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Annual Cotati accordion fest offers campy notes of delight

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As the morning fog burned off Sunday, accordion enthusiasts en masse poured into downtown Cotati’s La Plaza Park for the American West’s premier annual tribute to the quirky wind instrument.

Cool, overcast temperatures greeted a couple thousand attendees by the afternoon for the 28th year of the self-anointed “Woodstock of the Accordion World,” with many reclining their feet on hay bales while feasting on brats with mustard and kraut, cotton candy and beers for breakfast. People came from throughout the United States for a wide variety of experiences, including slow dancing to traditional polka, clapping to a Finnish heavy-metal rendition of Lady Gaga’s hit “Poker Face,” and shaking a leg to steampunk-influenced folk on a mobile stage converted from a 1950s delivery truck.

The eclectic event, where cat-ear headbands and festive hats may as well have been part of the price of admission, was for years on the bucket list of couple Betsy and Whizzer White. The Los Gatos residents finally made the trip up and invited friend Bill Corba all the way out from Pittsburgh to celebrate his 65th birthday in style.

“The venue is lovely,” said Betsy White, 68. “The park is terrific. And boy, the fashion statements here — I hate to say this, but I think we’re coming back next year.”

The squeezebox showcase also was a chance for up-and-comers to put their talents on full display. Eleven youngsters dubbed “The Future Stars” by emcee Richard Cullinen demonstrated their skillful keystrokes early in the day. Yifan Tong, 13, of San Ramon, was among them and his performance of the song “K’s Musette” had family shooting cellphone video and the audience cheering for an encore.

“I just like music in general,” said Tong, an eighth grader at Windemere Ranch Middle School who has played six years and competes around the U.S. “It just calms me down when I’m feeling anxious and other feelings. It just helps me deal with it.”

The yodels of accordionist Rick Crowder, whose pastiche of cowboy boots and a 10-gallon hat matched his stage name, Sourdough Slim, and Bay Area’s Michael Zampiceni also were crowd pleasers. Zampiceni’s cover of Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore” had the audience singing the famous chorus back at him before he elicited exuberant cheers with a version of Tony Bennett’s “I left my heart in San Francisco.”

“What makes this different is it’s the general public having a good time and the accordion is the central focus,” Zampiceni, 69, said, comparing the festival to others he played at across the country.

“It’s for the sure the largest (event) in the western United States,” he said. “My mind is still buzzing from this whole thing.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or at kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com.

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