Top

Squeeze It

0105accordion

It’s a dark and silent Wednesday night outside the KM Art Gallery in Walker’s Point. But on the second floor of the gallery, accordion strains of the “Oompa Loompa” song lustily resonate. Inside the spacious gallery, nine accordionists and one tubist make like Oompa Loompas, hopping up and down with abandon as they wring their squeezeboxes. Meet the Riverwest Accordion Club. Beer and snacks abound, leopard-print fez hats top heads, memories are exchanged, everyone completes each other’s sentences and jokes bounce off the walls.. “No one ever asked to hear us play before!” laughs tubist Mike Chaltry, following a request to hear a few songs. The club started three years ago when Sarah Kozar and Don Turner, club founders, wanted an informal get together once or twice a month with other accordionists. “Have a potluck, drink beer, make music and have fun,” says Kozar. When word of the practice sessions leaked, the founders recruited additional members from their acquaintances. Currently, the club has ten to twelve regulars, plus a waiting list. “Funny how we hooked up with people,” sighs Kozar, who asked Michelle Pietrzak-Wegner to join after they wore the same jacket to a Milwaukee Accordion Club meeting. Initially, the criteria for joining was based on who brought the best food. “Now, it’s musical talent!” jokes Al Bunde. Though members share creative backgrounds, the group is as diverse as accordion keys. Their full-time jobs range from brewers to graphic designers to teachers. Ten to thirteen monthly gigs keep them hustling at weddings and birthday bashes. In the summer, they factor in Summerfest. Paul Anders got to play there soon after joining the madness. In an era of electronic music and gizmos galore, the question needs to be asked…why would anyone want to play the accordion? Isn’t it a kind of closet activity? A tad nerdy? Kozar claims many Milwaukeeans were raised with accordion music. After all, in the ’50s and ’60s, the Midwest was “accordion central.” It never quite caught on like the guitar however, and during the era of rock ‘n roll, it acquired a geeky stigma. Pam Scesniak agrees that many Milwaukeeans are indeed, closet accordionists. Kozar confirms that people don’t necessarily own up to their love of the instrument. Nerdy-ness aside, squeezebox types are as close as rows of crochet on grandma’s afghan. Some see their box as an “antique synthesizer”capable of moving beyond traditional polka and waltz numbers. This group is equally happy to perform kitschy Milwaukee songs and stuff by Johnny Cash. Their thick black song book is fat with everything from ABBA to The Who. Al Bunde jokes they have hundreds of tunes, but are “good at fewer than that!” “Shots for the band!” was recently voted the club’s motto. It works for them, as audiences frequently oblige the request. The band has a handle on treating themselves, too. During this particular rehearsal, they polish off their beers and launch into the “Blue Skirt Waltz,” and then, for the heck of it, the “Laverne and Shirley” theme song. “Shots for the band!” Visit them at www.riverwestaccordionclub.com. Then catch their gigs and hey…buy them a shot. Make that two for the tuba. ~
0105accordion