It's a Free For All!

Accordion Wrestling
By Gary E. McKee

The Hot Peppers: (L-R) Bill Seim, Bob Ascott, Rambie Briggs, Rollie Revering at the 2014 Free-For-All./CTAA photo

The Central Texas Accordion Association will host its 15th annual Accordion Free-For-All, Tuesday, June 7, at 7 pm. The program is being held in the Lamar Senior Activity Center on 2874 Shoal Crest Ave, Austin.

          The crowd-pleasing program features 10 to 12 accordionists who are given approximately 10 minutes each to showcase their skills, as well as one or two accordion bands. This year's event will feature special guest Chris Rybak, the Accordion Cowboy. All genres of music, such as country and western, big band, polkas, and European styles will possibly be performed. Some accordionists perform solo and some have a rhythmic backing musician.

          "We also have had yodelers, singers, concertinas, diatonic accordions, and piano accordions, says CTAAA President Rollie Revering. "Musicians of various talent levels play while still keeping close to a professional level. And of course, a jester of some kind to bring a few laughs.

         The CTAA, 40 members strong, meets monthly at Casa Chapala Mexican Restaurant for programs and jams. The Association was a sponsor of the Texas Folklife's Big Squeeze Contest promoting youth accordion skills and is a chapter of the National Accordion Association.

          Remember June is National Accordion Month so come on down to see what all this squeezing is about.

Celebrate with Accordion Stars in Vegas

The 16th Annual Las Vegas International Accordion Convention will be held June 22-25, 2015, at the Gold Coast Hotel located at 4000 West Flamingo Blvd., in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Sponsored by Accordions International, this year celebrates the return to a summer event with the theme “Summer Solstice.”  Notable this year is nearly a complete new lineup of accordion stars!

Two-time Grammy winner Riders in the Sky (Nashville, TN) is set to open the event on Monday evening, June 22.  Grayson Masefield (Zurich, Switzerland), five-time world champion and the only person to have won both the Virtuoso and Entertainment categories of the prestigious Accordion Coupe Mondiale (CIA) will be performing Tuesday evening.  Also set for Tuesday evening, Mary Tokarski (Northford, CT), Accordions International 2015 Honorary Director will be performing.  The famous group EUROPA (Orlando, FL) will be performing Wednesday evening plus the legendary Joey Miskulin will appear.  Thursday evening will feature the 8th installment of the Las Vegas International Accordion Orchestra under the direction of the esteemed Joan Cochran Sommers. 

Completing the lineup of stars are Paul Betken (Phoenix, AZ), Jerry Cigler (Chicago, IL), Gina Brannelli, Gordon Kohl, Stas Venglevski, plus Vegas comedian Pete Barbutti!  There will be dancing Wednesday night to Europa. 

Registration fee for the event includes 7 superb Las Vegas banquet meals with concerts plus over 40 workshops and master classes taught by top experts.

Visit for complete pricing options, or contact the Las Vegas International Accordion Convention at +1 801-486-1695 for personal assistance. 

Garrett Neubauer: Polka Accordion King

By Gary E. McKee

For almost a decade, Texas Folklife has been hosting a Big Squeeze accordion competition spotlighting young accordionists across Texas. The competition in 2014 marked the first time that grand prize winners would be selected in three categories – polka, conjunto and Cajun/zydeco. Big Squeeze winner in the polka category was Garrett Lee Neubauer of Altair. Garrett has been playing accordion since the age of 12. When his father, Daryl, passed away prematurely, he felt that the best way to honor him would be to pick up his father’s accordion and learn how to play it. His father had been an accordionist in the Tony Janak Polka Band. Between managing a rice farm, and playing, Daryl took time to guide a young Mark Hermes (of the Czechaholics) on the art of playing accordion. When Garrett made his decision, Mark returned the family favor by showing him around the keys of Darryl’s accordion, which had once belonged to Bobby Jones. Lawrence Ruether, Garrett’s grandpa, also played the accordion and taught him some songs. As Garrett’s skill increased, other members of the Czechaholics, Brian Klekar and Greg and Brian Svetlik mentored Garrett on the intricacies of music and performing. I remember going backstage several years ago at a Czechaholics gig at SPJST Lodge 88 in Houston and finding Garrett playing along while behind the curtains, learning the songs.

Down by the Pond    
Down a sandy country road that leads to a lush, serene oak grove that Garrett calls home, he would spend evenings practicing while sitting in the yard or out by the stock pond. He has ample time for this as he works in the maintenance department at Rice School district just five minutes away. Both he and his dad graduated from there. His neighbors, Gladys and Joe Salinas, big polka fans, would enjoy the notes floating across the cow pasture in the evenings.

As Garrett’s confidence and licks improved through the many hours of practice, he was asked more frequently to sit in with the Czechaholics and Texavia. The Tony Janak Polka Band has reformed as the J & S Playboys, and Garrett sits in occasionally to fill his father’s shoes. Though he loves playing all genres of music his favorite is the Czech polkas and waltzes that he grew up listening to his father play.

His desire to learn more about the unique instrument grew and now he owns four keyboard and two button accordions including the one he won at the Big Squeeze competition. In case anyone stops by and wants to jam, Garrett also owns an electric bass guitar, a keyboard, an electric six-string guitar and a set of drums. The six-string guitar is what he spends more time on now as he is still in the learning stage.

Big City Venues
The Big Squeeze competition broadened Garrett’s horizon as he went from playing the smaller Central Texas venues to performing at the Bob Bullock Texas History Museum in Austin and then in front of thousands of people at the Miller Outdoor Theatre in Houston at the annual Accordion Kings & Queens event. The large audience did not intimidate him. “I just got up there and did what had to be done.” The competition gave him a chance to see and talk to outstanding accordionists his own age playing Cajun and conjunto styles. The 2015 Big Squeeze performance will give Garrett a chance to perform once again at the big venues and to turn over his title as Accordion King to a new young performer. Garrett has some advice for those novices: “The accordion is a difficult instrument to play and the only way to master it is to practice, practice, practice.”

The Texas Dream Band, a country/polka band out of Hallettsville is Garrett’s regular gig now, playing keyboards and accordion in this band composed of the offspring of other country/polka musicians. But whenever he isn’t playing with Texas Dream, Garrett can be found with his accordions ready to take the stage wherever polka is happening. There is no doubt that his father would have been proud.

[Editor’s note: Garrett Neubauer performed at the 2015 Big Squeeze Finals on April 25 in Austin, where Brandon Hodde of Holland, TX, was crowned the new polka accordion king. Both will perform at the 26th Annual Accordion Kings & Queens event on Saturday, June 6, at Miller Outdoor Theatre in Houston.]

Texas Folklife to Pay Tribute to Texas Accordion Pioneers

It has been 25 years since Texas Folklife began popularizing the accordion, the state’s “national instrument,” and Texas roots music in the now anticipated annual concert at the Miller Outdoor Theatre. All genres of accordion music will be included in this year’s festivities, with performances by Ginny Mac, Mark Halata & Texavia, C.J. Chenier & the Red Hot Louisiana Band, and as part of the anniversary extravaganza, the second generation of conjunto pioneers – Rio Jordan, Flavio Longoria, and Juan Longoria Jr. with Conteño and Los Halcones. In addition, the newly crowned 2014 Big Squeeze Champs will be on hand to perform and celebrate. The new champs are: Garrett Neubauer, Grand Prize Winner for the polka category; Randall Jackson, Grand Prize Winner for zydeco; and Aaron Salinas, Grand Prize Winner for the conjunto category.

The star-studded affair will take place on Saturday, June 7, at 6:00 p.m., and will be co-emceed by writers and radio hosts Joe Nick Patoski and Tony Diaz. The festival is free and open to the music-loving public. Festivalgoers wanting seats in the pavilion area can pick up their free tickets the day of the festival at the Miller Box Office or become members of Texas Folklife and receive reserved tickets in advance. 

This year’s dynamite bands include Houston’s own Mark Halata & Texavia. Known for his musical style that has been called “Czexan,” or Texas-Czech polka, Halata has perfected the Texas-style polka with strains from communities with their roots in Europe—Moravia and Czechoslovakia—with some Louisiana Cajun and zydeco thrown in. On the stage on this very special night will also be C.J. Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band. With his Grammy-nominated 2011 album Can’t Sit Down, his musical heritage, and over twenty years of recording history, C.J. Chenier is loved by audiences and critics alike, and has been dubbed “the crown prince of zydeco,” by the Boston Globe. Chenier is of course the son of the late “King of Zydeco” Clifton Chenier, whom he accepted a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award for at this year’s Grammys. Western Swing Accordion Queen Ginny Mac will also grace the stage with her exceptional singing, squeezeboxing, and multitalented, soulful musical style.

The special anniversary program will pay tribute to second-generation conjunto and Tejano pioneers Rio Jordan, Flavio Longoria, and Juan Longoria Jr. with Conteño and Los Halcones. Esteban Jr., Esteban III, and Ricardo Jordan carry on their father’s legacy with his band Rio Jordan. Esteban Jordan (1939-2010) is widely regarded as a pioneer in conjunto music who greatly expanded the boundaries of the diatonic accordion. The three brothers draw on their rich conjunto heritage plus add influences from jazz, rhythm and blues, salsa, and zydeco, as they perform across the state and throughout the southwest. Flavio Longoria is the son of Valerio Longoria (1924-2000), National Heritage Award winner and major innovator of Texas conjunto along with Narciso Martinez and Santiago Jimenez Sr. Flavio played the saxophone while his brother Valerio Jr. played the drums in their father’s band during childhood. After his father’s death, Flavio picked up the accordion and has formed his own band Flavio Longoria y Los Conjunto Kingz. Juan Longoria Jr. of Brownsville, Texas Folklife’s first Big Squeeze Champ, is the son of Juan Longoria Sr., who along with his brothers performs in the band Los Halcones, a conjunto Norteño band that has played across South Texas and the border region for more than 30 years. Juan Jr. has carried on that tradition with his own band Conteño. In addition, Juan Jr. has now passed his accordion playing skills on to his son Juan Longoria III who last year made it to the semifinal stage of the Big Squeeze accordion contest. The Longoria family with its three-generation accordion stars is a testament to the strong family traditions that are alive in the state and Texas Folklife’s role in preserving and promoting those traditions.

Texas Folklife will also honor Mary Thomas, the “Texas Queen of Zydeco,” and sister to the late Clifton Chenier, with the Star of Texas Folklife Award for her many years of work helping to preserve and promote zydeco music, which is traditional to both Texas and Louisiana.    

“This is a banner year for Texas Folklife,” said Executive Director Cristina Ballí. “It is our 30th anniversary and it is the 25th anniversary of Accordion Kings & Queens. The annual concert was started with the idea of promoting the accordion and its role in the different genres of roots music found in the state. It has become a full-out celebration of that music, featuring musical legends and current stars, but it also has become the breeding ground for the next generation of culture bearers with our Big Squeeze Champs taking to the stage. Most importantly, it is a joyous night of savoring performances by the kings and queens of the accordion, with much dancing and merry-making, all under the stars in Houston, Texas. I hope many folks will come out this year to help us celebrate this very important birthday.”  

Big Squeeze Accordion Contest expands search for top talent

This year's Big Squeeze Contest sponsored by Texas Folklife is going to be bigger and better this year. Instead of one grand prize winner, three will be chosen, one in each category - Polka, Zydeco and Conjunto. Yay! The Texas Folklife folks had been trying to figure out a way to encourage more polka and zydeco contestants and I think this is a great solution!

Here are the details:

Texas Folklife announces its eighth annual Big Squeeze accordion contest for up-and-coming Texas musicians, 21 years of age or younger. The non-profit that endeavors to preserve and promote Texas’s diverse cultural heritage is looking for great players in all genres of the Lone Star State’s accordion-based music, including German, Czech, and Polish polka; Creole, Cajun, and zydeco; and conjunto, norteño, and Tejano. 

In order to better nurture young Texas talent, Texas Folklife is restructuring the popular contest this year. The contest will go on the road again this spring in order to meet the young accordion players in their communities in “talent showcases.” Three Final Grand Prize Winners will be devoted to the three main accordion genres—polka, zydeco, and conjunto. The polka genre will include German, Czech, and Polish traditions. Zydeco will include Creole and Cajun musical traditions. And conjunto will include norteño and Tejano. The showcases will be free, open to the public, and feature performances by local musicians.

The Big Squeeze 2014 talent showcases:

·      February 1:    Houston Creole Festival

·      February 8:    La Joya High School

·      February 9:    McDonald Public Library in Corpus Christi

·      February 22: Texas Polka Festival & Symposium in Schulenburg

·      February 23: MECA [Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts] in Houston   

·      March 23:      Latino Cultural Center in Dallas

·      March 29:      Los Fresnos High School

·      April 4:          Gallista Gallery with Conjunto Heritage Taller in San Antonio

Nine finalists (three from each genre) will be chosen from the field of performers at the showcases (and those who send in their performances to Texas Folklife) by a panel of esteemed music professionalsAccordionists will be judged on their technical proficiency—skill in playing, and technical and musical accuracy—as well as their song interpretation (stylistic choices, innovation, and originality) and stage presence (level of comfort on stage and attention to personal appearance). The nine finalists will be announced on April 11.

The finalists will perform at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin on Saturday, April 26. Three Grand Prize Winners will be selected. There will be one winner for each accordion category—polka, zydeco, and conjunto. All three winners will perform at Texas Folklife’s highly acclaimed annual Accordion Kings & Queens Festival at Houston’s Miller Outdoor Theatre on Saturday, June 7, 2014. The three young winners will hit the jackpot because this will be a special year to perform at Accordion Kings & Queens as it will be the 25th anniversary! 

Interested players are encouraged to reserve a showcase slot at a venue in their region by contacting Texas Folklife. Those who cannot attend a showcase may also mail or e-mail their entries to arrive at Texas Folklife no later than April 7, 2014. The complete contest rules and entry forms are available online at or by calling (512) 441-9255.

The three Big Squeeze 2014 Grand Prize Winners will receive a prize package valued at more than $4,000, including a cash prize, a brand new Hohner accordion, performance opportunities in Austin and Houston, publicity, professional development, and other professional opportunities. 

“The Big Squeeze contest is becoming a tradition across the state,” says Executive Director Cristina Ballí. “We are truly gratified by the way the contest has been embraced by local communities. But what we have discovered in our travels and seeking out the best young Texas accordion players is that a larger emphasis needs to be placed on certain accordion traditions. We have broadened the scope of the contest by creating three Grand Prize Winners, one winner for each genre. In particular, we are focusing on zydeco and polka at several of the showcase events and are developing more ways to safeguard their important place in Texas music.”

The Big Squeeze is supported by the members and Board of Texas Folklife and by Hohner, Inc.; by grants from Texas Commission on the Arts and the Texas Music Office, the City of Austin through the Cultural Arts Division, the City of Houston through the Miller Theatre Advisory Board, the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, the Houston Endowment, Humanities Texas, H.E.B., and Texas Gas Service. Additional support is provided by regional businesses including SugarHill Recording Studios, Antone’s Records, Hacienda Records, Frank+Victor Design, and Embassy Suites Hotel in Austin.


About Texas Folklife

Texas Folklife is a statewide non-profit organization dedicated to presenting and preserving the diverse cultures and living heritage of the Lone Star State. Celebrating its 30thanniversary in 2014, Texas Folklife has honored the authentic cultural traditions passed down within communities, explored their importance in contemporary society, and celebrated them by providing accessible and joyful arts experiences. It is located in Austin, Texas, in the SoCo neighborhood—one of the city’s vibrant commercial and arts district.