Kids Enjoy Playing Accordion. Film at 11.

There’s an interesting AP story today about high school students in Wishek, North Dakota who are learning to play the accordion and — gasp! — actually enjoying it. Located just down the road from Lawrence Welk’s hometown (Strasburg), Wishek is a town steeped in German traditions, where many older residents still speak German. For 15-year-old Christy Schaffer, playing the accordion is a great way connect with her heritage, and assert her individuality:

“When I was younger, I thought it was something different to do… My grandpa did it. And I thought it would be interesting to play something different, that no other kid was playing.”

Janet Wolff, the music teacher at Wishek High, has done a fantastic job of getting kids excited about playing the accordion. That’s exactly what the accordion needs: more representation in schools.

Does anyone know of other accordion programs like this at the elementary or high school level? If so, leave a comment here and let us know. We want to get the word out!

Happy Birthday Weird Al!

Young Al and his accordionAs he celebrates his 47th birthday today — one day after the 40th anniversary of his first accordion lesson — Weird Al Yankovic is enjoying the biggest commercial and critical success of his career. His new album, Straight Outta Lynwood, debuted at #10 on the Billboard album chart and the first single, “White and Nerdy”, has climbed as high as #9 on the singles chart. It’s the first time that Al has cracked the Top 10 in either chart.

Weird Al’s recent resurgence has also garnered critical appraisals of his role in popular culture. In the Village Voice last week, Jonathan Zwickel called Al a genius, noting that he has “always been out of fashion, which, if pop culture has taught us anything, makes him permanently in fashion.” Meanwhile, in Slate, Sam Anderson referred to Al as a “troubadork” whose “quintessential joke is to transfer the bravado and intensity of rap (or rock, or punk) into the mouth of some iconically unhip figure.” High praise for the author of “My Bologna”

Polka Happy Hour at Schroeder’s

The San Francisco Chronicle has finally picked up on what Let’s Polka readers already know; namely, that the Friday night “Polka Happy Hour” at Schroeder’s German Restaurant in San Francisco is a blast. Live polka music, polka dancing (and lessons), great German food and beer, drinking contests… what more could you ask for?

This audio slideshow on the Chronicle website includes some great photos from a recent Friday night at Schroeder’s and features the sights and sounds of Big Lou’s Polka Casserole and the Golden Gate Bavarian Club. This quote from a polka dancing patron sums it up nicely:

“Oh, I love polka; it’s cheaper than aerobics and more fun. Plus the music’s better. And, there’s beer. In aerobics, there is no beer. You may quote me on that one.”

It’s not too late to join the fun — there’s another party this Friday (with Joe Smiell’s band playing) and there’ll be more parties throughout the fall. Check the Schroeder’s calendar for details.

What You Missed in San Antonio…

As if I wasn’t already jealous of the folks who attended last weekend’s International Accordion Festival in San Antonio, I found this jaw-dropping clip of three incredible accordionists — Joel Guzman, Renato Borghetti, and Joaquin Diaz — in an impromptu jam after their Saturday afternoon workshop (appropriately titled “Virtuosos, Latino Style”).

I’m already making my plans for next year’s festival — no way I’m going to miss out on that again!

Julieta Venegas Wins Latin MTV Award

Nothing warms my heart like seeing the headline “Accordion Player Wins MTV Award”. Singer/songwriter/accordionist Julieta Venegas brought home the award for Best Solo Artist at last night’s MTV Video Music Awards Latin America held in Mexico City. She was also nominated for Best Video, Artist of the Year and Song of the Year. But Julieta isn’t done with the awards show circuit, yet; she’s up for four awards (including Album and Song of the Year) at the Latin Grammys on November 2nd.

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Lemony Snicket: A Series of Accordion Events

The End is here. No, really. I’m talking about the book, The End — the final installment in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, released last Friday (the 13th). I’m not sure what happens, but judging from the previous twelve books, I’m pretty sure it’s dreadful, miserable, and just altogether unpleasant.

But there’s even more unfortunate news: earlier in the week, the Gothic Archies released The Tragic Treasury, an album of songs devoted to each of the 13 books in the series. The Gothic Archies are really just singer/songwriter Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields, with help from Lemony Snicket’s “spokesperson”, Daniel Handler, on accordion.

Handler has played as an “adjunct accordionist” for the Magnetic Fields on a number of occasions, including in concert and on their epic 69 Love Songs. So when Handler did his first book tour, he immediately thought of his accordion, and Merritt:

“I needed to come up with a presentation to keep as many as 100 children quiet for 45 minutes — and the accordion is very loud. I thought I could play the accordion and sing, so I asked Stephin to write something. In fact, I have the distinct memory of going to the ATM and withdrawing enough cash and paying him directly upon commission of the song.”

You can hear the Gothic Archies play that song (“Scream and Run Away”) live during their current tour with Lemony Snicket. Though if you go, be warned: Mr. Snicket doesn’t always turn up at these events…

Flickr Find: Castelfidardo Accordion Factory

from where i work
uploaded by otrocalpe
Last week we saw the inside of a 1960s era concertina factory; this week we get a glimpse inside a modern-day accordion factory. Flickr user otrocalpe took this photo, which shows a workstation inside the accordion factory where he works in Castelfidardo, Italy. (Castelfidardo is the legendary center of the Italian accordion industry and home to an accordion museum.) Apparently, this factory was built by his grandfather sixty years ago!

The Crane Wife Takes Flight

The Crane Wife album coverA favorite of disgruntled English majors, indie rock critics, and chimney sweeps everywhere, the Decemberists just put out their fourth album, The Crane Wife. It’s a big milestone for the band as it marks their major-label debut on Capitol Records. Fortunately, they haven’t forsaken their unique musical landscapes and erudite storytelling for drum machines and songs about “My Humps.”

If anything, The Crane Wife is even more ambitious than previous Decemberists albums. Inspired by a Japanese folk tale, it runs the gamut from four-minute pop songs (“O Valencia!”) to twelve-minute prog rock epics exploring murder, abduction, and rape (“The Island”). And, of course, Jenny Conlee’s accordion makes a few appearances, most notably on “Summersong” and “Sons and Daughters”. It took a couple listens to win me over, but I’m really loving this album.

The Decemberists kick off their Fall tour — The Rout of the Patagons Tour 2006 — tomorrow night in Portland and will be in San Francisco and Los Angeles later this week. We saw them a couple years ago (with one of our favorite, non-accordion bands, the Long Winters) and they were fantastic, so grab tickets if you can.

Accordion Hero Teaser in Guitar Hero 2

I’ve covered my Guitar Hero addiction here before, but I had to post this. I just picked up the Guitar Hero 2 demo and my jaw dropped as this flashed across one of the loading screens:

Is it a nod to the Accordion Hero parody from earlier this year? Or have the makers of Guitar Hero finally realized there’s a vast, untapped market for accordion-related video games? After all, if they’ve made a Godfather game, can Accordion Hero really be that far behind?

Remembering Freddy Fender

Legendary Tex-Mex singer/songwriter Freddy Fender died of lung cancer yesterday at the age of 69. Freddy wasn’t an accordionist, but he certainly played with a few — most notably Flaco Jimenez when they were part of the Texas Tornados. In fact, last night at the International Accordion Festival in San Antonio, Flaco had the crowd observe a moment of silence in Freddy’s honor.

Born as Baldemar Huerta in San Benito, Texas, he played honky-tonks throughout the South and had some early success with a Spanish version of “Don’t Be Cruel”. It wasn’t until 1974, though, that he broke through with “Before The Next Teardrop Falls”, which topped both the country and pop charts. In 1989, Freddy joined with Doug Sahm, Augie Meyers, and Flaco Jimenez to form the Texas Tornados, who fused rock, country, and Mexican sounds with alternately serious and silly lyrics; this video for “Who Were You Thinking Of?” shows the sillier side:

If you want to explore Freddy’s music, this greatest hits collection (featuring hits like “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” and “Secret Love”) is a good place to start. There’s also the Best of the Texas Tornados, which I’ve been listening to all morning. And if you’re already a longtime fan, stop by his website and pay your respects in the guestbook.

Vaya con Dios, Freddy.

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