Tuning in to a virtual accordion festival
By Patti Hartigan, Globe Staff, 6/9/2000
Cliff Furnald would be the first to admit that he has a sort of wacky passion for all things accordion. Right now, he's sitting at his computer producing the Third Annual Free Reed Festival, a month-long celebration of the accordion being held exclusively on the Internet. To Furnald, this seems like a perfectly logical endeavor, but to the uninitiated, the idea of a virtual accordion festival raises a lot of questions. As in, why, why, and why?
But the real burning question is: What do you wear?
Do you pull out the lederhosen and dust off the dirndl? Or do you rent a polyester tuxedo, something in the style of, say, Lawrence Welk?
''When people think of the accordion, they think of the guys in the powder blue suits playing the birthday parties,'' says Furnald, a freelance music critic and founder of rootsworld.com, which is hosting the festival. ''We're going to surprise the hell out of them. They expect oompah, oompah, oompah, and there will be none of that.''
The festival will feature articles, reviews, and recordings contributed by 30 artists from all over the world. The site is updated with new material every day, and judging from some of the artists featured so far, this isn't about your typical polka band. For instance, a group called the Edge City Collective plays bizarre improvisational music that proves that even the accordion can be totally inaccessible. On the other hand, the avant-garde duo of Guy Klucevsek and Alan Bern create a fascinating sound that is nothing like anything you have ever heard on this instrument; at times, Klucevsek bangs on the instrument and makes the thing sound like a drum. On the more traditional side, there is Mats Eden, a Swedish musician who recorded waltzes and reels in his kitchen, offering a pure interpretation of vintage accordion tunes.
Admittedly, this stuff is an acquired taste, but Furnald says that last year's festival attracted about 25,000 visitors each week. The whole affair has the sort of quirky grassroots flavor that used to define the Internet before it got commercial. Furnald doesn't make any money on the festival: He just does it because he can. ''You could never pull this off before the Internet,'' he says. ''Maybe you could do a worldwide Mariah Carey festival, but you couldn't do a festival featuring avant-garde duets on the accordion.''
Of course, there are those who would be happier with the guys in the powder blue suits (there's one in every crowd). One visitor to the festival message boards wrote: ''Forget about all the Finnish nonsense, and Senegalese bongo drums, and whatever else this festival thing is all about. What the world needs is more Lawrence Welk.''