26th Annual Accordion Kings & Queens June 6

Texas Folklife will bring its annual celebration of the state’s accordion roots music to Houston’s Miller Outdoor Theatre on Saturday, June 6, at 7:00 p.m. In keeping with its mission to preserve and present Texas’s diverse musical heritage, the festival will feature stars and legends in polka, Cajun zydeco, and conjunto. This year’s accordion stars will include Debra Peters and the Love Saints, Jerome Batiste and the Zydeko Players, and the Grammy-winning Los Texmaniacs and special guests National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow Flaco Jiménez, Augie Meyers, and Rick Treviño. The accordion stars will be joined onstage by this year’s Big Squeeze Grand Prize Winners: Elizabeth Kelley (Cajun/Zydeco), Brandon Hodde (Polka) performing with the All Around Czechs, and Rito Peña (Conjunto). 

The Grammy-winning Los Texmaniacs hardly need an introduction. The band is comprised of founder Max Baca on bajo sexto, Josh Baca on accordion, Noel Hernandez on electric bass, and Daniel Martinez on the drums. Los Texmaniacs won the 2010 Grammy award for Best Tejano Album, Borders y Bailes, on the Smithsonian Folkways label. Their sound has been called “hip music everybody can relate to” and is comprised of conjunto, rock, and rhythm and blues. Los Texmaniacs will be joined onstage by National Heritage Fellow Flaco Jiménez, who recently won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and has been called the “King of Conjunto,” Augie Meyers, and Rick Treviño. It will be a special night as the new Texmaniacs CD, Americano Groove, will be released. The album was produced by Steve Berlin (of Los Lobos), and includes vocals from a roster of Texas music royalty: Alejandro Escovedo, Joe Ely, Kevin Fowler, and Rick Trevino. Additional guest musicians include David Hidalgo (Los Lobos), Steve Berlin, and Augie Meyers. It's a mix of five traditional conjunto tracks, three country tracks, and four others that blur genres between rock and TexMex.

Jerome Batiste and the Zydeko Players will bring the Cajun/zydeco beat to the festival this year. Batiste has described himself as a “Creole Cowboy,” and has described the type of music he and his band play as a little bit of everything—Cajun, Creole, jazz, zydeco, blues, rock & roll, and reggae. Based in Crosby, Texas—on the Louisiana side of Houston—the band spreads the gospel of Zydeco Nation throughout the region.

Debra Peters and the Love Saints hail from Austin where they perform a mix of sounds—blues, zydeco, polka, western swing, and classic country. The band has traveled around the globe playing their blend of Texas roots music. Ms. Peters is also an educator. She has created a series of educational videos and teaches the accordion with a special emphasis on encouraging young women to take up the national instrument of Texas.

This year’s event will again 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.

One of the important ways Texas Folklife carries out its mission is by introducing the culture bearers of the past to the culture bearers of the future. This will be on display at the 26th annual Accordion Kings & Queens Festival as the three young winners from the Big Squeeze Accordion Contest take to the stage to play with these powerhouse performers. Not only will the young players benefit from this joyous musical connection, but those lucky enough to be in the audience will have the opportunity to witness this generational passing of the torch.

“We are very much looking forward to this year’s Accordion Kings and Queens Festival,” said Executive Director Cristina Ballí. “The concert was started with the idea of promoting the accordion and its role in the different genres of roots music found throughout the state. It has become a full-out celebration of that music, featuring musical legends and stars, and it also has become the breeding ground for the next generation of squeezeboxers with our newly crowned Big Squeeze Champs taking to the stage. And we are thrilled that Los Texmaniacs is using the Festival this year to release their new CD. It will be a joyous night of celebrating all things accordion—with dancing and merry-making, all under the stars in Houston, Texas. Put on your dancing shoes or boots and join us!”  

Are You Ready for the Wurst?

By Theresa Parker

Alex Meixner is. The Grammy-nominated Tasmanian devil of the polka world will once again do the honors of opening Wurstfest on Friday, November 7. The Alex Meixner Band will perform at the fest through November 13 and will feature the usual suspects - Ed Klancnik on drums, Mikey Kramar on horns, strings, accordions and things, and Hank Guzevich on horns, guitar and Polexican shuffles, as well as Canadian National Accordion Champ Michael Bridge for the weekend gigs.

Alex Meixner and Michael Bridge at last year's Wurstfest. Gary E. McKee photo

Alex Meixner and Michael Bridge at last year's Wurstfest. Gary E. McKee photo

Since Alex spends a great deal of his life on the road, it was cool to catch him at home waiting for the cable guy to chat about Wurstfest and other polka stuff.

Polkabeat: Anything new for Wurstfest?
Alex: Yes! [Please note: this will be the last exclamation point I’ll use. Everything Alex says has an exclamation point.] I will be doing an extra show at the festival on opening Saturday (November 8, 2:10 p.m.) at the new venue - Stelzenplatz - with my good friends, Max Baca and Los TexManiacs. This two-time Grammy Award-winning conjunto group will be performing repertoire which has roots in Germany and Austria before developing in Mexico and the southwest USA. I'll be playing a few songs with the band, as Max and I have been recording together for the last few years and always look forward to collaborating together. (While the Czech pronunciation of Baca is “Bacha,” the Mexican pronunciation is “Baka.”)

Polkabeat: Tell us more about Los TexManiacs.
Alex: Max Baca is the premier bajo sexto player on the planet. (Bajo sexto is a 12-string guitar-like instrument.) Max is featured on my Polka Freakout CD and he has recorded with Flaco Jimenenz, Los Lobos, Original Texas Tornados and even the Rolling Stones (Voodoo Lounge CD). The group also features Max’s nephew, Josh Baca, on accordion. I’ve known Josh since he was an eight-year-old punk and now he’s 20-something and is one of the best three-row button box accordion player I’ve ever heard. They are just a great family.

Polkabeat: You and Max are working on an album together, right?
Alex: Yes, actually for the past six years. We hit the recording studio when we can. The music gets back to the roots of conjunto music from when Germans, Austrians and Slovenians settled in Mexico. It honors the music legacy of our grandfathers and fathers, and brings it full circle like the performance we’ll be doing at Wurstfest.

Polkabeat: Your new CD is called Happiness Is a Choice. Why did you choose that name
Alex: Because I truly believe happiness is a choice and I think it sends a positive message.

Polkabeat: Who did you work with on the CD?
Alex: The title track is a collaboration with Reggae singer and composer Carlton Pride, son of Country legend Charley Pride. I also co-wrote a song with Michael Morris (drummer and vocalist from Seaton, TX) called “Let’s Go Ask the Band,” a fun polka with a country twang. Hector Saldana of The Krayolas and I co-wrote a pop song, “Sally,” and Michael Bridge is featured on the Latin-flavored “El Cumbanchero.” You can also hear accordion virtuoso Randy Koslosky (from Pittsburgh) on several tunes, including a great new German/Irish-styled drinking song “Why Die Thirsty?”

Polkabeat: Why die thirsty? Isn’t that your mantra?
Alex: Yes. Randy wrote that song. He always heard me say at performances, “If you drink, you’re going to die. If you don’t drink, you’re going to die. So, why die thirsty?” He sent it to me just as we hit the studio in San Antonio to record the CD. We quickly came up with an arrangement and now it’s one of the most requested songs on tour.

Polkabeat: What is the most requested song?
Alex: “Amazing Grace.” It’s performed on a hoseaphone and begins as a solemn performance and ends with screaming trumpets.

Polkbeat: The CD also has a family connection, right?
Alex: My daughters Zoey (age 7) and Kayla (age 4) are featured on “Pipihenderl,” a fun Austrian yodeling song. And Zoey also did the watercolor for the CD cover, which has led to production of a hat pin and t-shirt. I am very proud.

Polkabeat: Why die unhappy?
Alex: Exactly. So much of world is divided among politics, religion, cultural and ethnic differences, but when you adopt a positive attitude, you realize we have more similarities than we think. That’s what I like about polka. The music tends to bring people together. People smile and instead of slinging cheap shots at each other, they stop and say, “Hey man, let’s drink a beer together.”

(Hmmm, this could be the start of the Alex Meixner for President Campaign sponsored by the polkabeat party.)