If the packed house at The Black Sheep was any indication, accordions are cool again.

The four members of the Monsters of Accordion tour squeezed away at the British pub Tuesday night, no polkas allowed.

And to prove that their instrument of choice is not just for nerds, members of this generation of accordion aficionados say they can't take themselves too seriously.

the end of the evening, crowds were treated to Italian love ballads, tangos, drinking songs, an ode to "Saint Judas" by Mark Growden and a zany rendition of "Highway to Hell," performed by Aaron Seeman, aka Duckmandu, while wearing a flaming Donald Duck hat.

"It's really dumb if you take yourself too seriously," said Amy Denio, who ended her performance drumming on her accordion with the audience thumping along.

Denio got her start when she hastily purchased her first squeezebox in Hungary after learning she couldn't convert her Hungarian forints back to dollars. Friends just asked, "Why?" when they learned of her new love. But the answer is obvious to her and the growing group of accordion-lovers: It's too much fun.

Jason Webley, who organized the tour, got his start as a professional accordionist 10 years ago, when he decided to quit his job and perform on the street until he ran out of money. Now he is well known in folk music circles, and he never did run out of money. He said he rarely hears people say accordions are for nerds.

"People seem to tell me that they think the accordion's really sexy," he said. "I hear that more often."

Local players

Interest seems to be growing among local enthusiasts, as well. Michelle Boddicker Scheffler, who has taught music lessons in the Rogue Valley for nearly 20 years, said more than 90 percent of her students are learning accordion, up from about 20 percent when she first started. Her students range in age from 6 to 86 and most come from Ashland.

So many people are becoming addicted to the ease and excitement of playing accordion, the instruments are becoming harder to find at garage sales and on eBay, she said.

"The accordion is the instrument of the heart," she said. "It's kind of like when you play cello &

you have the vibration of the instrument right up next to your heart. And with the accordion, you have the same thing."

Cassie Kantor, a self-taught player, studied Webley and his crew intently Tuesday night, hoping to pick up technique tricks as the players' fingers flew over the miniature keyboards and buttons.

Kantor began playing a year ago, inspired by a combination of Weird Al Yankovich and French accordion masters she saw playing on the subways while she studied abroad in college. She plays accordion and other instruments in a local four-piece group, The Constant Tourists.

Since she picked up the accordion, she said she's been surprised how many players have come out of the woodwork.

"There are a lot of closet case accordion players," she said. "They don't show it unless you tell them you're an accordion player."

The Medford Accordion Club saw the event as a prime recruiting opportunity, handing out fliers to all in the house.

"It's the first time I've seen four accordions performing together at one time," said club member Charles Moore. "It's always nice to see all these people coming."

The club already boasts 25 members, and a sister Ashland Accordion Club attracts six to 12 members to its meetings.

Visits from accordionists such as Webley only help increase their instrument's popularity, club members said.

"He has brought this instrument to a whole group of people who have never heard it before, and made it feel like something they want to do," Scheffler said.

The Monsters of Accordions tour was just the beginning &

more accordions are on their way into town. Jazz accordionist Jessica Fichot will perform at Alex's Plaza Restaurant on Thursday, and the Russian-trained Alexander Sevastian will perform at Southern Oregon University in January. The Black Sheep also hosts Celtic music on Sundays from 2-5 p.m. with the occasional accordion added to the mix.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .