Beaches Accordion Festival
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.
August 13th, 2013 at 5:18 pm (#)
Wow Melissa! Your article is absolutely perfect. The photographs are excellent and the writing super. My sister shared this with me and I will pass it along to many, many friends especially the accordion lovers.
I am soooooo proud of you. Your mom and nan would be too.
August 13th, 2013 at 9:56 pm (#)
Thanks for the nice comments Aunt Joan! It was a fun weekend. I’ll have to see if I can get Dad out there one year.
August 13th, 2013 at 9:19 pm (#)
Gotta congratulate you girl, you did a fantastic job. This festival is very impressive. I am certainly going to try and take it in next year. Looks like everyone had a grand time. Thanks to Joan, your Aunt who shared this with all of us, her fellow accordion players.
Thanks again, Marg Pomeroy
August 13th, 2013 at 9:57 pm (#)
You should definitely try to catch the festival next year if you can. It was my first time to that part of the island and I doubt it’ll be my last.
August 19th, 2013 at 1:18 pm (#)
Cant say going to an Accordion festival would be tops on the list of things to do but I believe in trying things at least once. It did look like a great experience and the photos were great. Im sure the family would love to check it out once as well.
August 21st, 2013 at 9:21 am (#)
Wonderful read on this very early Calgary morning! Thanks. Just shared on our FB page! https://www.facebook.com/pages/Toque-and-Canoe/166504546750300 PS What’s your twitter handle???
August 21st, 2013 at 9:27 am (#)
Thanks for sharing! My Twitter handle is @avalonmel (or you can click on the Twitter icon at the top or bottom of the page). :)
September 13th, 2013 at 10:52 am (#)
Very cool article and most excellent photos! I’ll be reading some of your archived articles too, great job.
October 1st, 2013 at 8:39 pm (#)
Great pictures. I played an accordion in the stages there. The one where Cyril and Clara, friends of mine, are dancing. The Eastport committee are doing a great job at keeping the accordion tradition alive. Hats off to them !
May 6th, 2015 at 7:41 pm (#)
Had heard about Salvage Fishing Stages and the awesome musical talent that had entered and played there, but it was only last year of 2014 I had a chance to visit and I am so glad I did for it was one of the best times I had in my entire life. There is a lot of musical talent in our fair province and a multitude of acclaimed musicians that love to show off their aptitude and talent to all that love this music. The committees of both the Heritage Center at Eastport and the Salvage Fishing Stages are doing a remarkable and a fantastic job of promoting both amateur and acclaimed players alike. Thank you one and all for keeping the accordion tradition alive. The committee members and the players make teh summer season come alive in our scenic Bonavista Bay.