Day Away from Island Bubble
Accordion festival an international experience that makes one value home
Mid-August and it’s time to hit the road. Fifty-some miles north of Alameda is our destination, the 29th annual Cotati Accordion Festival. We’ve been there before but it was several years ago and we had forgotten some of the details, so with a bit of denial we took off around 10 a.m. Saturday morning. Google Maps said the traffic was light and the trip should take about an hour and five minutes. So much for Google Maps.
For some unaccountable reason the traffic was slow and often stop and go for most of the trip north of Berkeley. Try as we might we never saw a reason for the slowdown. I finally put it down to too many cars and too few lanes of roadway. Nevertheless, we made it to the center of Cotati which had been taken over by the festival, parked and entered. The sounds of accordions were already ringing out over the crowd and people were packed in front of the main stage.
Straw bales had been set out in rows to serve as seats, but the regulars, those in the know, had brought their own folding chairs and blankets to cover the straw. We had two cushions which took the sting out of the straw poking into bare flesh and softened the sitting.
On stage when we arrived was a duo, violin and accordion, who turned out to be the most entertaining music of our stay there. They were part of a band named Simka which is an Americanization of the Yiddish word simcha meaning happiness.
For their final number they played a klezmer-type dance number and asked the audience “Are there any … (long pause so as not to say “Jews”) people familiar with this number?” I thought it a little weird but Cotati is rural and no sense being ethnic at a festival.
There is an accordion “world” and lots of its members were in attendance. They knew the performers and greeted them warmly and the entertainer’s jokes were “in” jokes referencing others in their “world.” Performers and aficionados greeted each other throughout the grounds with real enthusiasm and were obviously happy to renew old friendships.
There were plenty of food booths and several vendor booths and a tent with a floor set up for dancers. They were happy to waltz and polka around the floor to the music of the house band which, naturally, featured an accordion.
After three hours, prickly from the straw, having made our contribution to the festival by eating the overpriced food and tired of being assailed by the squeal of the accordions, we set out for home. Traffic was moving and we made it in just over an hour (a significant improvement over the trip north) and crossed the Park Street Bridge.
It never fails to surprise me that as soon as we come into Alameda everything seems calmer, nicer and somehow more civilized. Part of it, I think, is because I relax when I hit the bridge or the tunnel. Alameda, the bubble of sanity in a chaotic world.