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NESI 2006 Review
by AnnieHagert

Annie Hagert
2006 SqueezeLogo
Annie and Craig It’s September and once more the annual migration of the free reed lovers begins - flapping our ways back to Western Massachusetts and to the beautiful and welcoming Bucksteep Manor with its campgrounds and benches to sit on and play. Flying in from all directions - each committed to the journey with notions of new songs/faces/sounds and jams, as well as those comforting familiar songs, faces, sounds and jams.... 

On Friday we filter in quietly hailing each other... looking up from fingers playing this year's musical possibility. The early arrivals sit on the porch, looking up at the cars as they scrunch by. Some music has already started, the tables set up, name buttons made and fancy colored tickets that I never did figure out being handed out. Milling about with Craig being officious and friendly, I see people who I had forgotten about over the year and a few new faces sitting on the porch railing, leaning in.

Dining room sessionThe different instrumental subcultures often don’t matter in the beginning - piano accordion and concertina (English or Irish) all plumped down together. The sorting out of groups (bandoneon? button box?) much less important than the getting settled. Entering the manor, turn right and begin the necessary perusal of the goodies in the side room… new tyotchkes depicting accordions in various art forms, and against the wall delightful grandfather instruments... some spiffed up, some there in the “what you see is what you get” category, for your pleasure. After dinner? Pick your arena. There is the front couch contingent, the upstairs couch contingent, the outside contingent and the sale room contingent. There are usually two groups in the dining room with earnest tunes in the front and the “rude song” club in the back revving up with more salty songs to sing to each other with roars of laughter, and much wiping of eyes.

Saturday morning those full of fizz have started early and the race to pick the sessions starts. NO more time to dither - Learn a new song? Play some French Canadian tunes? Share a waltz? There is a nice mixture of "newbies", tentative and stunned to be around such accordion comfort. Soon, they will knock our socks off with their talent. One flew from Tacoma with her new accordion love to test out. Others (misplaced southerners now in New England) ready to learn new riffs and show their stuff. And we have our Brahman caste… those who can fashion wonderful instruments and those who can write gorgeous songs to their sons going off to college, and those who can perform and make us laugh. These higher status ones offer us their expertise and cluster together at meals like gods of Olympus, nurturing each other. One can aspire…. Then there are the spouses or "true loves" - patient and foot tapping - as their other half struggles and is delirious with pleasure to be back in the throng. Saints these folk be, tho surely they will extract some return favor for something that they are nuts about.

I meet a set of dear friends, one from Australia, brought here on a lark by her two hosts. They are soon off to an antique door knob convention. Ahem.... I mean really, who are we to judge? The beauty of the Button Box Northeast Squeeze-In, is the inclusiveness. The acceptance of good intentions. The unspoken acknowledgment that tolerance and loyalty rather than state-of-the-art musical precision is the goal (though some DO achieve this precision). We also know how to cooperate… and MOST of us know how to share the stage light - learned from playing in ensembles and being told that we were the least coolest instrument on the block (though secretly getting cooler). We are a polite race. Anyone playing a free reed instrument has accepted their fate: the butt of cruel, un-evolved accordion jokes and taunting requests for Lady of Spain. We are not the front line "eye-and–ear–candy" band. Even our showoffs pale in comparison to others. No, we are the mustard in the sandwich that could be a band. Our sound (either as a rhythm instrument or a thin, wet melody line there next to the fiddle) doesn’t give us the thumping glory of a more standard instrument… unless we are playing in our basement thundering along, or at Bucksteep Manor - and a good thing too!

Next, one can hit the Button Box satellite traveling store in the barn. Circling like gulls, plucking through the instruction books and CDs, cackling with delight, we must have impulse control! There are shelves where we can sequester this year's delights to think about until finally making the dreadful (though much rationalized) purchase on Sunday. The buzz in the store reflects earnest conversations with all of us bending over new instruments, teasing and testing, wanting to justify the purchase of yet another one. I sit on the rock… once more considering the cultural leap to a concertina… and again retreat….threatening to throw it all in and rashly devote my life to the hurdy gurdy.

Workshops? By now the porch is littered with empty instrument cases as we ready ourselves, crowding around the workshop board full of post-it notes offering classes and wishes for classes. Which ones will I take? Do I dare lead one? Tim is in the corner wowing, sidetracking us with his power, as well as his long reach, surrounded by the TIM fan club formed by Duncan and Annie.

Breton Tunes workshop  Concertina Band workshop
New Tunes workshop  Chromatic Hornpipes workshop
Workshops, workshops... Breton Tunes, Concertina Band, New Tunes, Chromatic Hornpipes, Scottish Marches, Country Dance Jigs, Irish Polkas, Mazurkas and Schottisches, Scandanavian Tunes, Playing by Ear, Anglo for Beginners, Anglo Madness, Accordion Orchestra, French Tunes from Auvergne, Dr. Bob's Repair and Maintenance Clinic, Bourrees, Morris Tunes, Matusewitch Arrangements, Qubecois Tunes, Hayden 101, English Ceili jam, Cayjun for the Curious, Hayden Tutor....

All too soon it is lunch time which reminds me again how generous they are as we sit and gab and laugh. This year, I talk to people who had I not talked to before and we share stories of how we started. I was snagged by the last living door to door accordion salesman... Others, it was in the family, or based on preadolescent inspiration, or a particularly energizing response to a mid life crisis.

Next, the earnest group photo shoot, this year held on Saturday to prevent the loss of the faint hearted who might leave by Sunday lunch. We cluster and giggle...
NESI 2006 group photo
Northeast Squeeze-In 2006 group photo

On to the afternoon workshops and on to the sumptious dinner and announcements... the excitement mounts to a healthy thrum. Like moths to a flame, we gather there on the porch to finger the marching tune - excited to break out and do the noble processional to the barn. Never have I more enjoyed being in a herd.

Concert time! Into the barn we gather for our show of shows, and root and barrack for each performance like loving parents at a kindergarten grade graduation concert. All in the audience gaze enviously, covetous of the snappy black and yellow plaid jacket worn by our MC, Doug - a fitting reminder to the understated nature of our music. Doug leaps on the stage and the line up of star performers begins! Again and again we are stunned and delighted by profound talent, humor, warmth and much silliness. See them all, friends! For your edification and viewing pleasure! Laughing with Howie’s clever puppet that is playing the CUTEST LITTLE CONCERNTINA THAT I HAVE EVER SEEN! Tapping our feet at Doug and Duncan’s terrific grandfather and grandson act! We have daughters and fathers! (piano accordion) and sisters and brothers! (with French Canadian gadgets to delight and charm us) and spouses! (Tony and Lynn taking us all on the Road to Mandalay). Whole coveys (?) swarms (?) gaggles (?) passels (?) of various groupings. A concertina band jolting us with some highfaluting and lyrical music. The Black Orchid orchestra led by Craig thumping away with EVERY NOTE RIGHT THERE. Ballads and jigs and waltzes! Folk and jazz and popular tunes and original and old! Something for everyone.

This year politics crept into our innocent though fiercely competitive limerick contest. The winner’s bittersweet victory was besmirched by his (good-natured) howls that some of his entries had been silenced (deemed underapproprate). Many are called and few are chosen. Every year I enter and never win but I continue to mull about two other words that rhyme with "accordion".

There was a box player named Whipple
Who gets hurt when he has too much tipple.
     He plays with such might
     With his straps on too tight
It proves men are not meant to have nipples.

Winning limerick by Rich Wolff
I wonder if this is a joke -
I can't play kelzmer, Cajun, or folk!
     All the tunes from my box
     Sound like Johann S. Bach's -
I think that the darn thing's baroque!

2nd place by Lynn Huges
When setting Shakespearian song
Concertina will not steer you wrong.
     Though purists grow sick
     I'll sing "If music
be the food of love"... then squeeze on!

3rd place by Jody Kruskal (et al)

After the concert the contra band motivates us to tap our feet, jounce and leap, dance and play some more.

Sunday creeps in... This year I didn’t sleep in the Manor - I had loved it last year, but was too stimulated by hearing music going on throughout the night to really rest - plus, was woken too early to the smell of the wonderful breakfast being cooked. As I wait for it I sip my coffee and wander from session to session as others do and watch as one masters a new style, another finally getting help about THAT CLICKING NOISE that detracts from the total sound. I watch as Bob neatly opens a box, files and blows, and hands back one's baby all safe and no longer squealing... whew. A few more workshops and lunch, thus it ends, with a whimper not a bang… a wheeze and a snap. Many linger on into the afternoon, several with intentions to stay the extra day into Monday that just doesn't pan out. But each we do go, with new music in the car player, with new friends, with new songs to learn from this year and for the for next year... and the next and the next.

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