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.

More Accordion in 2013

Happy New Year, Blog Readers!

Just wanted to wish you well and give you a shoutout for reading these posts.

Thank you.


By reading them, you’re doing your part to bring the cool back to the accordion…and that’s a damn noble pursuit. The secret, actually, is that the accordion never really lost its cool in the first place. You know that, of course, because you’re smart and savvy. But some folks aren’t onto that concept yet, so you need to forward them these posts when you see or hear something you like. Then they’ll tell two friends, and those two friends will tell two friends, and, well, you get my point.

Share the love. Share the squeezebox. Keep the faith.

Finally, since it’s New Year’s Day, I learned how to play Auld Lang Syne. I’ve always loved that song, even though I have no idea what it means. Take a listen and Happy New Year!


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.



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!