The Steve Balich Polka Band

 Performing all 28 Years at the Festival!

Steve Balich Jr. has been playing music throughout the Bay Area and North Bay for 40 years.  He joined with his father Steve Balich Sr. and they formed the Steve Balich Sr. Polka Band.  Steve Sr. , along with Clifton Buck-Kauffman and our own Jim Boggio was one of the originators of the festival who pioneered this event in 1991.  Over the past 26 years they have played different venues, cruises, and polka festivals throughout California and Nevada and recorded three CD’s, The Golden Years, Steve Balich Plays All Italian Volume I and Volume II

For the last 25 years they have been the featured band in the Polka Tent at the Cotati Accordion Festival.  In 2014 Steve Sr. retired and Steve Jr. is carrying on the tradition of The Steve Balich Band, playing a variety of music, with band members Art Wood (trumpet/trombone), Lindy Mantova (accordion),  and Scott Von Heim (drum/vocals).

 Article by Sheri Mignano-Crawford: Steve Balich, San Francisco Polka King
1924-2017 you wanted to know about Steve Balich Sr.
but were afraid to ask ...

by David Williams

Steve Balich may be one of the few people in the world who honestly can say his love for playing the accordion dates back to the Herbert Hoover Administration.  His passion for the squeezebox took hold in 1929 when he was a 5-year-old child in San Francisco but he didn’t get the opportunity to pursue it until five years later.

You see, Balich’s parents believed his love for the accordion would be akin to a boy’s first crush and that his attention would be drawn elsewhere in due time.  But when his parents would take him to parties in dance halls, they saw a light in their son that would never go out.
“They never had to worry about where I was at a party in the hall because I was always just watching the accordion players,” Balich said.  “I wouldn’t leave.”

Another temporary setback then was economics.  His parents simply didn’t have the money for an accordion. When his parents finally realized it was true love, they relented and promised him an accordion for his 10th birthday.  On his anticipated day, however, Balich was disappointed and again money was the issue.

“My father was a longshoreman, and they had a big general strike back in 1934,” Balich said.  “He was off work for three or four months.  I was sitting out there on the curb and, oh, I was so depressed.  That’s when my mother said, ‘I don’t give a damn, we’re getting him an accordion.”

A couple days later, Balich and his parents were off to the Wurlitzer Co., where they purchased a white accordion that was almost bigger than the 10-year-old Balich, who has played a Petosa accordion for the last 20 years.  A few free lessons were thrown in with the purchase and Balich took it from there. Frank Yankovich (yes, he’s related to Weird Al Yankovich) was one of the marquee names in the accordion music world when Balich was cutting his teeth.  “My dad told me that if I played good, I could be like him,” Balich said.

The resident of Occidental has done his parents proud, as he’s played with the likes of Dick Contino, Chuck Berger, Tony Lovello and Art Van Damme.

Balich has been a mainstay at the Cotati Accordion Festival since its inception in 1991.  He also was a fixture at Camp Meeker near Occidental for 22 years, playing from the Fourth of July through Labor Day weekend.  Currently, one of his regular venues is Little Switzerland in Sonoma, where he plays once a month during months where there are four Sundays and twice a month in those where there are two Sundays.

Balich’s current schedule may not be as hectic as in his younger days, as he rarely ventures out of state, but the man definitely stays busy as he had 50 dates scheduled throughout the year and will fit in added events in if possible. As much as playing has meant to Balich, his top priority while raising his family was his furniture store which he ran with his wife of 63 years, Jennie.

“I never tried to make playing a bread-and-butter operation. I just love playing,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how tired I am, once I put that accordion on, it’s like somebody gave me a shot of adrenaline.”

Steve and Jennie, whose maiden name is Gemegnai, have three children (Steve Jr., John and Jeffrey) and three grandchildren.  Steve Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps, plays accordion and leads a band of his own.

The Polka Dance Party in the polka tent, where he fronts the Steve Balich Sr. Polka Band, remains one of the more popular attractions at the two-day festival.  On the whole, Balich has been surprised by the growth and success of the CAF and it is a source of pride for him that he’s been there from the start.

“I never thought it would get this big, but it kind of worked its way into what it is,” Balich said. “It gives me a really good feeling because I promote this as much as I can, and I use this in my own field of music. I consider myself one of the busiest little groups up here in the area. I feature us as a versatile group. I do polka and other things. I don’t consider jazz or rock because that’s not my bag.”

It took a few years, however, for the Polka Dance Party to find a permanent home at the CAF.  In fact, the dance party initially took place at the old Cotati Cabaret, which Balich feels was a bad spot for it because even though it was within walking distance of La Plaza Park, it seemed miles away and set apart from the rest of the activities of the accordion festival.  Also, while activities in the park were free to attend, entrance into the dance party was $5.  After being placed in subsequent year in various locales such as the bookstore in front of the old Inn of the Beginning or in a tiny lot between the Cotati fire station and the park, the dance party/polka tent with a huge wooden floor finally found its permanent place.

“We were in some pretty raunchy spots early on, but we played,” Balich said. “What’s great about the polka tent is that people have a place to go when they want something different than what’s on the main stage. It’s great when you see so many people of all ages dancing and enjoying themselves.”

Those who enjoy themselves when Dick Contino, a true legend in the accordion world, appears at the CAF have Balich to thank.  One year, after one of the main draws decided not to participate, the festival management needed a big draw.  In stepped Balich, an old friend of Contino who also happened to study under the same accordion teacher in San Francisco.  Although they lost contact for a few years as Contino began playing huge venues in places such as Las Vegas.

“I asked Dick if he’d play and he said he’d love to. Then I asked what he charged, and he said he plays for anything from zero to $10,000,” Balich chuckled.  “Thank goodness I wasn’t involved in those types of negotiations.  Dick’s one of the best and I knew he’d be a good fit for the accordion festival.” ▲

They're baaaaacckk!!!
Those Darn Accordions

Those Darn Accordions continue to rock the accordion world with their high energy accordion chops and smile inducing tunes. The band has gone through a myriad of changes over the past 26 years, but their performances continue to wow crowds around the U.S. What began as a one night stand at a local SF watering hole has morphed into a kaleidoscopic configuration of accordionists. Frontman Paul Rogers heads a line up of Bay Area squeezeboxers that continue to push the boundaries of what is possible when a traditional instrument like the accordion is run head on into rock and roll.

Joining  the current TDA line up of Paul Rogers, Suzanne Garramone, Lewis Wallace and Ian Luke are Susie Davis and Carri Abrahms and special guest Tom Torriglia. TDA will be drawing from it’s time proven repertoire and offering some new surprises as well.  This is not a show to be missed!

"Donny & Marie," 2000
ABC "Good Morning America," news feature segments, 1999 & 1990
FX "Penn & Teller's Sin City Spectacular," 1999
KRON-TV "Bay Area Backroads," 1999
KPIX-TV "Evening Magazine," 1999
ABC "American Music Awards," 1998
"The Jerry Lewis MD Telethon," 1998
ABC "World News Now," live performances, 1997 & 1990
MTV "Oddville," 1997
WTTW-TV "Wild Chicago," 1997
WDJT-TV news feature segment, Milwaukee, 1997
"The Jim J & Tammy Faye Show," 1996
MTV "6th Annual Rock n' Jock Softball Challenge," 1995

Most Notable Gigs
"The Drew Carey Show" wrap party, Hollywood, 1999
Walt Disney's "Geppetto" wrap party, Hollywood, 1998
"Required Listening" at the Bottom Line, NYC (live broadcast WFUV-FM), 1995
South by Southwest Music Conference, Austin, Texas 1994
"West Coast Live," 1996 and "West Coast Weekend," 1993, 1991
Candlestick Park, San Francisco; 1989, 1990, 1993
Wrigley Field, Chicago, 1993
International Accordion Festival, Vilnius, Lithuania, 1992
International Accordion Festival, Castelfidardo, Italy, 1990

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Phone: (360) 531-0276



Two Gypsy Kisses
(Due Zighi Baci)

One Tenor, One Accordionist, Hours of Memorable Music! 

Celebrating ten years of authentic European café music, Sheri Mignano Crawford and Michael Van Why have specialized in Italian and Neapolitan canzone, French chanson, and the American Songbook. Each concert exhibits artfully arranged vintage songs tied together by thematic coherence. Their most memorable concerts include their ever popular “Panini on a Croissant.” It offers a balanced fare of French and Italian. “Festa Della Vendemmia” revels in the annual harvesting of the grapes with the ripest, juiciest, most delicious, and savory songs from Italy’s and France’s musical vineyards. The most memorable concerts include “At the Movies” with Academy Award winning songs. A Vegas style “Rat Pack” tribute, a magical soirée of chanson with “Midnight in Paris,” and “Dolce Sera” at Coppola’s summer gazebo by the pool. The annual Mardi Gras show, Bastille Day concerts, the annual “Breakfast with Santa” concerts December’s Saturday mornings at Costeaux French Bakery, and “Canti Della Libertà” honoring the 150th anniversary of Italy’s unification. The fun always accompanies the novelty themed concerts such as “Hookers ‘n’ Hooch,”  “Hot August Nights” (Italian Rock n Roll), “Gypsy Serenade” with its salute to Eastern European music, and special concerts honoring the immortal Edith Piaf.

We are proud to present “Kaleidoscopic Love” to complement this year’s Woodstock theme. Thank you for inviting us to share the music we love and giving us so many opportunities to perform and entertain at hundreds of venues throughout northern California. We salute the Cotati Accordion Festival in its endeavors to promote an annual multicultural event and wish to extend our appreciation to all our fans, friends, clients, and fellow musicians who value our skill and expertise. Find out more about our concert schedule and backyard soirées by visiting our website:   

And check out our YouTube channel.