By Cathleen Twardzik
The Second Somerville Squeezebox Slam, presented by The Nave Gallery and the Somerville Arts Council (SAC), will occur on June 15 from 1–6 p.m.
The event will feature “accordions, button boxes and other freestanding, reed instruments.”
Additionally, Redbones barbeque food and arts and crafts will be available for purchase.
Be sure to bring your own sqeezebox for the “Accordion Stroll,” and participate in a walk through Somerville.
The day will begin at 1 p.m. with the “Accordion Stroll,” and it will finish with a concert, which will be given by accomplished accordionists. The concert will begin at 3 p.m. in Davis Square in Seven Hills Park.
How was Squeezebox Slam born? “The idea came from Susan Berstler of the Nave Gallery. She was inspired by the “performance art” – for lack of a better term – action that took place in NYC. Around 2009, they placed a number of pianos throughout different areas of Manhattan, inviting anyone to play them, in essence creating spontaneous art. Berstler wanted to have a day where hundreds of accordionists came out and strolled throughout the city of Somerville. Creating a festive, if not surreal, experience for the locals,” said Michael McLaughlin, Curator of Squeezebox Slam and Accordionist.
Lady Kielbasia will be the concert’s host. She “is an Accordion-playing Drag Lunch Lady. She’s been voted Best Drag Queen with an Accordion in San Francisco, and she was named Provincetown’s Family Favorite. After a long and illustrious career in cabaret, burlesque, and shameless private party entertainment in San Francisco, Provincetown, LA, and New York City, she is now semi-retired with her kitty and garden in Somerville,” according to the SAC website.
The concert will showcase Grand Fatilla, the band in which Roberto Cassan is the accordionist. The additional acts will be Ralph Tufo, Sandy Theodorou, Cory Pesaturo and Marié Abe Sextet.
The initial Squeezebox Slam took place in Union Square in September 2011.
“This year, the move to Davis gives us the park, which I am very excited about. Less traffic noise and more space for people to convene,” said McLaughlin.
“The most exciting thing for me is that the Massachusetts Accordion Association (MAAA) and the Accordion Connection are joining us. Bringing in the MAAA brings in a large number of accordion fans and players. In many ways, this festival is for them. On a personal level, having the Accordion Connection come is like bringing in family. They have been my supplier and technicians of my own instruments since the ‘90s, and this is my small way of sharing something with them and the public, and saying ‘thank you,’” he said.
At Squeezebox Slam, individuals will have the chance to swap techniques, repertoire and ideas, as well being offered an opportunity to receive care and repair tips and to learn more about the makings of the instrument.
Diversity is at the heart of the selection of the bands that will participate in the event. “We have two women performers this time around. Diversity is the key to a successful, interesting concert, and since Somerville is a very diverse community, we try to mirror that,” said McLaughlin.
Other music festivals that will completely feature accordions will grace western Massachusetts at the Northeast Squeeze-in. The Mass Accordion Teachers Association has such an event in April, and the MAAA has meetings and gatherings.
“I think that this is merely just a different approach. It’s outdoors, we’re taking the “world music” angle, as well, and it’s in Somerville. So, it has a little more quirkiness to it.”
At the age of eight, Roberto Cassan, Accordionist, began his accordion-playing journey. Prior to that instrument, he learned guitar with a six-string, which his parents gave to him, and he participated in several lessons. However, guitar did not quite light a spark for him. After that, Cassan’s parents presented him with a red accordion. Then he took some lessons, and he has been playing for 42 years to date.
“As far as ‘the best part’ of being a performer, in my opinion, is when you manage to capture the full attention of the public and create a channel where emotions can travel back and forth from the performer to the audience. The reality of this fantastic instrument: it is deeply connected to the popular and folk tradition of almost every culture in this planet, but it is also present in more sophisticated musical styles,” said Cassan.
Ralph Tufo, Accordionist’s grandfather, who also played the accordion, served as an inspiration to his grandson. Tufo began piano accordion lessons at the age of five, and he has played on a professional level since age 25. For the past 58 years, he has played the piano accordion. In addition, he is a self-taught Cajun accordion player, as well as concertina player.
“The best part of my being a performer is to watch people in the audience enjoying themselves listening or dancing to my music. Once, when I played at the Museum of Fine Arts courtyard, over 300 people spontaneously stood up, clapped, and sang along to the chorus of one of my songs. It was very inspirational,” said Tufo.
Sandy Theodorou, Accordionist, who set aside her accordion “for decades,” decided to revisit her squeezebox ability and started to play the accordion again approximately eight years ago. At that time, Greek music called to her. Her parents grew up in Greek villages.
“I love the way Greek music and dance express and encompass the life-embracing, passionate attitude of a people who have endured and celebrated an incredibly rich history,” said Theodorou. “I play regularly with wonderful Greek bands: Meraki, traditional Greek music, and Rebetoparea, Greek urban blues. This event has given me a chance to play with more incredible, local musicians: the legendary Mal Barsamian, on oud and guitar, and Phil Papadopoulos on bouzouki. Papadopoulos is of the band Ta Dilina. Playing the music I love so deeply in this company, in the context of a gathering of accordion lovers, is just a thrill,” she said.