Beaches Accordion Festival
August 13, 2013
The most unique setting for a festival I’ve ever seen.
When I read about the Beaches Accordion Festival taking place on Newfoundland’s Eastport peninsula I saw that Saturday afternoon’s festivities would be taking place on various stages in the town of Salvage. I had visions of a few small structures being erected in a field, portapotties, maybe a small beer tent. In reality, eight fishing stages were somewhat cleared out and each hosted local accordion players and accompanists playing acoustically. No extra lights. No PA. Much more like a shed party than a concert.
Hold up… what on earth is a fishing stage you might be asking? It’s a small wooden building built right over the water with work tables where the day’s catch can be landed and processed for salting or drying. Sort of like a large shed on stilts that reaches out over the water. On this particular weekend one stage owner actually had a cod being salted in the corner which left no question that this was a working stage and not just a facade.
One thing to know about the accordions played in Newfoundland is that generally they’re not the piano accordions you might’ve seen on the Lawrence Welk Show. Diatonic button accordions are the norm here (meaning the instrument is tuned to one key), so it’s pretty typical for a player to have multiple instruments. You’ll also find that every community seems to have at least one master. Canadian platinum artists Great Big Sea include an accordion in regular rotation, there are multiple local performance groups, and back in 2005 we even broke the world record for largest accordion ensemble by having 989 players gather together to play the Newfoundland folk standard Mussels in the Corner. This instrument is entrenched in our cultural heritage perhaps more than any other.
If you’ve ever attended a Newfoundland wedding, you’ll know that there’s nothing guaranteed to get the older folks out on the dance floor more than a Newfoundland waltz. I’m not talking about some hoity-toity Viennese affair, but a good old 3/4 accordion tune. The stages in Salvage were no exception and a handful of couples throughout the afternoon were inspired to go for a twirl whenever the musicians kicked into a waltz.
As I stood inside a stage leaning against someone’s covered snowmobile listening to Grey Foggy Day I couldn’t help but think how much my dad would’ve enjoyed being there. As the daughter of two ex-pat Newfoundlanders I grew up with artists like Harry Hibbs and Simani so I had many flashbacks to my childhood during the festival. This music is so much a part of my own history that I know that, should I ever get married, the father-daughter dance will not be some sappy, modern song but a Newfoundland waltz.
One thing that I really loved about the whole festival was how un-pretentious it was. It was just simple, staightforward folk music. So achingly authentic. If you want a real, small town Newfoundland experience look no further. Unless someone is in the corner boiling the kettle for tea or frying up toutons, it doesn’t get much more downhome than the Beaches Accordion Festival on the fishing stages of Salvage. As if the festival was trying to hit me over the head with nostalgia and warm fuzzy feelings, I even randomly ran into my aunt and uncle who live 8hrs away.
Those two hours I spent traipsing from stage to stage really reminded me just where I come from and that Newfoundland accordion music isn’t the hokey schlock I might’ve thought it was when I was a tween obsessed with pop music. It’s a rich tradition that’s still alive today and worth savouring. The town of Salvage is the perfect, picturesque place to drive that point home.
Would ever consider going to an accordion festival?
Note: I was at the Beaches Accordion Festival as a guest of Adventure Central. All opinions are my own.