Too many accordions to count

Karen at festPhoto credit: Gary Cowling.

Two weeks ago, I was standing in midtown Manhattan’s Bryant Park on a beautiful summer evening, listening to 30 musicians simultaneously squeeze out New York, New York on their accordions.  Are you kidding me? I was positively giddy.

A New York Times article is why I ended up there in the first place (read the article now if you missed my earlier post). The article highlighted a summer-long effort to expose the masses to the rich diversity of accordion music–it ain’t just oom-pah-pah. Apparently, all summer long, musicians have been gathering on Thursday nights to perform every accordion genre you can think of.

Klezmer? Absolutely.

Conjunto? Sure.

Gypsy Jazz? Brazilian? Cajun? Yep, yep and yep.

As an accordion evangelist it was my duty to attend. So as soon as I booked my Amtrak reservation and arranged to drag my New Yorker friend Gary along with me, I immediately began fantasizing  about how fabulous the experience was going to be.

Here’s the thing though. Whenever I wildly anticipate how crazy fun something is going to be, it isn’t. Seriously–nearly every time I think to myself, ‘this is going to be fucking awesome’, it most decidedly is not.

But this time it was.

I was there for over 5 kick-ass hours, but here’s a 9 minute snippet I edited together to give you a feel for the magic. Check it out.

By the way. The crazy talented guy playing gypsy jazz on the video is Dallas Vietty. Dallas lives in Pennsylvania (lucky for Pennsylvanians), but it was my good fortune that he was teaching a workshop at the annual meeting of American Accordionists’ Association that day, so we got to hang out in NY. He pops up on this blog frequently, but if this is the first time you’ve heard of him, do yourself a favor and check out his website. The dude  accompanying him on guitar is Ben Wood. Ben plays in a NYC Gypsy Jazz band called Franglais. New Yorkers can check him out in Brooklyn this Friday night–details are on his Facebook page. 

Summer is officially over as are the Thursday night accordion happenings. But they will return next year and so will I. Best part–I think my friend Gary may be inclined to go back, too. We ran into a friend of his in Greenwich Village the next day and after mentioning in conversation that we had been to an accordion festival the night before, his friend was like, “Oh man, I’m sorry. I bet that was a laugh riot [heavy sarcasm inflection].” But Gary got all in his face and was like, “Yo, bee-atch, it was fun. You should have been there.”

Whoa, I’m impressed. : ) I think I have a convert.

Accordions rule.


I love social media

usemeIt’s no secret that I dig the accordion. But guess what? Lots of other super cool folks from all across the planet dig it too. And through the magic of the Internet, I actually know who these fellow accordion aficionados are. How fabulous is that?

Here’s how it works. A guy named Jense Meek from Amsterdam commented on my recent blog post about playing in Barry Bless’ kitchen. He liked it. Thanks, Jense! More importantly, in the process of commenting he exposed me to his blog–I then spent my entire morning getting happily lost in it.

Now I’m going to share his blog on my blog and so on and so forth. We need to spread the accordion love.

He does this wonderful thing where he records himself doing an accordion cover of a song and then follows it with a video of the original. I shrieked with delight when I saw he had done an accordion cover of Macklemore’s Thrift Shop, one of my favorite new obsessions.

Check it out. You’ll love it.

This one is super great too.

Great job, Jense. Keep the faith!



Dining the way it used to be

Do you like hearing beautiful accordion music while you dine in a lovely setting reminiscent of some far-away exotic place?

Of course you do—that’s why you’re reading this blog.

Do you like good food? Who doesn’t? Yummy Middle Eastern food, especially? Do you like charming and handsome restaurant owners who make you feel like you were invited to someone’s super cool home to have dinner? Are you in Richmond (or will be)?

Then you must go and go swiftly to the Phoenician Restaurant at 4401 W. Broad Street. If you go on a Saturday night, you are likely to hear my friend Barry playing the accordion. You should go there even if he isn’t playing, but if you go when he is, you’re in for an extra special treat.

Here’s a tiny sampling of the beautiful music you can expect to hear why you dine on some kick-ass Lebanese food.This particular night, my former accordion teacher and player extraordinaire Bob Jacobs sat in for a bit, too.


Just visit Barry’s blog, The Delicious Accordion, for a schedule of when he’s playing at the Phoenician. This restaurant is one of Richmond’s best kept secrets. Seriously—go visit Nagi at the Phoenician and start off with some Baba Ghannouge, Fateyer Cheese and some Musaka.

Food for the body and music for the soul.

P.S. When Barry isn’t squeezing out the solo tunes, he’s playing the accordion with Richmond’s incredible Ululating Mummies, who just happen to be playing their annual New Year’s Eve gig at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens tomorrow! 2-4p.m. Get more detail. Barry also plays with another fab local band, the Richmond Indigenous Gourd Orchestra (RIGO). Ted Salins recently created a wonderful little video about RIGO. It’s on YouTube. Check it out.

She’s not just the heart of the band—she’s the kidney, too.

If you’ve read even one of my posts over the last two years, you know that I dig accordion players. And it’s no secret I want the entire world to dig them, too. Yes, I’m talking world domination. But for now, I’ll settle for providing you with one more ounce of indisputable proof that accordion players are some of the super-coolest people on the planet.

Meet Meredith Pangrace.

I first became acquainted with Meredith when she, after stumbling upon one of my blog posts, sent me this Facebook message: “Sending you a friend request from one lady accordion player to another. I’m new at it, too, and have the same passion. Let’s make it cool again!! : )”

I couldn’t click that friend confirmation button fast enough. Here she is playing my fav instrument.

That was March of this year. Fast forward to August, when I noticed a pile of I-hope-you’re-feeling-better postings on Meredith’s Facebook wall. Alarmed that my new accordion pal might be sick, I dug around a bit only to discover that she wasn’t ill, but recovering from an operation at the Cleveland Clinic. She had just donated one of her kidneys to a friend and bandmate—a friend, I later learned, that she first laid eyes on less than two years ago.

The crazy thing is that when I’m not waxing ecstatic about accordions and accordion players by night, I’m writing about organ allocation policy by day. I work at United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) as a member communications specialist and I know a thing or two about organ donation, especially what we call “living donation”—the type of donation where a friend or family member donates their kidney or part of their lung or liver.

So I ring Meredith up and talk for an easy 45 minutes to a young woman who is every bit as cool and nice as I instinctively knew she would be. In the process, I also get exposed to a crazy-good band called Maura Rogers and the Bellows. Needless to say, through this blog post you will get exposed to them too. You can thank me later.

I talked with Maura as well and have pages and pages of notes from my conversations with both of them.  But since this is a blog post and not a master’s thesis, I’ll have to give you a super-condensed version of their super-great story. The following events occurred roughly between April 2011 and August 2012.

  1. Meredith falls fully in love with the accordion (it happens all the time) and wants more, so she responds to a Craig’s List post from a talented singer/songwriter (that would be Maura) who is forming a backup band and specifically looking for a female accordion player.
  2. Meredith responds; it’s an instant adoration fest for all involved. But during practices she notices that Maura is always freezing and bundled up and, despite her unrelenting energy, she sometimes appears weak. Turns out Maura was born with only one kidney. In 2006, that one good kidney starts to crap out, so the doc told her she’d soon need a new one (as in organ transplant). By the time she met Meredith that lone kidney was wearing out fast.
  3. Within months of their first meeting, Meredith discovers she is the same blood type as Maura and thinks, hmmm? Are you getting the idea that Meredith is super cool?
  4. Many of Maura’s eight siblings undergo the testing process to become living donors and all are eventually ruled out because of kidney issues of their own. Maura’s wonderful sister-in-law steps forward to become a donor, completes the required testing and schedules August 8th as the transplant date. Antigen matches are big in kidney transplant. Maura’s sister in law is a 1 in 6 antigen match—not bad. Meredith, too, steps forward, despite the fact that Maura already has a donor. Her tests show she is a 4 out of 6 antigen match. Wow.
  5. One week before Maura’s sis-in-law is scheduled to donate her kidney, all parties agree that Meredith’s kidney is the best fit. On August 8, Meredith and Maura become not only band mates but also “bean sisters.” Maura has a wonderfully written blog, The Bean in My Side, that chronicles her journey of receiving an amazing gift. Read it.

A few weeks ago, the bean sisters, along with the rest of the band, performed on stage for the first time since the transplant. Here’s a taste of their performance that night at the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland, OH.

I’ve had to leave out so many fabulous details, but you get the gist—life, like accordion music, is beautiful and full of unexpected gifts.

If you are curious about organ donation or living donation, in particular, you can check out these websites to learn more:

Donate Life America

Transplant Living

Enjoy these pics of the bean sisters as well as some additional YouTube links of their performances. Here’s a video from their first CD released in July 2012.


And here is Maura singing solo.

I really really like Maura’s voice and her songs and I’m delighted that Meredith’s healthy and strong kidney will allow her to write many more. Thanks Meredith. You rule…but then again, accordion players always do.



Dyngus Day Will Rock Cleveland Once Again

Ok, so I realize that new blog posts on accordion to karen have been increasingly scarce. For that I am sorry. I especially apologize to my three faithful readers, which include my husband, my mother (well, my mother if she had a computer) and some random prisoner who because of good behavior has periodic access to the internet. I’m honored that he chooses to read my blog. New readers are always welcome and encouraged, of course.

Anywho, life of late has been kicking my ass (never-ending work, home renovations, lessons with a new accordion teacher, everyday basic crap), leaving precious little time for truly important stuff like updating a blog destined to bring the cool back to the accordion. This must end.

I may not have time to write, but I do have time to post some kick-ass cool videos.

First check out DJ Kishka’s wonderfully creative and entertaining ad for Dyngus Day 2012 on YouTube. It’s freakin’ hilarious.

How I wish I were a) Polish and b) going to be in Cleveland on April 9. Alas, I am neither. Heavy sigh. But if you are lucky enough to a) actually be Polish or b) live in Cleveland or anywhere within a 60-mile radius, you best polka on over to one of the Dyngus Day events at one of Cleveland’s polka-loving drinking establishments. Na Zdrowie.

I discovered this next video courtesy of an accordion facebook friend of mine–thank you James Gerke. I’m actually a member of four accordion groups on facebook. Take that guitars!It’s a lovely, lovely short film (well worth the 12 minutes–trust me) about a 40-year-old man rediscovering what brings him joy. I love this film. I think you might too.

The Necktie by Jean-François Lévesque, National Film Board of Canada