What is it about accordions and Massachusetts?


Performance by the accordion orchestra during Open Mic Night
Photo by Stewart Dean

Well, damned if I didn’t have another amazing time at another freaking accordion camp in the great state of Massachusetts. What are the odds? Apparently they are pretty effing good.

Just when I thought my musical week at the Cape last year couldn’t be topped, I experienced the Northeast Squeeze-in, a relatively undiscovered gem of accordion get-togethers known as NESI.

Picture a mid-September weekend in a rustic campground in Western Massachusetts. Add some great grub, a plentiful supply of BYOB, endless jamming, an open-mic night, a contra dance, a late-night pub sing, an accordion orchestra—the list is endless. Throw in 80 or so of some of the nicest, smartest, quirkiest, most talented, and humble humans I’ve ever met, and that should give you a slight idea of what made this far-too-short weekend so unforgettable. I was positively over the moon.

NESI scheduleThe workshop part of the weekend was spontaneous. There was something for everyone, regardless of their skill level. The attendees are also the instructors, so if you want to teach something, you simply write it on a Post-It note and add it to the board.

The hard part was deciding which workshops to attend. You had your pick of topics like French musette folk songs, accordion repair, jazz improvisation, Klezmer, even French folk dancing (that was a freaking blast; the folks who weren’t dancing were making the music for us to dance to).

I have to mention again how talented and kind these attendees were. It wasn’t enough for most of them to play just one instrument. They had to play two, three, or even four. Uhm…seriously? That’s just showing off. But here’s the rub. They made people like me, someone who is still struggling to play just one instrument, feel welcome.

I glommed on to some of those talented people during my performance at the open-mic night, which was a bit of a turning point for me. I never enjoy performing on stage with an accordion–it brings on Asian flu-like symptoms and unrelenting hot flashes. But this time I had a freaking blast. Here me and my wicked-cool pals Dave, James and Meredith perform Tico Tico. And, yes, James is playing four instruments—accordion, clarinet, a foot-pedal cabasa, and a samba whistle. If I didn’t dig him so much, I’d want to punch him.

Here’s a bit more of open-mic night.

Hours of Contra dancing followed the performances and after getting ridiculously sweaty I ventured into the main cabin for a cold beer (or two) and the late-night pub sing. Hot damn, this was fun.

I felt like I was reuniting with old friends instead of hanging out with a bunch of strangers. The entire experience also reminded me  of how lucky I am to be hopelessly devoted to the accordion. This beautiful but largely under-appreciated and misunderstood instrument has exposed me to so much delight in this world. I suppose there might be some accordion-playing dirtbags out there, but I haven’t met one.

Accordions rule.

P.S. Stewart Dean took some amazing photos of the event. You can find them on his Flickr page. 

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!

Happy Lucky Combo Releases New CD!

Two weeks ago I was working in my back garden and cranking Happy Lucky Combo’s brand new CD, Lucky Buddha. Incidentally, the Buddha residing under my Japanese Maple wore a serene expression approaching nirvana, due in no small part, I’m convinced, to the kick-ass tunes emanating from this long awaited new recording.

Where do I start?

I was prepared not to like the first song (Chinese Go Go). Nothing against Antonio Begonia’s amazing voice, but I had previously heard Stephen Williams of the Ululating Mummies perform it live with the HLC boys and I dug his version so much I couldn’t imagine it any other way. Although my heart still belongs to Stephen’s version, I was blown away by Antonio’s beautiful and haunting voice–she complements the musicianship flawlessly. And Oriental Bulgar–omigod. I can’t listen to this song without snapping my fingers and breaking into a MIddle Eastern wedding dance–not that I know any Middle Eastern wedding dances but the music inspires me to fake it. Kudzu Temple affects me the same way. So many good songs–I think my favorite may be Empty Orchestra. It just makes me happy.

Let’s face it. Happy Lucky Combo gets a lot of shout outs in this blog because of Barry Bless’ awesome accordion skill–it’s an accordion blog after all. But my favorite drummer, Pippin Barnett, who also produced this lovely CD, and stellar bass player, Dave Yohe (the three of them form the happy–and lucky–combo) make Barry’s squeezebox sound even squeezier.

They smartly invited several fabulous guests to join them on this CD, including major accordion talent (and my former accordion teacher!) Robert Jacobs; baritone sax player Emily Avesian; Christopher Hibben of Gourd Orchestra fame; and even Barry’s wife and 11-year-old twin daughters who kick butt in the chorus of Sakura, a traditional Japanese song celebrating the cherry blossoms.

It’s a cool CD. Buy it, listen to it, and get your dance on. You won’t be able to help it. Bruce Triggs and Rowan Lipkovits–if y’all are reading this, a copy of the CD is on its way to you.

Richmonders can hear HLC this Friday night from 8-10 at Stir Crazy (no cover!) on MacArthur. And you can buy a CD while you’re at it. See ya there!

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


Christmas at the Happy Dog

Since it’s technically still the Christmas season–there are 12 days of Christmas after all–I thought it only appropriate to showcase this holiday video created by a friend to polka lovers everywhere, the Reverend DJ Kishka. Na Zdrowie, brother!

How the Kishka Saved Christmas, the not quite authentic Polish folk tale, was experienced firsthand by everyone lucky enough to be in Cleveland on December 16. For those unlucky folk among us, including me, here’s a 3 minute teaser of what you missed.


Polka on, Christmas elves!