The 28th Annual Cotati Accordion Festival squeezed into La Plaza Park last weekend with a heavy turnout to the tune of over five thousand individuals.
In the American mainstream pop or rock-n-roll world, the accordion is not common. You just don’t see them in bands and they don’t hang in a lot of instrument stores either. So seeing so many of these strangely designed instruments on stage and displayed in the vendors’ tents sparkling new and playfully mysterious was an awesome sight. But seeing them is one thing - the accordion’s sound when one truly listens to it is mesmerizing and conjures one’s free spirit and stirs joy in one’s heart.
“That’s the one thing people mention more than anything else, is how much joy is in the park,” said Scott Goree, Executive Director of the Cotati Accordion Festival. Goree took over as Executive Director of the festival in 2004 when original founders, Clifton Buck-Kaufmann and Jim Boggio retired. Anyone familiar with the accordionist statue in the La Plaza park? That’s Jim. It has become a representation of the festival itself and of the Cotati musical community in general.
Goree and festival co-producer, Linda Conner, work all year booking musicians, lining up vendors, working with the city and designing the program. Lisa Benz is coordinator of over one hundred volunteers. Many more contribute their time to the festival’s success.
“It’s really a lot of fun and it’s really a joy to see all the smiles and how happy everybody is,” said Goree who has incorporated the help of his wife and two daughters who volunteer at the festival every year.
The Cotati Accordion Festival is a non-profit organization established in 1991 to promote the love of the accordion and to support local youth service organizations. As of last year they had contributed nearly $500,000 to the youth of the community. Proceeds are donated to the Cotati / Rohnert Park Education Foundation, the Thomas Page music program, the Outdoor Education program at Penngrove Elementary, the Nursery School Cooperative, who incidentally provide security and Boy Scout Troop #4, who set out donated hay bales for seating and do the generally gritty work. Many more volunteers make the festival possible.
The average American may associate the accordion with local genres: cajun, tejano, zydeco, jazz or polka music. But the accordion is used in hundreds of countries for as many types of music: Merengue of Dominican Republic, Inuit of Canada, Tango of Argentina, Tarantella of Italy, Trot music of Korea, Norteno of Mexico, Baladi of Egypt, Horo “Xopo” of Bulgaria and Klesmer of Eastern Europe and the list goes on and on.
Over three days there were uncountable variations of accordion music at La Plaza, representing hundreds of genres, countries and cultures. Cotati’s is a tiny festival compared to many around the world but the musicians attending those are typically regional and play the same genre of music. By Goree’s research, Cotati’s is the largest multi-cultural accordion festival at least in the western United States, as he purposely brings in accordionists and genres from all different cultures.
“The last six years or so, the festival has become known world-wide. This year there were world class performers that came from Germany, Italy and Finland. The accordion world is a very close world,” Goree explained. “Accordion people know about each other. Performers come to Cotati from other countries just for this festival. Netta Skog, arrived from Finland where she plays primarily ‘battle metal’, which is the Finnish version of ‘heavy metal’ music.” (Little known fact, arguably the “father” of heavy metal, Jimi Hendrix’s first instrument was the accordion. It’s true.)
“The Accordion Festival [and music in general] has become is a big part of the city’s history and identity,” said Goree. (Cotati was the city who had music notes added to the sound barrier walls along 101.) He went on to say, “A lot of respect to the music community in general is paid by the city of Cotati. [And] the Accordion Festival being the biggest festival of the year, has become the hub that it all spins off. It’s just a general uplifting of spirits. It’s a community event and people working together. And of course the central part is the accordion but you don’t even have to be an accordion fan to come to the park and experience it all.”
There’s definitely a vibe of happiness and good will at the festival. Goree concluded, “It’s the general joy you experience going through the festival. You know, joy is contagious!” Maybe the love of the accordion is contagious too?