I own an accordion, but I wouldn’t say I know how to play it. (I once told an accordion player whom I was interviewing that calling me “a fellow accordion player” was like calling someone a doctor because they owned a stethoscope.)
Accordions, as you may know, have a piano-style keyboard on one side of the bellows and rows of buttons capable of playing a different chord or bass note on the other. Any damn fool with a working knowledge of piano can play the keyboard side, and that’s usually the case whenever an indie-rock band’s keyboardist straps on an accordion—they don’t bother with the baffling arrangement of buttons.
True accordion players, on the other hand, can work all kinds of magic with those buttons. I once watched an award-winning polka bandleader up close, and his fingers were blazing up and down both sides of the instrument, working in concert to produce music in a way no other instrument could.
That’s the sort of mastery I expect will be on display at the Cotati Accordion Festival on Saturday and Sunday. Just off U.S. 101 in Sonoma County between Petaluma and Rohnert Park, Cotati (population 7,265) has been turning its unusual hexagonal downtown plaza into a mecca for accordion fans for 21 years—an annual tradition that apparently grew out of nothing more than one well-connected, civic-minded citizen’s admiration for a locally recorded accordion album.
What impresses me about the festival, other than its mere existence, is its diversity. Bands of all genres that prominently feature accordion are invited to perform. Headlining the event is Those Darn Accordions, a San Francisco rock band featuring four—four!—”extreme squeezeboxers” backed by a rhythm section that does everything from Led Zeppelin covers to goofy originals. The bill includes at least three more San Francisco bands that combine traditional accordion music with rock ‘n’ roll: Irish folk-rock band Culann’s Hounds; more general accordion-driven folk-rock band The Mad Maggies; and Polkacide, which answers the eternal question, “What happens when you mix punk and polka?”
- Russian folk-rock band Limpopo from Los Angeles
- Western swing accordionist Ginny Mac from Texas
- Jazz accordionist Guy Klucevsek from New York
- World champion accordion virtuoso Cory Pesaturo from Rhode Island
- Concert accordionist Mary Tokarski from Connecticut
- Oakland solo accordion project Duckmandu, which gained fame with a note-for-note version of an entire Dead Kennedys album
… not to mention dozens more bands playing traditional polka, Italian, Cajun, Gypsy, conjunto, tango and Arabic music. Frankly, it’s one hell of a versatile instrument.
- What: Cotati Accordion Festival
- When: 9:45 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 20 and 21
- Where: La Plaza Park, Old Redwood Highway at Cotati and Sierra avenues, Cotati
- Cost: $15 per day or $25 for both days, children 15 and younger admitted free with an adult
- Ticket link