Pet Peeve: Misspelling Accordion

When it comes to the accordion, I try to keep an open mind. I’ll listen to virtually any type of music if I’m told there’s an accordion involved. Polka? Naturally. Tex-Mex punk? ¡Sí! Finnish folk-metal? Sign me up… IN BLOOD.

Same goes for reading articles or books about the accordion. But when it comes to the written word, there is one thing that will stop me dead in my tracks every time. It’s something tiny, but it absolutely drives me up the wall:


That’s right—accordion misspelled with “an” at the end, instead of “on”. Whenever I see that horrible, misshapen word, I want to bellows shake some sense into the author’s head. And, unfortunately, it happens all too often. What gives? No one goes around misspelling “guitar” or “piano” and gets away with it.

To combat the continued spread of this atrocious misspelling, we’ve created a very simple site: So the next time you see someone misspell the name of our favorite instrument in an article, tweet, or Craigslist ad, gently refer them to And remind them to use a spell-checker, for goodness sake.

Accordion Gift Guide 2009

Maybe you braved the crowds on Black Friday. Or maybe you stayed home and ate Thanksgiving leftovers. Either way, Christmas is less than a month away and you still need a gift for that accordion lover in your life. Don’t worry, we’re here to help with our annual Accordion Gift Guide — a roundup of books, music, videos, and other goodies that will look great in any accordion player’s Christmas stocking.

The new Roland FR-7x V-Accordion has had tech-savvy accordionists drooling since its introduction a few months ago. Improving on its predecessor, the already-popular FR-7, the new model features more sounds, faster response and higher sensitivity, and a USB port for playback and recording.

Tedrow ConcertinaPrefer the feel and sound of a classic, acoustic instrument? Check out the handmade concertinas built by Bob Tedrow of Homewood Music. More than just instruments, Bob’s concertinas are practically works of art, proudly billed as “150 years behind the times.” The waiting list for his concertinas is currently several months long, so act now if you want one by next Christmas.

There’s a good chance, though, you’re shopping for someone who already has an accordion and what they really need is a lesson or two. (Not that you’d ever say that out loud…) A pair of Texas accordion teachers have great accordion lesson DVDs: for piano accordionists, try Debra Peters’ blues/rock accordion DVDs, while button accordionists will enjoy Sheila Lee’s DVD for beginners playing the GCF button accordion. I haven’t seen the full video yet, but I’ve also been impressed by clips of British accordionist Murray Grainger’s new DVD, Accordion: Mastering the Art.

Brave Combo: Christmas PresentFor holiday music, accordion-style, Brave Combo has just released a live holiday album called Christmas Present, a nice companion to their earlier releases Holiday! and It’s Christmas, Man. Their polka arrangement of “Must Be Santa” was borrowed by Bob Dylan for his new Christmas album, Christmas Heart, which features the accordion playing of Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo.

Lighting a menorah instead of a Christmas tree? Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanukkah, an album of Guthrie’s lyrics put to music by the Klezmatics, is a couple years old but still a great choice for a boisterous Hanukkah celebration.

The holidays are fun, but they can be stressful, too; after weeks of shopping, traveling, and dealing with family, who hasn’t felt like locking themselves in the bedroom with a good book? We’ve got options there, too. Blair Kilpatrick’s Accordion Dreams, is a heartwarming tale of her transformative obsession with Cajun and Creole music. For a more historical perspective, Ryan Brasseaux’s Cajun Breakdown is one of the most thoroughly researched histories of Cajun music ever published.

Mi Música shirtNeed something to wear when you aren’t carrying an accordion? In addition to producing fantastic collections of folk music from around the world, Smithsonian Folkways has neat t-shirts, too, including this accordion-themed design. There are some great shirts on Etsy, too — this stenciled accordion shirt and the cheeky “Instruments of War”, which shows an accordion amidst a sea of weapons (club, axe, banjo).

One of our favorite products of the past year is Elena Erber’s nifty accordion backstraps. Anna and I have been using them for a few months now and they’re comfortable, easy to adjust and great for your back. We’re also big fans of the annual Bay Area Accordion Babes Pin-Up calendar. It’s accompanied by a CD of folk, jazz, gypsy, goth, and pop accordion, just in case the eye candy isn’t enough for you.

Want more ideas? Check out our 2008 Accordion Gift Guide or browse our other shopping-related posts. And if you find other great accordion-related gifts out there, leave a comment and let us know!

2008 Accordion Gift Guide

Still looking for that perfect holiday gift? Want to help our nation’s beleaguered retailers and stimulate the economy? Never fear: Let’s Polka’s 2008 Accordion Gift Guide is here! We’ve got music, books, DVDs, and more for the accordion aficionados on your list — and for those folks you’re looking to convert to the squeezin’ side.

How Much Is My Accordion Worth?

Far and away, the most common email we receive is from someone who’s found or inherited an old accordion — often stashed away in a closet or garage — who wants to know how much it’s worth. I’ve probably answered this question a hundred times, a hundred different ways. But now I save myself the trouble and refer them to this handy guide on Jeroen Nijhof’s excellent Accordion Links site. Jeroen’s guide covers the basics (condition, brand, size) along with two pieces of advice I often give: that “vintage” doesn’t mean much unless it’s playable (or festooned with diamonds) and it’s only worth what someone will pay for it.

With that in mind, I should really ask: “Why sell this accordion when you can learn to play it?” Instead of dumping it at a garage sale for a few bucks, you could have countless hours of enjoyment by playing cumbias or mazurkas on your porch. Maybe the next time someone inquires about their grandfather’s old accordion, I’ll just reply with a list of accordion teachers in their area…

Best of Let’s Polka 2007

No, we haven’t joined the writers’ strike; we’ve just been in hibernation for the past couple weeks. Now we’re rested and ready to squeeze into 2008 with more accordion news, reviews, and events than ever before!

But first, let’s look back at some Let’s Polka highlights from the past year:

And we have even bigger plans for 2008 — so stay tuned, keep squeezin’, and have a happy New Year!

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Cotati Accordion Festival 2007 Wrapup

Anna at La Plaza Park in CotatiCotati Accordion Festival Photos

Ah… another year, another glorious weekend spent at the Cotati Accordion Festival. We spent nearly ten hours in La Plaza Park today, listening to an incredible collection of accordion-oriented artists. Where else can you hear a klezmer band followed by a yodeling, accordion-playing cowboy? Or see hundreds of white doves released into the sky as a crowd plays “Lady of Spain”? Only in Cotati.

We finally got to see Brave Combo live and they didn’t disappoint; it only took a couple songs before they had most of the crowd in a giant conga line, weaving their way through the park. Culann’s Hounds were a big hit, too; I’m glad that word’s getting around about how good they are. We heard virtuoso accordionists across the generations, from Tony Lovello working the crowd to Alex Meixner alternating between piano and button accordion to young Coupe Mondiale participant Sammy Thomas. We also grabbed a hot-off-the-presses copy of the new Those Darn Accordions album, Squeeze Machine (review coming soon!).

And while Anna didn’t win the raffle this year, we still had a fantastic time. We were completely blown away by the number of people who came up to us and mentioned the site. Thanks for all your support and hopefully we’ll be reporting on Cotati Accordion Festivals for years to come.

Monsters of Accordion Wrapup

Monsters of Accordion togetherMonsters of Accordion photos

It isn’t every day you get to see five of North America’s hottest singer/songwriter/accordionists in one place, but we were lucky enough to do so last night at 12 Galaxies in San Francisco as the Monsters of Accordion tour rolled into town. The crowd was incredible — my amateur guesstimating skills say around 300 people — including a handful of Let’s Polka readers who came up and introduced themselves throughout the night (thanks for coming!).

The show kicked off with Geoff Berner whose “Canadian klezmer drinking songs” had the crowd singing along from the start. In between songs, he told stories of his great-grandfather’s move to Saskatchewan, incompetent French generals of the 1930s, and everything in-between. By contrast, Duckmandu (Aaron Seeman) was all-business, storming through punk covers, country songs, and originals from his new album, Shut the Duck Up and Play Accordion. He closed with his always-popular “flaming hat” rendition of “Highway to Hell.”

As soon as Corn Mo hit the stage, one of my friends turned and asked “Is this guy the love child of Meatloaf and Freddie Mercury?” His show-stopping performance of “We Are the Champions” did little to dispute that hypothesis and Corn Mo had the crowd eating out of his hand for his entire set. (Anna declared him “Best in Show” for the night.) Each show on the Monsters tour has featured a special guest and, after Corn Mo, we were treated to a rare set by the Bay Area’s own Mark Growden. (Mark wins the award for most drool-worthy accordion — what appeared to be a chromatic Bugari.)

Finally, the man who organized it all — Jason Webley — took the stage and whipped the crowd into a frenzy with nonstop sing-a-longs and even a cover of Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” thrown in for good measure. He was floored by the passionate, accordion-loving crowd and remarked that “the tides are changing… in three or four years, people are going to be embarrassed to admit they took guitar lessons as a kid.” The show closed with all five accordionists onstage performing (or just drinking along to) Webley’s “Drinking Song” as the crowd spun in circles and headed out into the cool San Francisco night.

It was a fantastic event and, if you’re in the Bay Area tonight, be sure to catch the last show of the tour over at Smythe’s Accordion Center in Oakland. This is absolutely a can’t-miss, must-see show. Even if you’re up in Cotati today (we’re headed there now), you can still make it down in time for the Monsters show.

For those who couldn’t be there last night, here’s a video I recorded of Corn Mo performing “We Are the Champions”:

I Won the Grand Prize!

History was made last Sunday at the Cotati Accordion Festival. I won the grand prize in the raffle: a brand new Hohner Corona button accordion!

Now, I’m a piano accordionist, but I had always wanted to learn button accordion. After initially pricing them, I realized I couldn’t afford one. So, for years, I had been eyeing them longingly, unsuccessfully searching eBay for deals, and hoping that some day I could get one.

Fast-forward to the Cotati Accordion Festival. Shortly after Chris and I arrived, there was an announcement: “Buy your raffle tickets for the Hohner Corona button accordion!” and I knew right away that I had to take a chance. Chris, knowing I’ve always wanted a button accordion, encouraged me to go buy a few tickets. I got 6 tickets for $5. What a deal! I was really excited. I felt lucky.

Chris and I walked around, browsing the accordions for sale. I mentioned that I wanted to check out some button accordions and he said “Don’t buy one. You might win the one in the raffle!”

And he was right! When they announced my name as the winner, I was completely stunned! I ran up to the stage and showed them my tickets. I couldn’t believe I won! I was ecstatic! When I looked back into the crowd, I saw Chris practically rolling on the ground with laughter. The kind and helpful Cotati Accordion Festival folks said “Congratulations!” and boxed up the accordion for me. Chris took a photo.

After much squeeing, I showed my new win to some people and was introduced to a potential new teacher. Chris helped me carry the squeezebox out to the car and we drove home to show everyone. I think my mom was the most blown away by my great luck. We took it out of the gig bag and saw that they included straps and a lesson book. Awesome!

I’ve been doing the lessons and just having a great time trying to play. I love my new accordion. It is a really cool, unique color, and it sounds really good! So I have just been thrilled to have won it.

Many, many thanks to the folks at the Cotati Accordion Festival, and to Hohner, who donated the accordion!

Cotati Accordion Festival Wrapup

A few months ago, Anna asked me how I wanted to spend my 30th birthday. A big party? A quiet dinner? Just ignore it and pretend I’m still 29? Fortunately for me, the answer was easy. So last Sunday, I spent my birthday with a couple thousand fellow accordion enthusiasts at the annual Cotati Accordion Festival just outside Santa Rosa.

For those who’ve never been, the festival is an accordionist’s dream — two days of non-stop music, numerous accordion-related vendors, and a dance tent with polka and zydeco music. We arrived around 11am on Sunday and spent about nine hours taking in the sights (see photos) and sounds. Some of the highlights:

  • Meeting Dick Contino
    I’ll admit, I’d been looking forward this for a long time. Dick and I share the same hometown (Fresno), and he even went to school with some of my relatives. He was as nice as can be; he talked to us for a few minutes, signed a poster, and then went on to play an excellent set (see video).
  • Joel Guzman and Aztex
    It didn’t take long to recognize that Joel Guzman can make his accordion do pretty much anything he wants it to. Add in a tight band (Aztex) and a great singer (his wife, Sarah Fox) and it’s no wonder he’s a two-time Grammy winner. (Update: I found a great video of Joel’s performance on YouTube.)
  • La Familia Peña-Govea
    Going into the festival, I didn’t know much about them, but they’re probably the band I had the most fun listening to. Really fun and lively. And the crowd agreed — there were more people dancing during their set than at any other time on Sunday.
  • Lady of Spain ring
    Every year at the festival, in the middle of the day, all accordionists are invited up to the stage to play Lady of Spain together. Then, as they play, dozens of white doves are released over the park. Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up.
  • Promising young accordionists
    At 76, Dick Contino can still bellows shake with the best of ’em. But on the other end of the age spectrum, the festival featured some great performances by young accordionists like Ben Creed and Gino Bagala. The future looks bright!
  • Anna’s raffle prize
    I’ll let Anna tell the story herself but, needless to say, we never expected a $5 investment in raffle tickets to pay off that well!

And there was so much more! Finally seeing Polkacide live… hanging out in the Golden State Accordion Club’s jam tent… watching the crazy rubboard player in Mark St. Mary’s zydeco band… what a day. Needless to say, I already know where my 31st birthday party will be.

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.

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