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Squeeze Boxers

Twenty-five years of 'Lady of Spain'


YODELAYHEEHOO Cowboy legend Sourdough Slim brings his accordion and yodeling to Cotati this weekend. - MICHELLE BATES
  • Michelle Bates
  • YODELAYHEEHOO Cowboy legend Sourdough Slim brings his accordion and yodeling to Cotati this weekend.

'Here comes the accordionist in his Cadillac!" This sentence may actually be heard Aug. 22 and 23 at the 25th anniversary of the festival that made Cotati famous—the Cotati Accordion Festival. Today, millionaires and paupers play the supple instrument side-by-side at the fest's famous "Lady of Spain" ring.

It's two days of music—three, if you count a riotous kick-off with this year's honorary director Maggie Martin and her act the Mad Maggies at the Lagunitas Brewery in Petaluma on Friday afternoon. The bizarrely costumed Great Morgani and squeezebox phenoms from Moldova, Sergiu Popa and Stas Venglevski, are on the roster. There's 11 hours of polka in a tent with a wooden dance floor where the music is sweet and Slovenian, as well as a Saturday-night performance by immortal push-polka demons Polkacide (of which Ms. Martin was once a member).

Slavic and Latin Americans lead the pack of maestros, but there's also yodeling cowpoke Sourdough Slim and a reunion of the multi-accordion ensemble Those Darn Accordions. (One never hears of an Everest mishap without thinking of TDA's Alpine tune "There's Another Dumbass on the Mountain.") The headliners of the next 25 years will be performing in a student showcase nearby at the social hall of the Church of the Oaks.

The fest has survived changing times, and even a spot of trouble: the recent conviction of one of the festival's longtime producer Scott Paul Goree on drug charges. (Goree used the Breaking Bad defense, claiming that medical bills drove him to crime.) But this destination festival has popularized the accordion in all its manifold form—from portable 10-button Cajuns to back-breaking three-and-a-half-octave behemoths.

"The accordion is re-emerging from the forgotten," says Maria Protopopov of the band A2TV (two accordions, one tuba, one violin), who will be featured at the fest. "And now, thanks to Roland, they have electronics."

Accordions were once scarce, but today they flood the market, even inexpensively made Chinese numbers from eBay (including a Cotati brand, which I happen to own).

I realized the jokes were over as of this January, when some blue-dyed pixie named Joey Cook played accordion on American Idol. J-Lo gave Ms. Cook one of her richest smiles, instead of screaming, "Get that agony-box off my stage, pronto!" as she would have once upon a time.

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