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Cody McSherry, 11, plays his button accordion at the American Accordionists‚?? Association festival. Accordion enthusiasts point to McSherry as living proof that the instrument is attracting younger musicians. / Ned P. Rauch, The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News

TARRYTOWN, N.Y. ‚?? The Air Force has 13,805 pilots, 3,600 navigators and one full-time accordionist.

That man, Master Sgt. (and accordion teacher and dealer) Frank Busso Jr., 34, has performed with his ensemble at the White House several times and, far more often, at Vice President Joe Biden's house.

"He's a fan of whatever we bring to the table," Busso said of Biden. "Great guy."

While the accordion ace is alone among airmen, he's in good company this week in Tarrytown, where the American Accordionists' Association has arrived for its 2014 festival.

More than 300 squeeze-box players, dealers, collectors, novices and experts are expected to attend the conference, which opened Thursday and runs through Sunday.

"We've done so much for the accordion," said Busso's father, Frank Busso Sr., a vice president of the organization. "We've had festivals, competitions. We've performed at Carnegie Hall. We got the accordion accepted at 23 colleges as a major instrument."

This would prove to be a recurring theme during a Thursday evening visit to the exhibit hall: fighting for the accordion's acceptance. It's versatile and portable, supporters said. You can play anything on it just about anywhere.

"It's a one-man band," said Emilio Magnotta, a dealer and performer from White Plains.

Busso Sr., a friendly man who has played the instrument since he was 7 and now teaches on Staten Island, placed the blame for the instrument's falling out of favor on Elvis and the Beatles.

"Everyone went guitar crazy," he said.

Except, of course, the members of the association, who will pour in from all over the country, many toting their own bellowed-and-buttoned instruments, eager to strike up a tune at a moment's notice.

If Thursday's visit is any indication, there will be few moments when someone, somewhere, isn't playing an accordion.

Lou Persic, a doctor from State College, Pa., wore a white captain's hat and stood near the center of the room to experiment with a digital accordion. He stretched the bellows across his round mid-section and smiled at onlookers.

Asked about his introduction to the instrument, he said, "I was on a quest for the Holy Grail," then directed his focus back to playing.

Behind him, a dealer's sign read, "Busy Fingers."

Nearby, Paul Ramunni of the New England Accordion Museum in Canaan, Conn., arranged a display of his prized instruments. He pointed out one, glistening with rhinestones, that belonged to Al Capone's personal accordionist and another that he acquired from the family of a World War II veteran.

As Ramunni explained it, Walter Mackiewicz was rolling through Germany in a tank when, among the rubble, he spotted a gleaming, colorful Hohner accordion. He leaped out of the tank and grabbed the instrument as a souvenir.

Along the way, an explosion gave him another souvenir: a jagged, 2-inch-long piece of German-made metal that surgeons later removed from his body. Ramunni fished through his boxes as he told the story and eventually came up with the shrapnel.

"That's what makes them special," he said of his pieces. "The stories that come with them."

Elsewhere in the room, accordion fanatics set up their displays and, with very little prompting, presented their case for the accordion's growing relevance. The instrument isn't just for polka, and it isn't just for old men, they said (not that there's anything wrong with either).

"Nowadays, there is no negative stigma with the accordion," said Lillianna Chudolij, a dealer from New Jersey. "It's in a renaissance."

To prove her point, she and her husband, Alex, rattled off the big-name musical acts who have rented accordions from them: Madonna, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, U2.

The association's historian, Joan Grauman, cradled her dog, a papillon named Metronome, at her side and insisted that while the accordion, like a lot of people, went through a "geek phase" in the 1980s, it has since emerged. "A lot of newer rock groups are starting to use the accordion," she said. "It's an excellent change, I think."

She then gestured to an 11-year-old boy with a fedora wandering the hall, describing him as a "fantastic" talent. Cody McSherry, a soon-to-be sixth-grader from Maryland, then strapped on a button accordion and proved Grauman correct.

"It's different and it's wonderful," McSherry said, explaining his fondness for the instrument. "You can play anything on it."



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Accordionists squeeze into N.Y. town for festival

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