A Tribute to 2013 CAF Honorary Director
by Sheri Mignano
Photo by Sheri Mignano
Unless it’s the opening weekend of deer hunting season, you’ll find John Volpi strapped into his recently restored vintage Excelsior, playing and singing the Old Italian songs. His cherished accordion provides him with more than just memories; it’s his way to connect with people who visit Volpi’s Ristorante & Bar, in downtown Petaluma.
On weekends John holds court in what was once a 1920s speakeasy during Prohibition. In the evening, a parade of cowboys, farmers, punks, baby boomers, and flirtatious women begins. The men offer to buy him drinks (he likes Old Fashioned cocktails), and the women leave behind traces of perfume and kisses on his cheek. By the time midnight rolls around, he’s strolled through the dining hall a few times playing Happy Birthday and “La Bionda” for the celebrants.
Volpi’s has been a musical hub for decades thanks to John’s father Silvio who taught a generation of accordionists. It has almost singlehandedly kept Italian accordion music alive in the North Bay. It has fostered a legacy of Italian classics and nostalgic northern Italian Alpine songs as well as Italian-American pop standards heard on jukeboxes.
Even before the Cotati Accordion Festival was hatched in 1991, John’s accordion-centric restaurant nourished many squeezers; and over the years, John established a friendly, relaxed environment, graciously embracing hundreds of accordionists, including myself, in the restaurant. Both John and his sister Silvia have been entertaining guests and friends for decades. The Volpi siblings, with familial ties to the Sebastiani winemaking tradition, maintained a gig schedule at many other Italian venues, too. Sharing the love of the accordion has been their top priority.
I salute John’s warm hospitality in welcoming accordion festival participants year after year. It’s been quite a journey. In 1970, I arrived with the San Francisco State Concert Band to recruit Petaluma’s high school music students, and visited the historic restaurant. In 1998 when I moved to Sonoma County, my first accordion club meeting was at Volpi’s. It’s now 2013 and I’m happy to say that the squeeze goes on! Thank you, John. Congratulations! Tanti Auguri!
Sheri Mignano Crawford