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The Cotati Accordion Festival and Those Darn Accordions: A mutual history

In the town of Cotati, the month of August is synonymous with the Accordion Festival, taking place this year on Aug. 19 and 20 at La Plaza Park. The event not only brings pleasure to many attendees, but the nonprofit organization, established in 1991, has also contributed over $500,000 to support local youth service organizations.

Those Darn Accordions, also known as TDA, are one of over 30 acts that will be performing. The genesis of the band is a humorous tale of what could be described as madcap hijinks. It all started when The Paradise Lounge in San Francisco contacted “Big Lou” Seekins in 1989 asking if she could assemble a band to perform in an open slot. As a joke, she recruited 13 accordionists for the job. They played polkas and sight-read Beatles songs. Despite the fact that the hastily assembled band was under-rehearsed, their show was a hit with the audience, who clamored for encores.

The next step in their journey to becoming a “cause célèbre” was the brainchild of former band member Tom Torriglia, who proposed the idea of doing "accordionista raids" as publicity stunts. Large groups of accordionists, sometimes numbering over 20, would travel around town, barge into random restaurants, and start playing accordion favorites such as “Lady of Spain” and “Beer Barrel Polka,” before moving on to the next location on their list. With the help of coverage from legendary San Francisco columnist Herb Caen, their fame spread, and they started receiving offers for paid gigs from restaurants to the corporate world. Over the years, there has been a changing cast of musicians. The current lineup includes frontman Paul Rogers (vocals, accordion, piano, acoustic guitar), Suzanne Garramone (accordion, vocals), Lewis Wallace (electric bass), Ian Luke (drums, percussion), Susie Davis (accordion, vocals) and Carri Abrahms (accordion, vocals).

The band performed on numerous TV shows, including “Donny and Marie,” “Penn and Teller’s Sin City Spectacular,” “Good Morning America,” and the “American Music Awards,” to name a few from their long and impressive list.

One of their most memorable songs is a combination of “O Solo Mio” and “It’s Now or Never.” Davis' powerhouse vocals and Abrahms' coloratura soprano vocals blend to create an electrifying result. The reason these two songs meld together so well is that they have the same melody. However, the songs have different lyrics. "It’s Now or Never" was made famous by Elvis Presley, selling more than 5 million records and becoming Elvis' best-selling single.

Both vocalists have impressive backgrounds. Davis performed keyboard, guitar, and vocals when she toured with a long list of famous musicians, including Mick Jagger, Pat Benatar, and Prince. Abrahms performed in many prestigious venues, including the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, Philharmonia Baroque Chorus, and the Pacific Chorale.

Another of their not-to-be-missed songs is Led Zeppelin’s “A Whole Lot of Love/Black Dog.” Rogers praised Davis' rendition of the famous Jimmy Page lick in that song. Regarding music suitable for playing on an accordion, he said, "Good melody licks will translate to accordion nicely."

Although they also play cover songs, Rogers said that he writes about 80% of the songs himself. The fact that the band agreed to use his material was one of the reasons he joined.

The Accordion Festival is special to TDA, and they are always happy to perform there. They have a long history with the festival. Torriglia worked with Jim Boggio at its inception. Rogers said, “TDA and Cotati are intertwined. A lot of people have come to know us through Cotati. It is really about the people who come there. They know our music. We start a song, and you can see them singing along to our original songs. The joy of playing Cotati is that the audience is so wonderful and the people who run it are great. They treat everyone well.”

If you'd like to experience TDA's show, they will perform at 4:45 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 20. Ticket information is available at https://cotatifest.com/.

Marilyn Lane is a Sonoma County resident who worked as a newsroom employee at The Press Democrat for 27 years.

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