Riverwest Accordion Club revives a Milwaukee tradition
A couple of years ago, Don Turner had a dream: He and a bunch of friends were sitting around his living room playing accordions. This wasn't far-fetched for Turner because he had experimented with the squeezebox before, but who were all of these friends? He didn't know anyone who played accordion, except his significant other, Sarah Kozar, and their friend, Tom Landre, who hadn't played in a while.
"In the '50s and '60s, everybody and their mother played accordion," says Kozar. "Today, it's a kitschy Milwaukee thing."
In the spirit of "if we build it, they will come," Turner and Kozar decided to start the Riverwest Accordion Club (RAC) and hopefully bring Turner's dream to fruition. Kozar wanted to have potlucks in their Riverwest flat anyway, so incorporating the two events seemed like a good idea.
"Our club gives a little 'oomph' and ingenuity to the city, but most importantly, it brings people together," says Kozar.
The RAC has members that range from seasoned musicians to novices, and word-of-mouth advertising has united accordionists from all walks of life. Over the past couple of years, the group has grown to a loyal eight accordion players, a tuba player and a drummer. Practices are held once or twice a month, but attendees vary -- Kozar, Turner and a couple of others are the club's anchors.
All potluck/practices are held in Kozar's dining room, among beautiful, moody oil paintings, felines and an accordion collection. The group sits in a small circle, drinking, eating and most of all, squeezing.
On this particular night, homemade pizza is the meal of choice, and a jug of brown ale sits on the counter in the kitchen. Al Bunde, the club's "Ambassador of Beer," former brewmaster at Stout Brothers, is also one of the few club members with perfect attendance. Although he claims to have "played a little accordion at beer camp," he didn't really start squeezing until last fall.
"I don't know what happened. I got possessed and bought an accordion," says Bunde.
Linda Mueller is one of the newer members of the club. "I saw them playing at Onopa, and I had to join," she says, while holding her small Lo Duca accordion in her lap like a child. She says her friends found the $50 accordion at a thrift shop just north of Cedarburg.
Pamela Scesniak, a teacher and Milwaukee artist best known for her sandblasted pictographs on Brady Street, has seven accordions and decided to join the club because she "wanted to do something creative in a different way." Tonight, she's playing her Wurlitzer, a beautiful white instrument with hand-painted flowers and rhinestones. It's the "mother" accordion to the one Kozar plays, a smaller version with the same adornments.Page 1 of 2 (view all on one page)
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