Texas is the crossroads of accordion culture in North America, and San Antonio is the perfect home for the festival. Conjunto, Cajun, and Czech Moravian accordion traditions have provided a variety of dance music for generations of Texans, and several of the best players, including Flaco Jiménez and Eva Ybarra — also scheduled to perform his weekend — have called San Antonio home.
One of the best bands in Louisiana, Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, will dish up spicy Cajun music that for the past decade has made Riley among Louisiana's favorite accordion players; the Mamou Playboys are known for wearing out the two-steppers over in Evangeline parish.
Raynald Ouellet's Ensemble is a traditional French-Canadian band from Montmagny, Quebec. Ouellet's intense syncopated style has influenced a generation of Quebecois accordion players. French-Canadian music, like that of its Cajun relatives, is centered around the volatile mixture of the accordion and fiddle, a recipe that generates more than enough power to drive couples across a dance floor.
Sultry and sensual, tango was one of the highlights of last year's festival. This year, tango dancers will be treated to four sets of music from South America's Tito Castro Tango Quartet. A veteran of tango's golden era, Castro has spent much of his life touring with several of South America's most prestigious tango orchestras.
Accordionist Mary Rafferty's band arrives here from County Galway, Ireland, a beautiful region in the western part of the country. Irish accordion music runs the gambit from forlorn bittersweet ballads to furious bellows-bursting jigs, reels, and hornpipes; as in the French-Canadian and Cajun styles, the Irish combine the accordion and fiddle to fuel the dance.
From just up the road in Waco, come Cedryl Ballou and the Zydeco Trendsetters. Ballou's family comes from Lake Charles, Louisiana, and his band is a family affair that includes grandfather Classie Ballou on guitar, father Cedric Ballou on bass, and aunt Cecean Ballou on drums. Cedryl is one of the youngest accordion players to carrying on the Zydeco tradition that originated in south Louisiana.
The IAF is still building its sponsorship and financial base, and to achieve the high standards organizers have set for the festival, they have had to think of creative ways of making do. "Until we have a much larger budget," notes curator Pat Jasper, "we will, in large part, rely on international artists who have immigrated to the United States." A case in point is Del Valle, who hail from the Valledupar region of Colombia, but recently immigrated to the U.S. and live in Houston. They will bring to San Antonio rarely heard traditional rhythms such as Puya, Paseból, and Paseito.
Besides the music, workshops were one of last year's most popular events. This year Jasper has outdone herself by placing the audience face-to-face with accordionists from across the globe. Saturday, Ireland's Mary Rafferty, San Antonio's Eva Ybarra, and Mercedes Mendive, who plays accordion in the Basque style of Spain, host "Women with Accordions" at the Cos House. At Bolivar Hall on Sunday, South America and the Dominican Republic meet when Tito Castro and Joaquin Díaz present a program on tango and merengue dance. Other workshop topics include: Latino traditions with Flaco Jiménez and Gustavo Castellón Nieto of Del Valle, French-Canadian and Irish step dancing, and Afro rhythms with Joaquin Díaz and Cedryl Ballou. Jasper, who seems to have a penchant for getting people up close to the accordion, believes that the workshops may be the gem of this year's event.
In only its second year, the International Accordion Festival is on its way to becoming San Antonio's premier music event — and best of all, it's free.