Accordion Babes Return for 2010

West Coast Accordion Babes Pin-Up Calendar 2010Forget puppies or creepy babies dressed in animal costumes. Instead, treat yourself to a calendar with some class — the 2010 West Coast Accordion Babes Pin-Up calendar. We picked up our copy at Cotati last weekend and, like last year’s calendar, it features a year’s worth of artsy photos of professional accordion babes showing off their bellows. And if that wasn’t enough, each contributed a track to the calendar’s companion CD, resulting in a fun mix of folk, jazz, gypsy, pop, and more.

Artists in this year’s edition include Big Lou, Jessica Fichot, Tara Linda, and the ladies of Those Darn Accordions. The calendar is just $20 and can be ordered here or directly from many of the accordion babes themselves. I recommend acting fast — last year’s calendar sold out in just three weeks!

The annual Accordion Babes calendar is put together by San Francisco accordionst Renée de la Prade of the band Culann’s Hounds. Renée’s become a fixture as a street performer in San Francisco, belting out tunes on her Irish button accordion; check out her recent feature and audio slideshow on the SF Chronicle website.

MP3 Monday: Monsters of Accordion

Monsters of AccordionWe’re still unwinding from a fun weekend at the Cotati Accordion Festival, but there’s no time to rest. Not when the Monsters of Accordion are about to unleash their fury on the West Coast. The brainchild of accordion madman Jason Webley, this annual event showcases some of the best accordion-toting singer-songwriters around in a whirlwind, week-long tour.

Joining Webley for this year’s edition are Stevhen Iancu of the Dolomites, Eric Stern of Vagabond Opera, and Geoff Berner. At various stops along the way, they’ll be joined by special guests like Mood Area 52 and Mark Growden. This year’s tour kicks off in Seattle on Wednesday and makes stops in Portland, Eugene, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Sacramento before winding up in Ashland next Tuesday. (Check our calendar for dates and times.)

Street performer turned cult musician, Jason Webley is known for his gravelly voice, his caterwauling squeezebox, and his unique ability to involve the audience in his shows; most of his concerts end with the entire crowd locked arm-in-arm, singing at the tops of their lungs. (We’ll share some video evidence of this from the Cotati festival later this week.)

Stevhen Koji Iancu is a Japanese/Romanian British Immigrant who puts together a fiery blend of Gypsy music, fusing older Japanese styles of Enka with subtle elements of Cumbia, Ska, Punk, Balkan and Romanian music, and many other styles from around the world. Iancu has also performed with numerous groups, including Balkan Beat Box, and was a touring member of Gogol Bordello.

Eric Stern is the bandleader and primary composer of Vagabond Opera, Portland’s favorite absurdist cabaret ensemble. A premiere operatic tenor, accordionist, composer and showman, Stern commands the room with his incendiary stage presence and devilish virtuosity. Son of an accomplished Gaullic accordionist, he is adept at countless styles, at times performing on a specially-tuned quarter tone accordion to play complex Arabic melodies.

“I want to make original klezmer music that’s drunk, dirty, political and passionate. As a Jew of eastern european descent, I feel I have a calling to make this music live, not just preserve it under glass like something in a museum.” Berner’s music, inspired by traditional Jewish folk song and fueled by whiskey, dresses his wry wit and biting social commentary in shockingly beautiful, plaintive melodies.

If you need more convincing, check out our recap of the Monsters of Accordion 2007 show in San Francisco, including photos and a video of Corn Mo doing the best solo accordion rendition of “We are the Champions” you may ever hear.

Introducing the Let’s Polka Directory

Every day, we receive emails from people looking for an accordion teacher, a repair shop, or an accordion club in their area. We try to answer these questions as best we can — usually with information cobbled together from abandoned pages across the web — but it’d be much easier if there was a thorough, up-to-date, searchable list we could point people towards.

So today, we’re launching the Let’s Polka accordion directory, a catalog of accordion teachers, repair shops, and clubs across North America. Just visit the directory, type in your city, hit “Go!”, and you’ll see a list of accordion resources in your immediate area. You can also browse each category — teachers, shops, and clubs — individually.

We’ve gone ahead and added a bunch of listings already, but we know there are a lot more out there. That’s where you come in! If you want to add (or edit) a listing in our directory, just contact us and we’ll take care of the rest. (Listings are entirely free.) We know there are a lot of clubs and teachers that don’t have websites that we’ve probably missed, so hopefully we can work together to get them publicized online.

We have a lot of ideas for improving and expanding the directory, but we hope this is a useful first step towards making this information more readily available. If you have any questions or suggestions, drop us a line or leave a comment on this post. Happy searching!

MP3 Monday: Cotati Accordion Festival

Cotati Accordion FestivalIt’s a big week here at Let’s Polka and one reason is that we’re only a few days away from a weekend of nonstop music and squeezing at the 19th annual Cotati Accordion Festival. The trip to Cotati is always one of the highlights of our year; here are a few of the artists we’re looking forward to hearing this weekend:

Frank Marocco is a true accordion legend, known for his technical mastery of classical and jazz accordion, as well as his skills as an arranger and composer. Now based in Los Angeles, Frank is probably the most recorded accordionist in the world, having played on hundreds of movie soundtracks, television scores, and commercial jingles. He even played on the Beach Boys’ classic album Pet Sounds in 1966.

One thing I love about Cotati is that it attracts not just local artists, but bands from across the country. This year, Copper Box makes the trip from Oshkosh, WI, bringing its unique blend of rock, polka, blues, and zydeco. The band features the husband-and-wife team of Danny (accordion) and Michelle (guitar, sax) Jerabek.

Known for her jazzy blues vocal style and her button accordion, Tara Linda‘s latest album features 1930’s ballads, cumbia, dance-hall rancheras, cry-in-your beer country duets, and even some Johnny Cash. With Luna Nueva, Tara Linda sings in the “dueto” style with Gilbert Reyes on a collection of songs dedicated to the life and legend of Lydia Mendoza.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Those Darn Accordions and the band is celebrating with a 20-city tour that kicks off this week. On Saturday in Cotati, TDA will be joined onstage by several former members, including Big Lou (also performing at the festival with her Polka Casserole), Bill Schwartz, Ron Muriera, Tom Torriglia (also performing with Bella Ciao), and Art Peterson.

And there are so many more: Jason Webley, Los Texmaniacs, Ginny Mac, Culann’s Hounds… the list goes on and on. It should be a fantastic weekend for accordion lovers and we’ll be sure to take lots of photos (and videos) along the way. If you’re headed to the festival, let us know and we’ll be sure to keep an eye out for you!

Quick Links: Tide You Over Edition

It may seem quiet around here lately, but we’ve actually been working feverishly behind the scenes on a new Let’s Polka project. We’re still applying the finishing touches but, in the meantime, here are a few links for those in need of an accordion fix:

Need more accordion? Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or email.

New Accordion School in Houston

Inspired by last week’s post about learning to play the accordion? You may be interested in a new accordion school in the Houston area called Houston Accordion Performers. The owners, Sheila Lee and Mark Ropel, have years of teaching experience and have studied with the likes of Willard Palmer and Anthony Galla-Rini. Shelia also recently produced an instructional DVD for GCF button accordion which is due out in September (watch a clip).

The school opened in June and has teachers giving lessons in chromatic, piano, and GCF diatonic button accordion. Sheila and Mark are promoting a “studio environment” with private, group, and band lessons, emphasizing styles like Tex-Mex, Norteño, Conjunto, Zydeco, and more. In addition to Sheila and Mark, the studio’s staff includes Mario Pedone and Ross Witte.

Houston Accordion Performers will hold an all-day celebration on September 12th to celebrate its grand opening. The day will start with the studio’s accordion band appearing in Houston’s Fiestas Patrias International Parade, followed by a concert back at the studio. Check our calendar for details and directions.

MP3 Monday: Pezzettino

Pezzettino: LionClassically trained on piano, Margaret Stutt of Pezzettino picked up her father’s accordion in 2008 and has been writing songs nonstop ever since. Alternating between accordion and piano, her music is moody and restless while her lyrics are intensely personal. She’s also a textbook example of the do-it-yourself independent musician in the digital age, using tools like Twitter to connect with her audience and even filming custom videos on YouTube for fans who support her music. After recording her debut album solo on a laptop, she’s been slowly adding to her band and released her second album, Lion, in April.