By Elizabeth Hansen, For The Miami Student
Down the stairs and around the corner, behind a heavy metal door and past the hostess stand, sits a man on a wooden stool wearing suspenders and a Bavarian hat. His name is Dave Hughes and he plays the accordion
“ZIGGY ZAGGY ZIGGY ZAGGY OI OI OI!” he shouts out as he finishes playing his accordion version of Taylor Swift’s, “Out of the Woods.”
He stops for a second, grabs his beer stein and takes a big gulp.
“Play ‘Free Bird!’” some customers shout.
“I was getting so psyched to play the next song! I’ll play that after!” he shouts back.
His mother, a French war bride, met her husband while he was serving for the U.S. military in France. They married and moved to Butler, Pennsylvania, where Dave and his sister were born. At three years old, Dave’s father died.
When he was nine, his mother took his sister and him on a world tour of Europe and Africa. That was when he heard the accordion for the first time.
“My mother told me, ‘I want you to start taking lessons on an instrument. What instrument do you want to play?’” said Hughes. “I told her I liked the sound of the musette and accordion.”
Fifty-four years later, Dave is still stretching the bellows of his accordion.
Dave received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Cincinnati Conservatory and taught music for over 35 years.
Now, when he’s not substitute teaching at Kramer Elementary School, he plays at festivals and gigs with his band, “The Polka Dots,” or solo at Steinkeller.
“I’ve been playing the Cincinnati Oktoberfest for years,” says Dave. “We’re playing the Bock Beer Festival next weekend down in Over-the-Rhine in Cincinnati.”
While at Steinkeller, Dave has established a “cult of a fan base” that cheer him on while he plays.
“People used to come here and cheer, ‘DAVE! DAVE! DAAAVID! DAAAVID!’” he says. “I’d play some pretty dirty raunchy songs for them, like ‘Colt 45’ and ‘Because I Got High.’”
Dave plays genres from pop to traditional German and everything in between.
Sometimes, he even lets customers sing in the microphone — but their beers have to stay at the table.
“He’ll do karaoke, and a lot of people will go sing with him,” says manager and bartender Mike Joseph. “It definitely helps keep people past the dinner hours. People come here because he’s here.”
Junior Alex McKeon sits at a table with his friends and a stein of beer. It’s his first time at Steinkeller and his first time experiencing Dave.
“It’s going well, I like it,” says Mckeon. “I dig the vibe.”
Dave continues to play the accordion while he sings along to the songs. The customers who requested ‘Free Bird’ walk up and drop a few bills in the plastic tip jar.
“They say ‘Free Bird.’ I’ve been playing ‘Free Bird’ for at least 30 years! They don’t think I can play it and so they holler it out, I play it, and then they think I can play anything,” says Dave.
But his favorite songs to play are “Kraftwerk” and “Das Model.”
Dave also considers himself a movie expert. His favorite movie? “Avatar.”
“That’s why I bought a 3D television. Large screen, HD, so I can watch it at my house,” Dave says. “The scene with the dragons is awesome.”
But, on March 17, Green Beer Day and St. Patrick’s Day, Dave won’t be home watching Avatar. He’ll be at Steinkeller.
“I played 10 hours last Green Beer Day, and this year it’s St. Patrick’s Day, too. I’ll be here playing, probably like 10 hours.”
Dave plays his accordion Uptown every Thursday and Saturday night at Steinkeller.