Whether it’s the music, the people, the sense of community or the culinary fare, Cotati’s celebration of the accordion is growing more popular every year, event organizers said Sunday.
This weekend’s festival, the 24th since its inception, drew an estimated 5,000 people to downtown’s La Plaza Park — some from as far away as New York, Chicago and South Dakota.
“Last year was one of our best years yet, and this weekend is looking better than last year so far,” said Scott Goree, an event producer. “You’d be amazed by all the accordion enthusiasts who come, but we also get people who come out because they love the music, and others who are just really involved in the community.”
The smell of worldly fare, from American staples such as burgers and hot dogs to lumpia and Southern barbecue, wafted through the air, accompanying the jaunty rhythms of accordions as dozens of people gathered atop hay bales in front of the downtown amphitheater for one of Sunday’s headliners — Italian accordion player Vincenzo Abbracciante.
“We come for the sound of the accordion,” said Ed Sciarini, who traveled from Modesto with his wife, Elizabeth, for the party. The two have come to the festival every year since its inception. “This is one of our favorite times of the year. It’s not just the music, it’s the culture and all the people we get to meet.”
The annual event, first envisioned in 1990 by Clifton Buck-Kaufman and Jim Boggio, officially started in 1991, and has now become ingrained in Cotati’s quirky identity. The city even commissioned a statue of Boggio playing an accordion. The statue is festooned with a red cape on the first morning of the festival.
“It’s a tradition, we’re celebrating this great music, and the way it brings our community together,” Goree said.
Event organizers say half of the people in attendance are out-of-state fans who travel from the Midwest and the East Coast, as well as musicians who come from as far as China, Russia and Italy to perform, injecting money into the local economy.
The Accordion Festival, with an annual budget of about $75,000, boasts 70 vendors, from food and beverages, to local arts and music organizations, to accordion sellers. It runs on $15 entrance fees and money from 15 local sponsors. Area nonprofit and youth groups provide about 150 volunteers to staff the event each year, from groups such as Rancho Cotate Little League and Cotati’s Boy Scout Troop 4. Proceeds fund local youth programs throughout the year.
There’s a dance floor dedicated to polka dancers, a jam tent where musicians play accordions alongside other instruments, and performers throughout.
“This is such a happy event,” said Ken Kelzer, 73, of Novato, a lifetime accordion player who has been coming to the festival for six years. “I love being around the musicians, and playing the accordion, with all the buttons and bellows. I started playing as a kid, and I still have the accordion my dad bought me for $300.”
While the festival draws accordion enthusiasts and locals, organizers said they’re seeing an uptick in young people playing the accordion.
“People think of senior citizens when they think about accordions, but we have a lot of young people who are interested in learning to play, and there’s up-and-coming bands with accordions, so we’re seeing a comeback.”