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ACCORDIONS HIT A CHORD AS POPULARITY BOOMS

Blame it on Elvis. And on the Beatles.

In fact, the demise of the accordion might be blamed on the entire genre of music called rock 'n' roll.But guess what? Elvis is dead. The Beatles broke up two decades ago. And the accordion is making a comeback.

Just ask Frank Impinna, as he settles into his usual position, pulling the instrument straps over his shoulders and resting his fingers on the keys. He's ready to polka - this day at a polka Mass for the annual Polish Festival in Rocklin, Calif.

Impinna, who has made his living tickling the accordion keys for more than 50 years, is bewildered but happy about signs of a renewed interest in the accordion. He is one of many older players who welcome the renewed interest.

"I'm so busy and there's not enough people to play at these things," he says. "People are a little more ethnic-minded today. Zydeco's come in, and Cajun music too" - and both of these musics employ accordions, as does the polka.

In fact, the accordion hasn't seen this much popularity in decades.

In the past few years, polka festivals have sprung up all over the country. Most major cities have polka associations or polka boosters clubs, all helping promote accordion music.

While the accordion will be forever linked to the polka, it is used in many types of music.

Clifton Buck-Kauffman, who organizes the annual Cotati Accordion Festival just outside of San Francisco, calls the salute to the accordion "a multicultural, multigenerational musical extravaganza."

He's had performers playing from a variety of backgrounds, including Italian, Irish, Mexican, Russian and Scandinavian.

"Besides the polka, people will play jazz, classical and the popular music like show tunes."

The Cotati Accordion Festival started four years ago. Last year, the two-day event attracted more than 10,000 people. This year's festival is scheduled for Aug. 26-27.

"All over the country, there are a lot of people who recall the golden age of the accordion - when the accordion was the way you entertained a roomful of people," says Buck-Kauffman.

You won't find many fans of Elvis or the Beatles among accordion music lovers. To them, rock 'n' roll single-handedly destroyed a genre of music they claim to be upbeat, wholesome and with a better beat to dance to. Still, Buck-Kauffman says he's "flabbergasted" at the number of people who come from all over the country to his festival.

"The typical audience of the accordion is a mature audience, but now there seems to be a renaissance in appreciation by all ages," he says."There are accordion clubs all over the country. I saw in the paper today that the Pentagon is having an accordionist play today in their dining room. I don't think it will be as popular as it was 60 or 70 years ago, when a lot of kids learned how to play the accordion, but hopefully the popularity will continue to grow."

In Rocklin, Virginia and George Meier have been running the Accordion Exchange for 25 years, sending accordions all over the country and watching a growing trend.

"There's this family in Washington - customers of ours - that have five children who play the accordion," relates Virginia. "Their school friends made fun of them for playing the accordion. So the parents took them out of school and are home-schooling them.

"They play the Slovenian type of music - they travel around and play - and the parents didn't want them to lose it."

The accordion has been the target of jokes since it fell from grace in the '50s.

But accordionists and their followers may get the last laugh.

"I hear the accordion being used in ads now on television, in the background music," says Virginia. "They probably use it because it has a happy sound."

Accordion legend Myron Floren, who spent 32 years playing with "The Lawrence Welk Show," would like to claim the instrument that made him famous never suffered a setback. But he admits the '90s are much better for the accordion than the '70s and '80s were.

"Lawrence used to say in the '60s, with the Beatles and the keyboards and guitars, `Keep featuring the accordion and it'll get big again,' " Floren said in a telephone interview.

The prediction appears to be coming true. Floren, who plays at 150 events a year, claims to turn down three times that many dates.

"Every year, I'm in 40 of the 50 states," he says. "The senior citizen is our devoted and steady audience, but I'm seeing more teens and up to age 25 or so coming out. I sent out several (autographed) pictures just this morning to young people still in high school who want to know how to make a living playing the accordion."

Floren chuckles at the mention of the gray-haired set of "accordion-groupies," who follow him and other accordion players from venue to venue. "I play in a thing called the Wurstfest in Texas ever year," he says, "and people come there from 15 to 20 different states to hear me."