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The Main Squeeze: Accordion Culture

The fifth installment of our Texas music series focuses on the accordion, a key ingredient in polka, conjunto, zydeco, and more.
Music runs deep through Cedryl Ballou’s veins. He now leads Cedryl Ballou & the Zydeco Trendsetters, which features his grandfather, blues guitarist Classie Ballou, his father, Cedric, on bass, and his aunt Cacean on drums.

Accordion: derived from the German word akkord, which means “agreement” or “harmony.” One recent October morn, as I stepped toward Maverick Plaza in San Antonio’s La Villita district—site of the annual International Accordion Festival—I felt suddenly... harmonious. As the bouncy sounds of New Braunfels’ Jubilee Polka Band reached my ears and set my stride in tempo, I noticed my mood turn curiously... agreeable.

All that weekend during the festival, an eclectic mix of performers kept the good times rolling with a variety of distinctive genres, all of which featured the accordion, affectionately known as the squeezebox. The music included Cajun, conjunto, zydeco, Western Swing, Texas Czech, and more. The Gypsies, a group from Hous-ton, added an Eastern European flavor, and the Alamo City’s Aniceto Molina played vallenato, an indigenous music from his Colombian homeland. Brave Combo, from Denton, irradiated the dance floor with its own concoction, dubbed “nuclear polka.”

The International Accordion Festival offers a concentrated primer on squeezebox diversity every fall (October 16-17, 2004), but you can savor the instrument’s expressive tones year round in Texas at roadhouses, churches, fairs, and fiestas. As Austin filmmaker Hector Galán, producer/director of the 2001 documentary Accordion Dreams points out, America has lately “rediscovered” the accordion through a “renewed interest in grassroots, regional musical styles.” That theme resounds in the 1,000-member Texas Accordion Association, which features performances by a 50-accordion orchestra at its annual convention in Richardson. The instrument has also caught the ear of many of the state’s finest rock and country artists. The ensemble backing Jimmie Dale Gilmore in a Tonight Show with Jay Leno performance, for instance, included Texas squeezebox legend Ponty Bone.

“Of the genuine, community-based folk music traditions that still exist in Texas,” explains International Accordion Festival coproducer Pat Jasper, “many are based on the accordion.” Those traditions began in the mid-1800s, a mere generation after the instrument’s 1820s genesis in Vienna and Berlin. Immigrants from Germany, Poland, and Czechoslovakia brought accordions to Texas and soon were waltzing and polka-dancing under New World skies.

TH Essentials

Polka

National Polka Festival (May 28-30, 2004).

Westfest takes place Labor Day weekend (Sep. 4-5, 2004). Write to Box 65, West 76691; 254/826-5058; www.westfest.com.

Wurstfest takes place Oct. 27-Nov. 7, 2004. Write to Wurstfest, Box 310309, New Braunfels 78131-0309; 800/221-4369; www.wurst fest.com. For information on New Braunfels polka bands, visit www.nbtx.com/pblofnb.

To subscribe to the monthly Texas Polka News ($20 per year), write to Box 800183, Houston 77280; 713/468-2494.

For a wealth of information on polka and Cajun dance and music, visit John and Marlys Rivard's home page: www.angelfire.com/folk/polka.

Conjunto

The annual Tejano Conjunto Fest (May 6-8, 2004) is held in San Antonio's Rosedale Park, at 340 Dartmouth. Write to the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, 1300 Guadalupe St., San Antonio 78207; 210/271-3151; www.guadalupeculturalarts.org.

San Benito's annual Narciso Martínez Cultural Arts Center Conjunto Festival usually takes place on the weekend closest to Sep. 16 (2004 date not finalized at press time). The center offers accordion classes on Thursdays at 7 p.m., and broadcasts a weekly radio program, North of the Border, in the Rio Grande Valley. Write to NMCAC, 225 E. Stenger, San Benito 78586; 956/571-3325.

Look in your bookstore or library for Puro Conjunto, ed. by Juan Tejeda and Avelardo Valdez (Univ. of Texas Press, 2001), and The Texas-Mexican Conjunto–History of a Working-Class Music by Manuel H. Peña (Univ. of Texas Press, 1985).

To order a videotape of Hector Galán's Accordion Dreams, send a check for $34.95 (includes postage) to Galán Inc., 5524 Bee Caves Rd., Ste. B-5, Austin 78746; 512/327-1333; www.galaninc.com. Visa, MasterCard, and American Express also accepted.

Cajun

Pe-Te's Cajun Bar-B-Q House (11902 Old Galveston Rd., Houston 77034-4841; 281/481-8736) hosts live music and sells Cajun and zydeco recordings, books, videos, and more.

Cajun French Music Assn., www.cajunfrenchmusic.org.

Zydeco

Look in your bookstore or library for The Roots of Texas Music, ed. by Lawrence S. Clayton and Joe W. Specht (Texas A&M Univ. Press, 2002), which includes Roger Wood's essay on zydeco.

Sales/Tunings/Repairs

Accordions Unlimited Natasha Geddie sells used accordions and also directs the Al Trick Accordion Band. Al, a former vaudeville accordionist with 120 accordion studios around the country, spent his final years in Dallas. Write to Vikon Village Flea Market, 2918 S. Jupiter Rd., #A1016, Garland 75041; 972/783-9512; www.accordions.com/areunlimited.

Accordion Rose Al Trick's daughter, Rose Trick Oliver, tunes and repairs accordions in Port Aransas; 361/749-7329; www.accordions.com/rose.

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