Squeeze-box score

International Accordion
Fri-Sun, Oct 13-15
La Villita
As Pat Jasper talks about this year’s International Accordion Festival, a Polish folk group called Kapela Marian Pelka is en route from Eastern Europe to Houston. Jasper is driving from San Antonio to meet them. She is quick to point out that at least a couple of members of the group have never set foot on an airplane, much less made an intercontinental trip to North America.

But the Accordion Festival specializes in uniting wildly disparate cultures linked by a shared devotion to an esoteric instrument, and Jasper, the festival’s artistic director, thrives on moments like these. More than ever, the festival, in its sixth year, is earning the “international” portion of its name by bringing musicians from Brazil, China, and Poland to the Alamo City. Jasper says she has always sought to feature a strong international presence at the festival, but the cost of bringing musicians to the United States was so prohibitive that she tended to focus on international artists who had already relocated to the United States. That changed last year, when the festival received funding support from the Trust for Mutual Understanding, a foundation dedicated to bringing talented artists to this country from far-flung parts of the world.

“They funded us to bring last year’s Czech ensemble,” Jasper says. “And we were supposed to bring the Polish ensemble as well, but we got the funding so late that the Polish ensemble could not get their papers in time. That was okay, because we had never done anything that intensive before.”

Jasper says the foundation’s support has allowed her to find musicians she would have never known about without a budget for travel.

“Marian Pelka’s band is from a tiny village in Poland,” she says. “They would never have come, if I couldn’t have gone over there, introduced myself and sat in their living room and drank, I swear to God, at least 17 shots of vodka in the course of an afternoon.

“I’m a folklorist, and I get to experience a lot of great things because I meet a lot of great people, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a better time in my life than sitting in the living room of this incredible Polish accordionist, surrounded by his family, and being feted all day long.”

Jasper says there’s a second, more gratifying reason for the Accordion Festival’s geographic expansion. In its first five years, she says, the festival’s reputation has spread to some unlikely places, and Jasper now finds that many revered performers from other parts of the world seek her out. A classic example is the Renato Borghetti Quartet, a group that specializes in the gaucho music of southern Brazil.

“They play stadiums in Brazil,” Jasper says, still audibly amazed that she was able to book the band for the festival. “I had to do some fancy footwork. By comparison to what they’re used to, they’re coming for almost no money, but for them, this is such an exciting opportunity.”

Borghetti, like many of the festival’s showcase artists, is fascinating because his work simultaneously feels familiar and exotic to anyone raised on South Texas music. On tracks such as “Milango Para As Missoes,” his fluid button-accordion runs evoke the French tradition one minute and Tex-Mex conjunto the next. He also incorporates jazzy electric guitar in the spirit of Wes Montgomery.

Perhaps the festival’s greatest novelty this year is the introduction of Helen Xu and Zong Ti Lin, a Chinese husband-and-wife team with roots in both Beijing opera and the regional folk music of China.

“He plays the jinghu, which is essentially the lead instrument in Beijing opera,” Jasper says. “It’s a very strident instrument. There’s only one in the lineup of the opera because it’s got such a strong tone, you don’t need more than one. He met Helen when she came to be a pianist and violinist with the Beijing opera.

“She learned the accordion just as a matter of course. Apparently, the accordion is one of the most popular instruments in China, but it became doubly important because they were sent into the countryside to perform for the masses during the Cultural Revolution.”

This year’s festival will include several closer-to-home accordion icons, such as conjunto master Flaco Jimenez, Joel Guzman, Mingo Saldivar, and Sunny Sauceda. It will also spotlight the brilliant Austin roots-rock combo the Gourds, the closest thing this state has ever produced to the gutbucket virtuosity and democratic spirit of The Band. The festival will also take a small step toward Jasper’s ultimate goal of scheduling three accordion-themed concerts a year at alternate venues by introducing a Friday-night Cajun and Conjunto Kick-off at the Arneson River Theater concert featuring Saldivar and the Gulf Coast Playboys.

The link between Louisiana and Texas music dominated the spirit of last year’s festival, which occurred barely a month after Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast and resulted in the relocation of thousands of New Orleans residents to San Antonio. This year, that link is more subtle, but still unmistakable. In some cases, it’s hard to determine where one state’s sensibility ends and the other’s begins. For example, zydeco hotshot Cory Ledet is from Texas, but recently moved to Lafayette, Louisiana to absorb that city’s zydeco roots. And the Gulf Coast Playboys hail from Texas but play music with a Louisiana accent. In the new book Texas Zydeco, Roger Wood makes the case that it was in Houston, not New Orleans, that “black Creole immigrants and their descendants first prominently fused the old French Louisiana folk music known as la-la with urban blues” to create zydeco.

“Katrina and Rita made all of us wake up to the reality of lives that were suddenly in our own backyard, but the Texas-Louisiana connection is formidable, and has always been formidable,” Jasper says. “At the festival, we’re always addressing that connection.”


12          Brian Marshall & the Slavic Playboys, Maverick
              Workshop: Balkan Breakdown, Juarez
              Mario Pedone
, Bolivar

1215      Fandango Dance Troupe, Arneson

1230       Jam with Ed Poullard, Nacional

1             Joaquin Diaz & Shati (Merengue), Maverick
               Youth Clinic with Sunny Sauceda,

130         Shirley Johnson (Croatian), Nacional
               Workshop: Polish Traditions, Juarez
               Helen Xu & Zongti Lin (Chinese) , Arneson

2             Peter Stan & Balkan Fantasis (Serbian), Maverick
               The Gourds (Americana) , Bolivar

230         Texana Dames (Texas eclectic), Nacional
               Les Primitifs du Futur (Musette), Arneson

3             Corey Ledet Zydeco, Maverick
               Workshop:Latino Traditions, Bolivar

330         Peter Stan & Balkan Fantasia (Serbian), Nacional
               Kapela Marian Pelka (Polish) , Arneson

4             The Fabulous Shpielkehs (Klezmer), Maverick
               Shirley Johnson (Craotian) , Bolivar

430         Brian Marshall & the Slavic Playboys, Nacional
               Workshop: L’Alliance Francais et Americain, Juarez
               The Gourds (Americana), Arneson

5             Texana Dames (Texas eclectic), Maverick
               Open Mic, Bolivar

530         Kapela Marian Pelka (Polish), Nacional
               Joaquin Diaz & Shati (Merengue), Arneson

6             Renato Borghetti Quartet (Brazilian), Maverick

630         The Fabulous Shpielkehs (Klezmer), Arneson

7            Tres Conjunto Kings: Flaco Jimenez, Joel Guzman & Sunny Sauceda, Maverick

730        Corey Ledet Zydeco, Arneson

8            Les Primitifs du Futur (Musette), Maverick

830        Renato Borghetti Quartet (Brazilian), Arneson

9            The Gourds (Americana), Maverick

1000      Tres Conjunto Kings: : Flaco Jimenez, Joel Guzman & Sunny Sauceda, Maverick


12           Peter Stan & Balkan Fantasia (Serbian), Maverick
               Workshop: Free Women & Free Reeds, Juarez
               Open mic, Bolivar

1230       Jam with Daniel Colin, Nacional
               Kapela Marian Pelka (Polish) , Arneson

1             Texana Dames (Texas eclectic), Maverick
               Youth Clinic with Corey Ledet, Bolivar

130         Poor Man’s Fortune (Celtic), Nacional
               Workshop:Lo Mas Merengue, Juarez
               Renato Borghetti Quartet (Brazilian) , Arneson

2             Brian Marshall & the Slavic Playboys, Maverick
               Kapela Marian Pelka (Polish), Bolivar

230         Shirley Johnson (Croatian), Nacional
               Helen Xu & Zongti Lin (Chinese) , Arneson

3             Poor Man’s Fortune (Celtic), Maverick
               Workshop: Polish Song Swap, Juarez
               Shirley Johnson (Croatian), Bolivar

330         Texana Dames, Nacional
               Corey Ledet Zydeco, Arneson

4             The Fabulous Shpielkehs (Klezmer), Maverick
               Helen Xu & Zongti Lin, Bolivar

430         Brian Marshall & the Slavic Playboys, Nacional
               Workshop: Accordion Kin, Juarez
               Les Primitifs du Futur (Musette), Arneson

5             Corey Ledet Zydeco, Maverick
               Jam with Poor Man’s Fortune, Bolivar

530         Jam with Peter Stan & Michael Nika, Nacional
               Joaquin Diaz & Shati (Merengue) , Arneson

6             Los Desperadoz (Conjunto), Maverick

630         Peter Stan & Balkan Fantasia (Serbian) , Arneson

7             Renato Borghetti Quartet (Brazilian), Maverick

730         Los Desperadoz (Conjunto) , Arneson

8             Les Primitifs du Futur (Musette), Maverick

830         Renato Borghetti Quartet (Brazilian), Arneson

9             Joaquin Diaz & Shati (Merengue), Maverick