“Berets and Bongos” describes the Café Accordion experience. A loungy, eclectic mix, full of French flare, Latin heat and Bohemian attitude. The heart of the Café Accordion repertoire is the romantic, gypsy-influenced valse-musette. The group complements the musettes with swing, ballads, tangos, cha chas, rumbas, and cumbias to create a wonderfully varied show. They inject their music with good humor and expressive abandon. Their high level of musicianship and passion for performance makes them an entertaining concert act as well as a great dance band.
CAO is led by DAN NEWTON on accordion and vocals, with ERIC MOHRING on mandolin, violin and vocals, ERIK LILLESTOL on bass and vocals, ROBERT BELL on guitar and vocals and JOE STEINGER on percussion. CAO has been delighting audiences and dancers alike since 1995. They have appeared in New York at the Lincoln Center's Midsummer Night Swing series, the International Akkordeon Festival in Vienna, Austria, the Minnesota State Fair, as well as festivals, theaters and dance halls across the United States.
The Cafe Accordion catalog consists of nine recordings with the 2013 release of La Zingara.
A Brief History
One might wonder how a group of musicians in Minnesota end up forming a band that plays French Musette, Gypsy Jazz, Tin Pan Alley, Latin music and cinematic themes. It's certainly been an interesting journey for Dan Newton's Cafe Accordion Orchestra, (CAO) a band whose repertoire cannot be described neatly with one word like "Blues" or "Swing". It all started with a tune composed in 1992 by the band's accordionist Dan "Daddy Squeeze" Newton. Dan had been introduced to "Musette" or "Valse Swing", the Parisian sidewalk cafe accordion sound, while teaching at a music camp in northern California in the 1980s. He began writing his own tunes based on the style, which he referred to as "faux Parisian elevator music". A friend commented that one of the tunes in particular sounded like "cafe accordion" music. That became the name of the tune and Dan's first solo album. A year later Dan grew anxious to play some of these tunes with other musicians and formed a loose combo he called the Cafe Accordion Orchestra, and their first public performance was on January 1, 1995. The idea was to create the ambiance of a French or European Cafe or to leave the listener feeling like they were in a silent film or a Fellini flick. A local newspaper reviewed the band's first recorded album as "world beat music of the Kennedy era".
Dan searched the rich jazz, bluegrass and folk scenes in the Twin Cities to find the most versatile musicians available. He met mandolinist/fiddler Eric Mohring playing contra dance music at a local folk club. Eric has a strong background in American old-time and Cajun music, and had been exposed to the French Musette style. He is fluent in French and Greek, sings in four languages and leads a successful Cajun band called the New Riverside Ramblers. When Dan met percussionist Joe Steinger, he was drumming in a blues band and working for a major eclectic record distributor. Joe has a background in Jazz and Swing and his many years in the record business gave him easy access to an incredible amount of world music. Gypsy Swing and Jazz specialist Robert Bell became CAO's guitarist in 2010. Robert also sings in Armenian, plays the oud and banjo, and plays swing dance events around the country. Bassist Erik Lillestol studied music at Syracuse University, has many years of experience in Jazz and Pop styles and also runs the CAO web: www.cafeaccordion.com
Over the years the band's repertoire has broadened, covering French Musette, Gypsy Swing, Greek, Armenian, American Jazz and Blues standards, Latin music and sounds from film soundtracks as well as original music. CAO's sound has taken them to Vienna, Austria for performances at the International Akkordeon Festival. They have appeared in New York at the Lincoln Center's Midsummer Night Swing series, Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion, The Minnesota State Fair, as well as festivals, theaters and dance halls across the United States.