Narciso Martinez Conjunto Festival

Dubbed “El Hurac?n del Valle” (“The Hurricane of the Valley”) due to his lightning-fast playing, Narciso Mart?nez is considered “the father of Texas Mexican conjunto.” Mart?nez grew up outside Brownsville, Texas, and was eventually drawn to the accordion music played in the Rio Grande Valley. After taking up the accordion in 1928, he moved to Bishop, where he became steeped in the accordion-playing traditions of local Czech and German immigrants. His pioneering innovation was in the way he focused entirely on right-hand melody (trills, cross-row runs, and vibrato) and left the rhythm and bass to his excellent bajo sexto player, Santiago Almeida. Their style and sound became the blueprint for the generations of conjunto musicians who followed.

So it’s no surprise there’s a big conjunto festival named for him: the 15th annual Narciso Mart?nez Conjunto Festival this weekend in San Benito, Texas. The three-day festival features performances by Los TexManiacs, Amadeo Flores, Eva Ybarra, Los Fantasmas del Valle, and many more. If you can’t make it to the festival, you can listen to coverage on your local Radio Bilingue station or online at Also, check out the album recorded at the 1998 festival by Smithsonian Global Sound.

Accordion Apocalypse Now

Opening your own small business can be incredibly challenging; even more so if your business is in the underappreciated field of accordion repair. Fortunately Skyler Fell, who runs the Accordion Apocalypse Repair Shop in San Francisco, is up to the challenge.

Skyler started out as an apprentice at Boaz Accordions in Berkeley (where I bought my used Weltmeister) and, after they closed, opened her own shop in an Oakland garage before moving to a warehouse studio in Hunter’s Point earlier this year. There, she rebuilds and repairs old accordions, sells accordions, books, sheet music, cases, and stands, and dispenses free accordion advice to all. The San Francisco Examiner recently profiled Skyler and she talked about her passion for old, hand-built instruments:

“It’s really a rich history, and I feel blessed to be carrying the new torch… I really like these older accordions. They’re from the 1940s. Each accordion has so much chutzpah, charm and personality.”

In addition to selling and repairing accordions, Skyler hosts a monthly music jam/potluck at her shop; the next one is this Sunday at 7pm. Accordionists are especially encouraged to attend, but all instruments are welcome. Kielbasia, San Francisco’s favorite Accordion-Playing Drag Lunch Lady, will make a special guest appearance at 8pm. Check the Accordion Apocalypse site for directions and more info.

You Want Answers? I Want the Truth!

Want to help a prospective accordionist? Then head over to Yahoo! Answers and check out this question posted earlier today:

“How hard is it to play the accordion? I’m thinking I might want to learn. I think it is such a neat instrument. Is it expensive? Hard to learn?”

Yahoo! Answers is a place where you can ask questions on any topic and get answers from other users; you can also help people out by answering their questions. (Unfortunately, so far, the answers to this question are pretty bad.) So step up, lend your squeezebox expertise, and help a potential player in need of guidance.

The Doctors of Polka-Ology Are In

Bay Area accordion legend Big Lou and her Polka Casserole have just put out their third album, Doctors of Polka-Ology. We’ve been listening to it constantly since we got our copy and, if variety is the spice of life, this is the spiciest polka album out there. It features a heady mix of originals, classics, Norte?o, French, Austrian and Finnish polkas and waltzes. There’s also a slew of guest stars rounding out the sound, contributing vocals, trumpet, tuba, bass clarinet, viola da gamba, sitar, and more.

The last Big Lou’s Polka Casserole album, Dogs Playing Polka, recently earned nominations in the Just Plain Folks Music Awards for Best Polka Album and Best Polka Song (for “Is Anything Better Than Beer”). And if you haven’t read our exclusive interview with Big Lou, now would be the perfect time to check it out!

Big Lou’s Polka Casserole will be performing this Friday, September 15, at Schroeder’s German Restaurant in San Francisco for the CD release party of Doctors of Polka-Ology. The party runs from 6pm to 9pm and there’ll be plenty of beer, schnitzel, and polka dancing (lessons courtesy of the Golden Gate Bavarian Club) to go around. Anna and I will be there, too, so come say ‘hi’ and we’ll give you some Let’s Polka stickers.

In the meantime, enjoy this Big Lou original from the new album:

Accordionist Sought in San Jose

Bernadette Machado wrote in to let us know that her band, Bernadette and the Element, is looking for an accordionist. They play new onda Tejana-style music and traditional conjunto. If you’re interested, you can contact her at You can also check out her band this Saturday at the Moose Lodge on Mount Pleasant Road in San Jose, CA, where they’ll be playing at the 16 de Septiembre dance.

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Back from the North End

North End Music
Anna and I just got back from a long weekend in Boston, where we enjoyed plenty of great Italian food, coffee, and hospitality in Boston’s North End. We also ran into a few accordionists in the neighborhood, including this guy who was playing on Hanover Street this morning. We tossed a couple dollars in his case and remind our readers to do the same whenever you see another accordionist busking. Support your fellow squeezers!

Cafe Accordion Orchestra’s Cinema

We’re big fans of Dan “Daddy Squeeze” Newton’s Cafe Accordion Orchestra, a Minneapolis-based band that (as their name suggests) evokes the sounds of French cafe music, but with shades of Latin, swing, and gypsy mixed in as well. They’ve just put out their 6th album, Cinema — a collection of songs featured in films from the 1920’s through today, including tunes from The Third Man, Singin’ in the Rain, and Kill Bill Volume 2.

If you’re in the Minneapolis area, you can catch the Cafe Accordion Orchestra performing music from their new album live tomorrow night at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul (home of the Prairie Home Companion). Otherwise, check out sample clips (like the one below) on their site.

New Discussion Forum: is a new discussion forum for accordion players that I found via the Accordion Guy’s blog. Share news, promote gigs, swap tips, buy/sell gear, or just hobnob with your fellow squeezeboxers. It’s only been running for about a week, so spread the word and hopefully it’ll attract a critical mass of accordion enthusiasts.

Some other good places to rub elbows with accordionists online:

  • Reyes Accordions forum
    Part of the excellent Reyes Accordions site, this is probably the best tex-mex/conjunto/norte?o accordion forum around. Lots of knowledge players (Joel Guzman drops in occasionally) and resources for beginners.
  • AccordionFreedomForum
    A more general accordion forum hosted on Yahoo Groups. Members frequently share their own recordings (which are usually pretty good!) with the group.
    All polka, all the time. Sometimes gets sidetracked by polka community politics, but even those discussions are strangely interesting.
  • Cajun Accordion Discussion Group
    Lots of good cajun/zydeco accordion news and tips, straight from the Bayou.

This is by no means an exhaustive list — just a few of my favorites, all of which have a pretty good signal-to-noise ratio. Leave a comment below if you have any other good ones to share.

eBay Find: Accordion Times Magazine

Ever wondered if Queen Elizabeth II is an accordion lover? After seeing her portrait on the cover of the June 1953 issue of Accordion Times and Modern Musician, how couldn’t she be? A copy of this special “Coronation Issue” of the magazine is currently up for sale on eBay and looks like a fascinating glimpse at the British accordion community of the 1950s. According to the listing, the issue includes features on the NAO (National Accordion Organization of the UK) and the BCA (British College of Accordionists), as well as advertisements, reader letters, and, of course, a tribute to the new queen. Sounds like the Rolling Stone of its day.

Conjunto Lady of Spain

Sometimes a different twist on an old tune can make it sound totally new again. That’s how I feel about the often-maligned “Lady of Spain” after finding this conjunto-style version played on accordion and bajo sexto. Now I just have to get Anna to learn it on her new button accordion…

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