Not a Bad Moon but Accordions Rising

Accordions rising photo

Dr. William Schimmel is featured in the documentary, Accordions Rising. Photo credit: Linda Rosier; originally appeared in the New York Times

“Once Accordions Rising is released, people everywhere can come to understand that accordions have returned, not only with amusement, but with a beautiful, eloquent, haunting, and downright exciting vengeance!

Just imagine all those who are not “in the know,” and are missing out on so much interesting music. Together we can fix that.”

- Roberta Cantow, Filmmaker

By reading this blog, you are already hip to the fact that accordions rule. Not everyone, however, possesses as much keen insight and good taste as you. Lucky for us, Roberta Cantow does. She gets it. She totally gets it. And she digs accordions–so much so that she made a movie about them. A really kick-ass good movie.

Check out the three minute trailer on her website to see what you have to look forward to once her documentary, Accordions Rising, gets released. Nice, huh? The website also lists the film’s impressive cast of characters, which includes, among many others, Guy Klucevsek, Will Holshouser, and, much to my delight, Walter Kuhr, the beloved former owner of New York City’s Main Squeeze Accordion shop who died earlier this year from lymphoma. He was only 59. I bought my latest accordion from Walter and was completely smitten by his charm whenever I was in his presence. I miss him. I’m awfully glad that a bit of his indelible spirit will live on through this film.

When I spoke to Roberta on the phone last week, she shared lots of stories with me…one involving the hot tip she was grateful to receive from a NYC friend about an event called Angels and Accordions (yes, it’s in the movie, along with lots of other awesome stuff). Think dancers, accordion players, funky flowing costumes, and the oldest cemetery in Brooklyn. Oh em gee. How cool is that? Seriously, that’s reason enough to contribute to the fundraising campaign needed to bring this film to fruition.

This brings me to her fundraising site on IndieGoGo. Up to now, Roberta has funded the research, film production, and editing entirely on her own. She hesitated to ask others for money until she knew it would be a film worth seeing. She realizes now that it is–and after talking with her, I realize that too. With our help she can broadly share this gem of a film, not only with musicians and accordion lovers like yourself, but with those confused and misinformed people out there who still think of the accordion as a punchline to a bad joke. They don’t get it, but they will…after they see the film.

Go to her site and make a contribution. I did. You can contribute any amount–even as little as a dollar. And if you aren’t able to contribute, please at least share the site with your friends on social media so that they might contribute $1 or $5 or $10 or $20, whatever. It takes a village…of accordion players and devotees.

We can do this. With apologies to Creedence Clearwater Revival, I see a bad accordion rising!


Grand Fatilla–the real deal.

I realize that with most readers of my blog, I’m preaching to the converted. The rest of you sad, stupid people out there who think the accordion is nothing more than the butt of a bad joke? Get over yourselves.

The accordion is a serious, sophisticated instrument, and to watch someone like Roberto Cassan play it so masterfully is to witness a thing of beauty. A few months ago (yes, a few months–I’m ridiculously behind on blog posts) I was lucky enough to be invited to Grand Fatilla’s CD release party–thank you, James Gerke! They played to a private audience of their adoring Kickstarter supporters at the oh-so-cool Regatta Bar in Cambridge, MA, and they were spectacular.

A 1992 Los Lobos concert I attended at the now-defunct Flood Zone in Richmond, VA, remains at the top of my list of favorite live music experiences, but watching Grand Fatilla in the Regatta Bar that warm August evening rivaled that rockin’ show. I was positively giddy.

In Cambridge, this quartet of masterful musicians (accordion, electric mandolin, stand-up bass, and percussion/vocals) played a wonderfully funky blend of world music. Think Argentine tangos and Italian tarantellas with some Irish reels and Bulgarian folk tunes thrown in. Oh, and let’s not forget the original tunes, like the song Roberto wrote for his daughter called “Milonga para Lucia.” It made me cry.

Here’s another Roberto original that I caught on tape that night. It’s called “Domenie,” and you need to check out the bellows shake at the beginning. Wow.

Here they are playing another song, in another Cambridge venue, over a year ago. My friend James, who gets major kudos for introducing me to this incredible band, captured this one.

Go to their website to learn more about these first-rate musicians. Then do yourself a favor and click the shop button and buy their CD for everyone on your Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanza list. You’ll be glad you did.

Accordions rule. So does Roberto.

There’s just something about an accordion.

The accordion cast a strange and joyful spell on me when I first picked it up and strapped it to my chest, six and a half years ago. I remain completely intoxicated. It makes me gleeful, it makes me insane; it can undo the benefits of a chiropractic adjustment after one Saturday afternoon practice session. But I love it more than I can say.

And clearly, I am not alone in my affliction. One of my favorite actresses, Mary Steenburgen, took up the accordion (and songwriting!) at age 60. She describes her love affair with the accordion this way: “I will tell you this. I am obsessed with it. I love it beyond belief. There’s something about it that just appeals to me–I don’t know why.

You can watch the entire segment that aired on CBS Sunday morning a few months back–it’s pretty cool. The stuff about the accordion starts at 7min. 14 sec.

I also stumbled across this quote in a Chicago Tribune article about musician Ami Saraiya:  ”About five years ago, I picked up the accordion. It’s like having a symphony in your hands (laughs). I picked it up and I was in love. It’s very rhythmic, and since I grew up playing piano, it came very easy. Playing guitar, it was never as linear — I never quite felt comfortable. Our music is very circus-y, very gypsy — it has a real French cabaret element — and so (accordion) fits right in.

And it’s not just the chicks that feel this way. Read this beautifully written article by my accordion friend, David Magliozzi, where he writes about the intimate relationship he has with his accordion–it’s on page 4.

Finally–we hear from one of my accordion idols, Dallas Vietty, a phenomenal player and frequent subject of accordiontokaren blog posts. I was lucky enough to hang with Dallas one evening last summer at the accordion festival in NYC’s Bryant Park. Before he took off, I begged him to share a few words of wisdom on the fly for my blog. He so eloquently complied.

This is why I dig the accordion.

Bonus video: My friend Barry and I playing accordion on a Friday night in his happy, colorful kitchen. Barry (another frequent subject of accordiontokaren posts) is crazy good, which is why I would happily spend every Friday night in his kitchen. At one point, some of his talent is bound to wear off, right? Or at the very least, he’ll make me sound better.

Assorted Accordion Awesomeness

I am woefully behind on my accordion posts. Blame it on a crazy work and travel schedule, a cracked cast iron sewage pipe that resulted in a kitchen re-renovation (don’t ask), and the heat and humidity of a Richmond, Virginia summer so oppressive that  I can barely complete my ABCs, much less a blog post. Sigh.

So in lieu of a thematic blog post, I will simply share a few random nuggets I’ve collected over the past few weeks. Have a look, and in some cases, a listen, and enjoy.

Cool Accordion Stuff (in no particular order)

1. A special shout out to my buddy, Jared Miller, who told me about this super cool video by the band, OK Go. It goes without saying that it features the accordion. But as a special, super fun bonus, it also features the entire Notre Dame Marching Band.

2. My buddy Jared Miller also gets credit for this next nugget. Jared doesn’t even play the accordion, but he has an uncanny ability to find great accordion stuff. I like Jared. I also like this comic.

3. Here I am outside the Northwest Arkansas airport, testing my accordion to make sure it wasn’t jostled in the overhead bin. I played a tiny little snippet of Waltz Across Texas, the only song I know from memory, and the two passersby actually clapped and asked for more. Northwest Arkansas rocks.

Karen at NWA airport









4. Playing the accordion ain’t easy. But here are two cute Bavarian twin girls who sing AND play accordion, all the while zipping around the dance hall on roller skates. Um. Don’t try this at home.

5. Yesterday was Bastille Day, so here is my friend Barry playing a lovely version of Mon Amant de Saint John. He recently performed this and other beautiful tunes while busking in Carytown in our fair city. Barry has a great blog called the delicious accordion. Check it out for more accordion awesome sauce.

6. Finally, if you haven’t already seen it, read this fabulous NY Times article that says what I’ve been saying in accordiontokaren for over two years now. I’m heading to NYC in August to check out some of the accordion playing in Bryant Park, so stay tuned for a post!


Music is even more fun with a friend

Playing music is a joy.

That’s what my friend Barry said during our conversation in his kitchen on a recent Friday night…a conversation that included dual accordion playing, lots of stopping and starting, laughing, more laughing, and drinking Jamaican Red Stripe beer along with some awesome rum and cokes made with Mexican cola and Myers dark spiced rum.

It was a very good night.

And just like playing tennis with a better tennis player will no doubt improve your serve, playing accordion with someone who plays  better accordion than you will doubtless improve your squeeze game.

I hope Barry is prepared for me to come over every Friday evening. ;-)

Here’s a taste of our night. I can’t wait until next time.