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International Accordion Festival revived in San Antonio

Written by , published June 18, 2013

The celebration of the button-box will return to La Villita in San Antonio the weekend of September 14-15 following a one-year hiatus. Admission is free.

The lineup for the 2013 edition—the 12th year of the festival—looks to be as diverse as ever, with bands representing styles ranging from zydeco to French, Klezmer, Dominican, Balkan, Peruvian, Conjunto, and Middle Eastern.

“To us, the accordion is a way that communities can come together that maybe wouldn’t normally, and to learn about different musics and customs through something that everybody recognizes and likes,” says Cathy Ragland, the festival’s artistic director and a professor of ethnomusicology at the University of North Texas.

I’ve attended about half of the previous editions of the International Accordion Festival. I keep going back because the festival is a rare opportunity to see an internationally diverse line-up of talented musicians playing roots-based music; the picturesque outdoor setting at La Villita with its plazas and historic adobe structures along the San Antonio River Walk; and the accessibility of the family-friendly event, which can draw sizable crowds but doesn't get uncomfortably overcrowded.

For this September’s event, Ragland says she looked for both traditional acts and those offering contemporary interpretations on ethnic accordion music. To name a few, there’s the Petrojvic Blasting Company, a young and energetic Los Angeles band specializing in Eastern European music; Chicha Libre, a New York act that has revived a rural Peruvian cumbia that was popular in the 1960s and 70s; and Norbert Slama, an accordionist of French Algerian birth who plays classic Gypsy jazz and French musette.

Ragland says a few factors led the nonprofit festival to take a break in 2012. The festival’s finances suffered throughout the economic recession, including the loss of some sponsors. Also, heavy rains during part of the 2011 festival cut into attendance and the sale of important revenue-raising concessions, such as beer. Third, the festival underwent a transition in leadership as Ragland took a bigger role.

The 2013 festival will be smaller than years past. There will be two stages, down from four, and there will be no Friday night show.

Ragland says festival directors were motivated to revive the festival by an outpouring of public interest when the 2012 event was scratched.

“A lot of people didn’t want us to let it go, so we responded to that,” she says. “We’re working with the funding we have right now, but I think it will grow.

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