Singing, dancing and accordion playing in the “Before Times”—Oy vey!

I’m still trying to picture an autumn in Richmond, Virginia, that doesn’t include the Richmond Folk Festival. That picture is sad, silent, colorless, and signed in the corner by the disaster artist COVID-19. Thanks, COVID. Your painting sucks.

But before, for three nights and two days, every October since 2005, the banks of the James River were covered with first-rate musicians from across the globe. Wildly happy (and sometimes soaking wet) spectators would sit in chairs or on blankets listening to insanely great music from every genre you could imagine (and some you didn’t even know existed). Combine that with dance tents, CD sales, food and beer trucks and, always, always, the rumbling musical accompaniment of a coal train, rolling by as it blows its haunting and beautiful diminished-key horn.

In other words, that’s one more reason why October is magnificent in Richmond.

For a tragically good reason this year, Richmond will not be jamming tens of thousands of spectators into one area (albeit sprawling and outdoors) for them to sing, dance, and shout, shoulder to shoulder. As awesome as the Folk Fest is, that would be a very bad idea.

To soothe my soul, I’ve been poring over folk fest videos from previous years that I’ve captured on my phone. This next video I’ve watched over and over.

Yes, it features the fine accordion playing of Patrick Farrell with the Klezmer band Winograd’s Nue Tanzhoyz Kapele. Oh how I love me some Klezmer. But it also captures the spirit of the entire fest. It’s a seven-minute video, but I bet you’ll end up watching the whole thing. Not just because of my husband’s fine video work (he grabbed my phone to record when I jumped up to dance) but because the band, the dancers, and the spectators are all having so much dang fun. Their joy is infectious, so join them and dance in your kitchen if it moves you!

Enjoy this taste of Folk Fest 2011.

When this happened nine years ago, I was only a couple of years into my strange accordion addiction. I loved hearing it, anytime, anywhere, but my playing was a bit tortuous still, and I sure as hell didn’t know any Klezmer songs. I couldn’t even attempt one. Nine years later, I’m still happily addicted (rehab didn’t work, mom!) and, guess what—I’ve learned a cool Klezmer song called Odessa Bulgar. Thanks, Dallas Vietty, for teaching it to me.

The virtual folk fest will take place October 8 – 10. Enjoy it with your friends (six feet apart) and your favorite beverage in your backyard. And don’t forget to wear a mask and wash your hands.

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.

Head-banging accordion music. More, please.

If the music world had more Alex Meixners, the accordion would not be suffering from an image problem.

Karen & Alex at fest

Seriously–this guy is the best thing to happen to polka since DJ Kishka. I discovered the Alex Meixner Band  last fall at the always phenomenal Richmond Folk Festival. I now count him among my most revered accordionists. Trust me, I wasn’t his only new fan–the crowd was digging him.

During the 3-day festival, Alex performed no less than four one-hour sets, which included an accordion workshop where he performed with four other ridiculously talented accordionists from all over the world. I never saw him when he wasn’t drenched in sweat. Watch this video…you’ll understand why.

How many accordion players do you know who can move seamlessly from Guns N’ Roses to the “Clarinet Polka” without skipping a beat? Alex Meixner can do it and then turn around and play a kick-ass version of the “Moldau” by Czech composer Bedrich Smetana.

If anyone was Accordion to Karen blog-post worthy, it was this guy. Lucky for me, he was kind enough to give me an interview, literally minutes after he walked off stage. Listen and enjoy–you honestly couldn’t meet a nicer guy.

He’s busy touring right now, so check out his website for a complete schedule. If you’re lucky he’ll be playing in a city near you. My Cleveland friends can catch him tomorrow night (Dec. 10) at the Beachland Ballroom and Richmonders can hear him on Dec. 15 during a special performance at Plan 9 in Carytown! Christmas is coming, and his new CD, Three Ring Circus (available at Plan 9, naturally) makes a great gift. Buy one already!

This band makes me wish I lived in Denton, TX

I already dug Brave Combo but now I dig them even more.


Two words: Ginny Mac.

She’s a twenty-something, accordion virtuoso from Ft. Worth, Texas and she is rockin’. You see, if there’s anything better than one accordion player, it’s two, which makes her the perfect addition to the kick-ass Texas band, Brave Combo, founded by the madly talented Carl Finch.

I first saw her last August when Brave Combo returned to the great Blob’s Park Bavarian Beer Garden and Dance Hall in Jessup, MD. Quick side note: We need more dance halls in this country, people! Especially in Virginia. See what you can do about it. In the meantime—major props to Blob’s for fighting the good fight. But I digress.

I knew how good the show was going to be—Joe and I had seen them in the same venue, from the same table even [strategically next to the bar], two summers before.  Being a mad Brave Combo fan and knowing the crazy-fun night ahead of us, I was understandably jazzed when Carl Finch passed right by our table, so, um…I had Joe trip him. Not really—I just leaned slightly his way, waving and smiling like an idiot and he kindly postponed refilling his beer to talk with us for a moment.

Aw shucks, Carl. : )

I told him about my accordion-friendly blog and how it was designed to bring the cool back to the accordion and he said, “Oh it’s back, baby, it’s back!” Or something to that effect. He may not have actually called me baby, but that’s how I like to remember it.

Anyway, he told me I should definitely talk to Ginny after the show and I did. Stay tuned for my recorded post-gig interview with her later in this post. She’s delightful. If she can’t bring the cool back to the accordion, then we’re screwed. But lucky for us, she’s up to the task.

Finally, if you don’t know of Brave Combo or Blob’s Park, you should. Seriously. Don’t waste another day going without either. It’s hard for me to describe just how much fun Brave Combo is to listen and dance to. But maybe this four-minute sample of their nearly three-hour performance last summer at Blob’s will give you an idea.

Finch founded the band in 1979 and they have been performing in front of die-hard fans ever since. I found a cool video on their official website that gives you a little insight into this salsa, meringue, rock, cumbia, conjunto polka, zydeco, cha cha, blues band.

Last but not least, the lovely Ginny Mac on all things accordion. Thanks for the interview, Ginny! Here’s her website. You can like her Facebook page, too.

Ginny and me after the show.

I couldn’t believe my luck

So, it was already almost too good to be true. I happened to be in Manhattan for the 50th birthday of one of my best friends. Gary could have been born any old day, but he happened to have been born on November 4, which placed me in the Big Apple the very same weekend my fav band Golem was playing at the Union Pool in Brooklyn (see previous post).

Are you kidding me? What are the odds?

If that wasn’t enough–and believe me, it was– I arrived to find that not one but TWO fab bands were playing that night and that the opening band featured…just wait…an accordion player.

Are you kidding me?

It gets better.

The opening band was good. Kick. Ass. Good. The Japanese Gypsy Rock band Kagero, founded and led by Kaz Fujimoto, (yeah–I had never heard of Japanese Gypsy rock either but it rocks) is now one of my favorites. Their bass player Rob (a super nice guy) gave me one of their CDs, which remains in high rotation during my work commute. Too bad my office is only 3.5 miles from my house.

I’d be hard pressed to say which songs are my favorites because I like them all–seriously. But I can’t get the words to My Daddy is a Thief out of my head and I also dig My Little Bonita and 2 +1 Is Almost 5. You can sample some songs from their website or you can watch some of their performance right now to see if you dig them as much as I do.

I was so distracted from such a great night of music, in fact, that I left the bar with a Japanese Gypsy groove in my head and hopped on the subway without my driver’s license AND my credit card. The bartender had it. I was running a tab. Oops. I remembered with a bolt at 7a.m. the next morning while staring at the ceiling of my room in the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott.

Of course the bar didn’t open until 5p.m. and my train back to Richmond left at 3. But props to Union Pool for keeping my cards safe and big props to my friend Gary who rode the subway BACK to Brooklyn from Manhattan the next day to retrieve them for me. I’ve got good friends.