Skyler Fell is a 25-year-old entrepreneur with a mission: to ride the crest of a new wave of popularity for the accordion, a classic musical instrument with a growing following in the underground music scene.
She runs Accordion Apocalypse, the only accordion-centric shop for “San Francisco’s official instrument,” offering beginner lessons, rebuilt used accordions, repairs, parts and sheet music out of a Hunter’s Point warehouse space. She also leads the Accordion Apocalypse Circus Sideshow, a band that performs for clubs and events. Listening to her speak, it’s clear that she has a passion for an instrument with a fan base that spans from aging Italian masters to a new generation of punk musicians.
She’s part of the latter, with a flashy style she compares to the unique decoration of old hand-built instruments. Both deserve “a chance to shine,” she said.
“It’s really a rich history, and I feel blessed to be carrying the new torch,” she said. “I really like these older accordions. They’re from the 1940s. Each accordion has so much chutzpah, charm and personality.”
She began playing the accordion four years ago, after meeting an accordionist at an all-woman circus band. She went on to live with the musician in Europe. When she returned, she moved into a warehouse that had an accordion lying around. To her, it was fate.
She brought the instrument to the now-shuttered Boaz Accordions in Berkeley, and worked out a payment plan to repair it that turned into an apprenticeship. The company taught her bellows repair, leather refreshing and how to use a jewelry lathe, creating perfect concertina brass buttons measured to one-thousandth of an inch.
Though no one in her family plays the instrument, she feels it ties her to her Ukrainian roots and the long tradition of Klezmer music.
When Boaz closed, Fell ended up with many of its parts and tools. She opened her first shop in an Oakland garage. Her new shop at 2626 Jennings St., San Francisco, opened in January, is an improvement because it has a true showroom with a separate workshop. She also employs professional tuner Ray Landsberg.
“He’s been tuning longer than I’ve been alive,” she said. “I make it a point to spend time with our accordion elders.”
This weekend, she’ll be working with one such elder, Brisbane resident Vince Cirelli of Cirelli Accordion Service, at the 16th Annual Cotati Accordion Festival, www.cotatifest.com.
She faces some business challenges. She’s still learning to read sheet music, and supplements her business performing other jobs, including teaching welding at The Crucible art space in Oakland. Her typical client is a beginning player looking for an instrument or someone looking to rebuild an older accordion, she said. The latter takes 10 hours to 20 hours minimum at $60 an hour. Accordions cost between $13 for a children’s accordion and $700 for a classic older model.
Title: Owner, The Accordion Apocalypse Repair Shop
New project: Apocalyptically enhance 5 mini button box accordions to donate to the Cotati Accordion Festival for Door Prizes
Essential Web site: www.accordion-apocalypse.com
Best perk: I have a perfect niche, the ONLY accordion repair shop in San Francisco, where the accordion is the “official” instrument.
First job: Artists’ assistant in a machine shop.
Career objective: To inspire the entertainment world through promoting the accordion: having an accordion-based circus sideshow, traveling accordion shop and female-owned repair shop based in San Francisco.
Details: 25 years old, 5’1″ tall, I practice both standing on my head and playing accordion every day. I am interested in DIY (do-it-yourself) projects, including alternative fuel vehicles, repairing broken things, post-apocalyptic recycled metal art.
Sports/hobbies: Accordion, circus arts such as acro-balance and fire juggling, welded sculpture.
Transportation: My blue vintage Schwinn 10-speed bicycle, 40 foot SVO Bluebird CAT 3208 school bus
Computer: Mac G4 X OS powerbook
Motivation: Love, food, music and to live these dreams!
Vacation spot: Burning Man at Black Rock City, Nev., and Autonomous Mutant Festival on the West Coast.
Favorite clothier: My friends that do “re-made” clothes — designer Trinity Cross and Lucy Fur (demonseed designs)
Reading: Accordion Crimes, San Francisco Not Long After, “How to” manuals, Chaos Theory
Worst fear: Ear wigs and wild pigs
Favorite restaurant: Cafe Gratitude
Gadgets: The Peterson Auto Strobe 490 tuner, and I machine many of my own tools specific to accordion repairs.
Original aspiration: To work with my hands doing a skilled craft that would still be useful and needed after the Apocalypse.
Last project: Making a bass button stand, for rebuilding Accordions Bass Machines
Number of emails a day: Five
Number of voice mails a day: Six
Education: Apprenticeship with the former “Boaz Accordions,” trained in several industrial arts shops including The Crucible in West Oakland.
Last conference: The 16th Annual San Francisco Accordion Festival at the cannery near Fisherman’s Wharf