: Art’s Concertina Bar

Art’s Concertina Bar
uploaded by Five-Boro Camphone
We’ve mentioned Art’s Concertina Bar in Milwaukee here before, but for those (like me) who haven’t yet made the pilgrimage, Flickr user Five-Boro Camphone has a cool photoset taken at the bar. Proudly dubbed the “Only Concertina Bar in the USA”, the walls are lined with mementos and photos featuring the owner, Art Altenburg, his music, and this history of concertina and polka music. The bar also holds Art’s collection of nearly 60 concertinas. There are live bands and dancing on Friday and Saturday nights, as well as a “Concertina Jam Session Nite” on Thursdays. Definitely a “must see” for any accordion lovers passing through the Milwaukee area.

Inside the Accordion Teacher’s Studio

Kris Hughes, an accordion teacher in Edinburgh, Scotland, has just started a new blog called BoxTeacher, where she shares her experiences and challenges as a teacher and invites students from all over the world to ask her for advice. Kris has been teaching the piano accordion for over 20 years and, though she’s played in several folk and ceilidh bands over the years, her first love is clearly working with students.

In his first entry, she talks about her lessons with a couple of longtime pupils and it’s fascinating to see how she helps each overcome their musical obstacles, whether it’s mastering a tricky rhythm or trying to find the right feel for a particular piece. If you’re an accordion student looking for guidance, but you can’t find a local teacher, I’d highly recommend checking in with Kris.

Jabara Sisters from Japan

Is it just me, or is YouTube the best thing ever? I mean, where else would I have found this video of the Jabara Sisters, a female Japanese accordion duo performing a traditional Romanian tune in what looks like someone’s grandmother’s living room? If enjoy this clip, check out another one of them doing a klezmer tune with one sister playing the pianica (melodica).

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