|History, tradition keeps CAF fresh
Festival still has quirkiness and charm in spades
It’s the same every year that I’ve lived here: those tall chain link fences and bright orange detour signs that appear overnight for one weekend in August. The sound of harmonizing accordions carried through the neighborhood by the light Sonoma County breeze, reminding nearby residents that just a few blocks away a multicultural frenzy has arrived. Even at 9:15 in the morning, lines of people stretch for two blocks from every entrance as they wait to place their chair in view of the small stage in La Plaza Park for Cotati’s 23rd annual Accordion Festival.
Many summer events seem to consist of a smattering of people whose faces you never see again and the same teriyaki chicken rice bowl you could have purchased at the mall for half the price. Cotati however, always manages to hold its own when it comes to providing a personable experience, eager to boast its rich musical history and ability to stand out among the depths of Wine Country.
Making a round of the food vendors is a cultural experience in itself, revealing the labels of many familiar storefronts such as Sol Azteca, Sally’s Tomatoes and the placid-eyed pit-bull of Lagunitas. As well as some still building a name for themselves; my out-of-country experience crescendoed somewhere between the sound of Venetian accordion music and my first bite of a fresh cannoli from Mama Baretta’s Bakery.
Beyond the fundamental cravings of the fair-like atmosphere though, is an overwhelming sense of history and the community’s strong urge to keep it alive for years to come – an achievement confirmed by the many generations present. Whether it was the three-year-old getting her face painted, the teenagers selling raffle tickets or the elderly man who danced despite his confinement to a wheelchair, there seemed to be a niche for everyone.
With names such as Renzo Ruggieri, The Great Morgani, The Mad Maggies and Motor Dude Zydeco, the Accordion Festival successfully transported me from my hay bale in La Plaza Park to experience at least five different countries.
Just as Lady of Spain-A-Ring begins calling participants up for the next performance, I find myself staring down at the guts of a disassembled accordion strewn across a table. Jack, who has been with the Golden State Accordion Club for over four years, says the key to learning how to play is to “squeeze fresh daily,” a phrase that is embroidered across the back of his shirt.
“Fifty million people wouldn’t be playing this instrument if it were that hard,” he tells me, noting the vast amount of countries accordion music spans across.
Its simplicity is tough to grapple with a pile of springs, switches, cloth, wood and plastic before me, the pieces of which were supposed to congregate as one in order to emit that flawless stream of music coming from the stage behind me. Each set of buttons is responsible for a singular component of music making the accordion quite literally an entire symphony between the palms of your hands.
A stunning red crochet cape drapes casually across the statue of Jim Boggio, drawing the unfamiliar to pause and read the plaque below the founder’s likeness. Since his death in 1996, Boggio’s laugh-etched face has gazed loyally toward the small downtown hub of Sonoma County, reminding us that despite being on our way to work or school, that it is important to relax, smile and play on.