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Arts Around Town: Easton’s Earl the Accordionist knows how to key up the market crowds

By Susan Kalan, WFMZ.com Arts Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Jan 02 2014 10:10:18 AM CST
Earl the Accordionist

Some passersby might be oblivious to his sound, but to Easton’s Emmy Award-winning animator Maciek Albrecht of MaGik World, Earl Ball and his accordion at the Farmers’ Market at Centre Square was the perfect subject for a film. Nearly six minutes in length, Albrecht’s animation, “To the Market,” portrayed Ball waking up late on a Saturday morning and making a mad dash to get to his early appointment of entertaining the market crowd at Centre Square. Of course, there’s a twist when Ball accidentally slips and slides his way downtown just in the nick of time to perform. Albrecht’s short garnered Best in Show at the annual 2013 Movies at the Mill festival held last September at Easton’s Hugh Moore Park.

“It put me on the map,” jokes Ball, 66, who flashes a great smile and takes it all in stride.

A resident of Easton’s West Ward, Ball said he’s been playing the accordion for 20-plus years, though he’s become a regular in the downtown scene in the last year. In addition to the summer marketplace, he’s performed at Easton’s Bacon, Chili Pepper, Garlic, and Scarecrow festivals, among others. An ordained minister in the United Church of Christ for more than 40 years, he was director of a hospital chaplaincy program in Bucks County prior to his retirement.

It’s by choice that Ball straps his 25-pound, vintage Italian accordion to his chest and dons one of his signature hats before heading out the door of his Victorian-style home. He’s currently entertaining customers every Saturday at the farmers’ market Winter Mart located at 325 Northampton St., site of the former Weller Education Center. For the past two weeks, he was spreading merriment outdoors at the market by playing Christmas songs.

 “I just show up and play,” Ball said, adding that any monetary tips he receives from the public go directly to the farmers’ market. “It’s my give-back to the community,” he said.

Ball tells of an incident that happened one Saturday when he was playing. A man came by and asked him to play a polka while he watched intently. When Ball finished playing, the man asked if he could play something and performed three songs “very well.” He then gave the accordion back to Ball and quickly disappeared down the street as the crowd cheered and someone shouted, “Only in Easton!”

“That’s why I do it,” Ball said. “I want people to leave feeling good and uplifted. I want them to enjoy life.”

“When I hear the accordion anywhere, I think it’s Earl and I’m in Easton,” said local artist Maryann Riker. “It becomes a little bizarre when in Rome and hearing an accordion, I thought, ‘Oh, where’s Earl? Wait a minute, where am I?’ He and his accordion are synonymous with Easton.”

Ball does not sing but has quite a repertoire of polkas and old standards geared for the accordion and honors requests from memory. Often he’s asked to even play a Beatles song. Little kids stand in awe of him as they watch his fingers move swiftly up and down the accordion keys. Eventually they join in the fun with a dance.

“They’re amazed that the accordion doesn’t plug in to anywhere,” said Ball, who grew up in a Polish neighborhood in Buffalo, N.Y., and studied at The University at Buffalo, The State University of New York. He also attended Lancaster Theological Seminary.

“Growing up in the mid- 50s, you had to know how to play a polka on the accordion,” he explained. “My father would drive me to lessons downtown when I was 12. I remember my teacher had a fabulous new Edsel.”

Ball can recall how he never liked practicing the scales. When he was 16 and guitars became popular, he said he gave up on the accordion. It wasn’t until about 25 years ago that his childhood caught up with him at a Saylorsburg flea market where he saw an accordion for $50. To date, he now owns about 14.

“Earl the Accordionist epitomizes the spirit and vibe of the Easton Farmers’ Market,” said Megan C. McBride, market manager. “His joyful music provides an air of surprise and a warm welcome. We’re so fortunate that Easton is home to amazing musicians and artists who are so willing to share their talents with the community they love.”

The “To the Market” DVD is selling for $10 and is available at the Easton Farmers’ Market Winter Mart.

For further info: facebook.com/Earl.Accordionist  |  youtube.com/user/EarlAccordionist

 

ARTS ROUNDUP

The Lehigh Valley Arts Council presents its first program in the Arts Alive 2014 series with “Curating Fashion” on Jan. 18, from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., at the Payne Gallery at Moravian College in Bethlehem. Guest speaker will be noted men’s fashion writer/editor G. Bruce Boyer on his career in fashion and his upcoming exhibition, “Elegance in an Age of Crisis: Fashions of the 1930s,” at the Museum at The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. The exhibition runs Feb. 8 through April 19.

Boyer has resided most of his life in Bethlehem, graduated from Moravian College and pursued graduate studies at Lehigh University. His writings have appeared in “The New Yorker,” “Town and Country” and “L’Uomo Vogue,” among many others. He has authored books on fashion history and was a commentator on the TV documentary series, “The Hollywood Fashion Machine.”

For further info: 610-437-5915

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“Winnie the Pooh” is coming to town, when Stagemakers at the J present the musical, Jan. 10 through Jan. 20, at the Jewish Community Center of Allentown, 702 N. 22nd St.

The famous bear is singing happily that “isn’t it funny how a bear likes honey” when the “terrible” trouble begins. Kanga comes to the forest with soap for baths and spoonfuls of Strengthening Medicine, and something must be done! The cast of characters includes Tigger, Kanga, Roo and Eeyore.

Director is Syd Stauffer, marking her third season with Stagemakers at the J. She also is an active member of the Lehigh Valley’s premiere comedy improv troupe, The Associated Mess.

“Winnie the Pooh” has musical lyrics by A.A. Milne, music by Allan Friedman, and adaptation by Kristin Sergel.

For further info: allentownjcc.org

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Pennsylvania’s 98th Farm Show gets underway Saturday through Jan. 11, at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center in Harrisburg. Themed “Pennsylvania Farms: Growing for You,” the show features 6,000 animals, 10,000 competitive exhibits and 300 commercial exhibitors. This morning’s unveiling of the 1,000-pound butter sculpture by Jim Victor unofficially opens the show. A free concert on Friday at 7:30 p.m. features emerging country singer and Pennsylvania native Ben Gallaher.

For more info: farmshow.state.pa.us

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