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Accordion Kings, Big Squeeze Draws Giant Houston Crowd

Texas Folklife's 19th annual Accordion Kings concert, held June 7 at Miller Outdoor Theatre in Houston, was a smashing success, with 6,000 accordion fans in attendance to cheer on our Big Squeeze contest finalists and the featured bands: La Tropa F, Step Rideau & the Zydeco Outlaws and the Knights of Dixie Orchestra. They were particularly thrilled that a hometown boy, Houston's John Ramirez, 16, won the Big Squeeze Grand Prize of $500 and a day of recording time at Houston's historic SugarHill Studios. Runners-up were Heriberto Rodriguez, 15, of Edcouch, and Brian Gallegos, 22, of Devine. They each won $250; Texas Folklife also paid expenses for them to attend the finals.

A huge, 18-foot by 24-foot video screen streamed live images of the players for the benefit of viewers seated on the theatre's grassy hill -- some of who had claimed their spots well before the 7 p.m. show's start. After the contestants performed, followed by last year's winner, John Longoria Jr., the Knights of Dixie warmed up the already-dancing crowd. Then Step Rideau's zydeco party music really got things jumping. The final act, tejano faves La Tropa F, invited Ramirez out to perform a song with them, giving him even more reason to smile. Then his grandfather, who won one of two accordions Texas Folklife auctioned during the event, presented him with the new Hohner Corona II Supreme, worth $2,400. We also auctioned off a Gabbanelli Model 101 worth $2,900.

Judges for the contest were Joe Nick Patoski, who also emceed (and signed copies of his new book: Willie Nelson: An Epic Life); Arlyn Visentin, president of the Houston Accordion Association; David Acosta, a member of the Recording Academy's Texas Chapter Board of Governors and "CPA to the stars"; Gina Miller, business, promotions and marketing director at SugarHill Studios in Houston; Joe Norman, creator and Web master of; Roger Wood, author of Texas Zydeco and Down in Houston: Bayou City Blues; and Longoria.

 Big Squeeze 2008