Plan Your Accordion Weekend

Our accordion event calendar is always full of great concerts, festivals, and hootenannys, but this weekend is especially jam-packed. Here are a few noteworthy events you might want to check out:

  • Leavenworth International Accordion Festival (Leavenworth, WA)
    The 15th annual Leavenworth Accordion Festival includes workshops, jam sessions, a film/video series, a parade, and four nights of concerts and dances. Performers include Lynn Marie, Janet Todd, and S-Bahn.
  • Petaluma Accordion Festival (Petaluma, CA)
    Bay Area accordion fans know all about Cotati, but nearby neighbor Petaluma has its own two-day accordion celebration, too. We’ll be there on Saturday, so if you see a guy with a red Let’s Polka shirt, come say hi! (There’s also a great accordion triple-header on Friday night in Petaluma with Vagabond Opera, the Mad Maggies, and Amber Lee.)
  • Make Music New York: Mass Accordions (Brooklyn, NY)
    Tired of playing alone? Join a mass gathering of accordion players at the Old Stone Church The Bell House in Brooklyn and play music with the Famous Accordion Orchestra and Main Squeeze Accordion Orchestra. (Update: Moved indoors to The Bell House due to potential rain on Sunday.)

For polka fans, there’s also the International Polka Fest (Carleton, MN) and the Syracuse Polish Festival (Syracuse, NY). Check our calendar for more great accordion events in your neighborhood.

Make An Accordion Awareness Month Pledge!

It’s June 1st and that can only mean one thing… it’s the start of Accordion Awareness Month! Established in 1989 by our pal Tom Torriglia — formerly of Those Darn Accordions, now with retro-Italiano band Bella Ciao — Accordion Awareness Month was created to spread the word about the accordion’s resurgence in popularity and to educate people about the accordion’s true musical potential. Basically, the same mission we’ve adopted at Let’s Polka, except we do it year-round!

This year, we want you — our humble, accordion-loving readers — to help promote the virtues of our favorite instrument. Sit on your porch and play some tunes for your neighbors, attend a show on our accordion event calendar, fill up your coworker’s iPod with Flaco Jimenez songs when he isn’t looking, tell all your friends about Let’s Polka… the possibilities are limitless. Me, I’m going to sit on my balcony every night, directly above a pizzeria, and serenade patrons.

To encourage you, we’re giving away over $100 worth of accordion-related goodies to readers who pledge to promote the accordion this month. To make your pledge, write a comment on this post and tell us how you plan to celebrate Accordion Awareness Month — doesn’t matter if it’s something small (making a YouTube video) or big (writing an accordion concerto). One lucky, randomly-chosen pledger will receive a prize package stuffed with accordion CDs, books, and more. Contents include:

You have until the end of Accordion Awareness Month to make your pledge, so get out there and become an accordion awareness ambassador!

Mass Accordions in NYC

Mass Accordions!Make Music New York is a unique festival of free concerts in public spaces throughout New York City, all on Sunday, June 21st, the first day of summer. Along with hundreds of individual concerts, this year’s MMNY includes a type of gathering called “Mass Appeal” where hundreds of musicians perform pieces written for a single instrument. And, you guessed it, there’ll be special event just for accordionists.

Accordionists of all shapes, sizes, and abilities are encouraged to join the accordion gathering at the Old Stone House in Brooklyn. You can participate in the performance of a new piece by composer Bob Goldberg for the Famous Accordion Orchestra, in which visitors discover an “accordion forest.” Players are also invited to play-along to some old favorites with the NYC’s all-female Main Squeeze Accordion Orchestra conducted by Walter Kuhr. See the listing on our calendar for more details, including RSVP information so they know how many squeezeboxes to expect.

Giant Accordion on the Loose?

Bruce at Accordion Noir forwarded us a strange Russian news article about a “Monster-Accordion” that will be unveiled at the Kremlin in April. The instrument will be the centerpiece of a celebration of the accordion’s 100th birthday:

“Precise dimensions of giant accordion remain unknown, but according to the art director of the holiday concert the height of the instrument will be several meters. To make the instrument sound two people will draw bellows and several people will push keys of the instrument.”

“Several meters” high? I wonder if this giant accordion is related to this one built by Giancarlo Francenella in Castlefidardo, Italy. That accordion — which is more than 3 meters tall and 2 meters wide — requires two people to play it, one on the keys and another to push the bellows. (Sounds like the punchlinke to a “how many accordionists does it take to screw in a lightbulb” joke…) If you want to see it in action, the accordion was recently transported to the Tate Modern in London for an exhibition and will be there through April 26th.

A Few Accordions Short of a Record

I ran across this teaser video for “A Few Accordions Short of a Record” — an upcoming documentary on the annual Kimberley International Old-Time Accordion Championships in Kimberley, British Columbia, Canada. It’s one of the largest accordion festivals in the world, drawing thousands for a week full of concerts and competitions. In 2005, attendees set a Guinness world record for the largest accordion ensemble with more than 644 players. (That record was broken a month later at the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival where 989 accordionists participated.) The video suggests the film will be complete by the summer; I’ll keep my eye out for more details.

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Quick Links: Post-Holiday Edition

No unifying theme for today’s Quick Links, except that they’ve all been kicking around my inbox since the holidays…

  • Player/Repairman Tom Bruno Passes Away
    Sad news about the sudden death of Tom Bruno, owner of Bruno Accordions in New Kensington, PA. Not only was Bruno an expert craftsman and one of the nation’s finest accordion repairmen, but he was a fantastic player, renowned for his renditions of Charles Magnante’s works. He was just 36 years old.
  • From Berlin’s Hole of Forgottenness, a Spell of Songs
    The curious story of Bruno S., who flirted with German movie stardom in the early 1970s and is now playing accordion on the streets of Berlin. (Don’t miss the video on the article’s second page.)
  • Spektrum Lab: “Outside the Box”
    “Put away any pre-conceived notions of what an accordion album might sound like.” Samples and loops abound on a unique album from Spektrum Lab that could easily have been titled “MIDI Accordions Gone Wild.”

And one quick Let’s Polka note — after making some behind-the-scenes improvements to our accordion events calendar, we now have over 250 events posted nationwide and the list is growing daily. Have an accordion concert, festival, or gathering to add? Want your band’s gigs listed? Let us know!

Polka Fans Rejoice: Blob’s Park Returns

Blob's ParkAll too often, we find ourselves writing about polka hotspots right as they’re about to close. So it’s a nice change of pace to report that, after being closed for a year, Maryland polka landmark Blob’s Park will re-open Wednesday night with a New Year’s Eve dinner/dance. Max Blob’s Bavarian Biergarten (aka “Blob’s Park”) first opened in Jessup in 1933 and was a center for polka dances until last December when owner John Eggrel retired and the land was earmarked for development. Now Max Eggrel, great-nephew of founder Max Blob and brother of John, has leased the land and is hoping to keep the place open for at least three more years. Great news for Maryland polka fans — now get out there and dance!

Accordions Are Sexy (and We Have Proof)

2009 Bay Area Accordion Babes Pin-Up CalendarTrying to fight that tired old stereotype that accordions are just for old men with lederhosen? The 2009 Bay Area Accordion Babes Pin-Up Calendar should do a thing or two to change that perception. This glossy, full-color calendar features stylized pin-up shots of 15 local accordion babes including Tara Linda, (Mad) Maggie Martin, Skyler Fell, and more. The calendar will sell for $20 and includes a companion CD with tracks by many of the ladies featured in the calendar. It’s the perfect holiday stocking stuffer.

You can order the calendar directly from one of the Accordion Babes’ sites listed below, or from Smythe’s Accordion Center:

You can get your first glimpse of the calendar this Thursday at the Wild Women of the Accordion show at Cafe du Nord in San Francisco. Pin-up girls Big Lou (with her Polka Casserole), Isabel Douglass (with Kugelplex), and Renee de la Prade (who organized the calendar) will all be performing. For those who can’t make it, here are some photos to whet your appetite:

Sansa Asylum  Amber Lee

Isabel Douglass

Putting the Accordion on the Map

Map of Accordion EventsI’ve always loved maps; as a kid, I spent hours poring over National Geographic maps at my grandparents’ house. So I’ve combined two of my favorite hobbies into our new map of accordion events across North America. The map includes all of the events currently listed on our accordion events calendar, from Arcata to Wausau. Just zoom in on your area and click on a pin to get details about a particular event.

Of course, some squeezebox hotspots (New York, San Francisco, New Orleans) have more activities listed than others, and that’s where you come in. If there’s an event in your area missing from our list — your band is touring, your accordion club is meeting, etc. — let us know. With your help, we can build the most complete list of accordion events anywhere!

Look Ma, No Hands!

Sex With No Hands: Squeeze ItFrom Sly and the Family Stone to Tower of Power, the San Francisco Bay Area has a rich history of funk music. I’m willing to bet, however, that Sex With No Hands is the first Bay Area funk band to feature dueling accordions. Nevertheless, this six-piece party band is making a name for itself from China Basin to the Marina with sweaty, high-energy shows and accordion-driven homages to the late 1970s.

Their recent EP, Squeeze This, showcases the band’s eclecticism, echoing the sounds of Parliament, Billy Idol, and a cheesy conjunto in the span of just four tracks. In between the accordions, you’ll hear plenty of keytar, synthesizer, cowbell, and Frampton-inspired talkbox. You can download the full EP for free from their site.

Like any good party band, however, Sex With No Hands is best experienced live. (It’s tough to convey the power of a truly awesome laser light show through an mp3.) Fortunately, you can catch their Halloween bash next Friday night at Ireland’s 32 in San Francisco. Tickets are limited, but you can buy them online.

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