Long ago in the 1980’s, there lived a bold band of ribald music makers who used the piano accordion as the backbone of their sound. Known as the Bon Ton Soul Accordion Band, they combined elements of bawdy, bravado and bayou and became the foremost dance band in Kansas City. The prairie folk journeyed from the city, towns and farms, near and far, to Hurricane’s in Westport, to dance and party their cares away as the band played on.
Inspired by New Orleans, the Bon Ton Soul Accordion Band follows “the style of black Cajuns, who call themselves Creole, which is more Rhythm and Blues oriented,” explains accordionist and founder of the group, Richard Lucente. Traditional Cajun folk music involves a very spare set of instruments and purist ensembles often feature a tiny diatonic button accordion, a fiddle and a triangle. Ahead of their time, the Bon Ton Soul Accordion Band utilized every kind of instrument used in Cajun/Zydeco, Rock ‘n Roll, R & B and the Blues. The piano accordion was and is the guts of their sound. Lucente says that the group began as a 3-piece band in the mid 1980’s and their reputation grew through word of mouth. They started out as the house band for a restaurant named the Bon Ton Maison, where they played the deck on Saturday afternoons. Soon, the band tapped into a market and found an audience. They never predicted that they would build an enormous following of loyal fans that embraced music as more than a mere spectator sport. Folks wanted to dance and to contain the crowds, the band relocated to Hurricane’s, a larger venue across the street.
But, life for the young band changed when they found that their recorded music didn’t carry the same impact as their live performance and thus restricted professional growth. Hurricane’s changed, too, and eventually was reinvented as The Riot Room. But, a revival of the band was never far from Lucente’s thoughts, for inside the hearts of old souls lives the spirit of music that will not be suppressed.
From the beginning, the Bon Ton Soul Accordion Band defied convention. They were innovative to feature the piano accordion as the center piece of their band and influenced other groups from Nashville to Texas to use the instrument. By playing their New Orleans inspired, original music from a black oriented, R & B perspective, rather than from a preservationist focus, the Bon Ton Soul Accordion Band found a wider following, their music was more expressive and they were free to perform it in any way that worked. Also, they brought folks out to dance, which was a key to the success of the group. Now, by reviving their sound at The Riot Room in Westport, they give their fans and others younger, an opportunity to dance and a reason to party, as though time never passed.