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!


Mood Music

accordion and dogsOn Easter Sunday, my friend Sara Adduci snapped this kick-ass pic. It is, without a doubt, my favorite picture of me playing the accordion ever. Thank you, Sara. :-)

She subsequently posted it on Facebook. Some of the comments were as funny as the picture, so I figured I should share the love (so to speak). Enjoy.



“Damn accordion will do it every time.”

“Lady and the Tramp, after the spaghetti dinner?”

“Were you playing Teddy Pendergrass?”

Now there’s a polka!”

“Putting the poke in polka.”

“This may be the best pic of anyone playing the accordion ever.”

“You totally made my day!”

Bahahahahahahahahahaha. What were you playing to inspire such behavior?!”

“Wait, you know how to play Beyonce’s Drunk in Love!?”

“The dogs must have thought you were playing a poke-ya instead of a polka!”

“Or maybe they thought you were playing Hope You Poke Me instead of the Hokey Pokey.

Ha! Now go out and enjoy some accordion music. But please, behave responsibly.

Accordions rule.

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.

Best. Vacation. Ever.

And one summer…at accordion camp…. :)

So through the wonders of social media, I was able to snag an invite to a kick-ass, week-long private party that I shall forever more refer to as accordion camp. I’ll never fully understand how I wrangled this much sought after invite, but I will be endlessly grateful to the accordion gods (and my new BFF James) for making it so.

Picture this: a small vacation home on Cape Cod filled with friendly, funny, and fun musical folk. Add to that a solid week (morning, noon, and night) of hearing the strains of accordion (and occasionally trumpet and flute) music so beautiful that it nearly made me weep. Seriously—I heard jigs or waltzes while I was brushing my teeth or drinking my coffee.

But it wasn’t just the music…it was the people who made it. It felt less like a random collection of folks who loosely knew each other, than it did a group of dear friends who had liked and known each other for a very long time.

Crazy good it was.

But so were the skill levels of most of the folks there. If you’re me, the problem with playing (or trying to play) with folks that good is that you’re inclined to throw your accordion in the depths of your closet and never retrieve it again. I mean, why bother? The other alternative is to learn from the generous and talented souls you have recently become acquainted with and work your ass off to become a better player. I chose the latter.

I came late to this rodeo. I’m almost 52, and I didn’t pick up an accordion until I was 46. But I love it more than I can say, and much as I would sometimes like to, I can’t put it down—not for any length of time anyway. I plan to take full advantage of the talents of my fabulous new friends. I’ll do what they say, I’ll listen to who they tell me to, and I’ll practice every day. And I’m pretty sure I’ll get better. It’s just like tennis or or golf or softball or any sport for that matter. If you force yourself to play with someone far better than yourself, it will smart for a while and you’ll miss the ball and feel like a doofus, but eventually you’ll get better. Truly, you will.

This video montage gives you a tiny taste of the quality folks I hung out with all week. These are the people I learned from. I adore them.

My very talented accordion husband, Barry (not to be confused with my actual husband, Joe) also came to the party with me. He was so inspired by the magic that he composed a theme song within 48 hours after he arrived home.

In summary—just make a point to play with other people. You don’t have to get invited to a kick-ass private party on the Cape to play with other people, although I’m ridiculously delighted that I did— Thanks again, accordion gods (and James!). Just call up some musical friends and invite them over to your house.

Have fun making music with others, and keep getting better. We’ll do it together.

Accordions rule.

So many accordions…so little time.

It’s a warm and beautiful 4th of July weekend and the last time I updated this blog the sky was chilly and grey. That’s just sad. It’s certainly not for lack of material. In fact, the moment I sat down to write this post (I kid you not) I heard the beautiful wail of the accordion on NPR. Old Crow Medicine Show was on Garrison Keillor to sing their new song, Sweet Amarillo. It’s sweet, indeed, and the accordion accompaniment makes it that much sweeter. Bob Dylan actually handed this unfinished tune of his over to Old Crow. Here’s their official video.

You can find this song on their new album Remedy available in these ways:

OCMS store:

If you liked that, you’ll probably dig the Felice Brothers. This is one of my favorite new (to me) Americana bands–a shout out to my pal, Andy Swartz for turning me on to them. Just enter Felice Brothers on YouTube and you’ll find lots of songs as awesome as this one. James Felice is the accordion player of the trio. Quite frankly, I don’t understand why every band doesn’t have an accordion player.

Bringing it a little closer to home, I was yet again treated to the truly original sound of RVA’s own Happy Lucky Combo this holiday weekend. While hanging out at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens on a lovely Friday afternoon, my husband and I heard this equally lovely tune by Barry Bless. Ahhh, deliciousness.

But wait, there’s more. Just last night, local honky tonk band, Andy Vaughn and the Driveline had their CD release party at Hardywood Brewery. Here’s a snippet of my friend Slim Stanton, who occasionally stops playing Pedal Steel long enough to wail on the accordion conjunto style. Country music and accordion go together splendidly since anywhere you can saw a fiddle you can squeeze an accordion.

Happy Trails.