Skyler Fell enjoys the open space she purchased in Yucca Valley and Joshua Tree.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY NATE ABBOTT
Skyler Fell’s background encompasses juggling fire, equestrian archery, building kinetic sculptures with flame effects, turning a school bus into a band-touring vehicle, learning an Old World craft that she turned into a specialty business — and re-establishing that business during a global pandemic.
As if that were not enough experience for a lifetime, she had three minutes to evacuate her home in the 2017 Sonoma County fires and then rescued horses on the ranch.
“I lost my personal possessions, but I did not lose my shop or tools,” Fell reports, noting that she sold and serviced accordions in a North Bay location.
Contrary to her business’ name, Accordion Apocalypse, and her 10 years playing in a “dark carnival” band, Fell exudes positive energy. In the High Desert, she performs Americana music in a trio called Tumbleweed Timemachine.
“I love playing favorites by Johnny Cash,” she says, remarking on how those songs resonate with audiences but pointing out, “Most of our music is way more obscure.”
She also performs at Cotati Accordion Festival, which attracts squeezebox musicians from around the world and at which she has her own Accordion Apocalypse Stage. She repairs donated instruments for the festival’s raffle and operates a repair booth during the two-day celebration. A guitar shop in nearby Santa Rosa funnels accordion service to her.
“I specialize in hand tuning, which is something not many people do,” she emphasizes.
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“I love playing favorites by Johnny Cash,” Skyler Fell says. “Most of our music is way more obscure.”
Fell became interested in one of the most complex of musical instruments — one with a keyboard, bellows, buttons, and reeds — after seeing accordionists in “creepy carnival” and “psycho-billy circus punk” bands in the 1990s. That sparked her desire to connect musically with her Ukrainian/Romanian roots.
She began at an Oakland accordion shop by cleaning and organizing reeds for pitch in exchange for lessons and a rental instrument on which to practice. After a trip to Amsterdam, during which she learned accordion as well as circus skills, she found a broken accordion and took it to the shop where she had worked. Sharing Fell’s love for Klezmer music, the shop owner offered her an apprenticeship.
She credits a second apprenticeship for where she is today. For five years, she honed her skills at accordion repair under the tutelage of Vincent Cirelli, some 60 years her senior. Indeed, she pays tribute to the Italian master craftsman on her Accordion Apocalypse website (accordionapocalypse.com).
Fell ventured out on her own in 2005 and ran an accordion shop in the Bay Area. Having owned property in Joshua Tree that she used as a retreat for 15 years, she decided to move south in 2018. Though her Yucca Valley shop is considerably more remote than her operation in San Francisco’s SoMa district, Fell benefits from an established clientele and the ability to offer her services online (she knows precisely how to ship accordions, which have some 4,000 parts).
With five acres in Yucca Valley and another five in Joshua Tree, Fell has plenty of open space to hike with her three Australian cattle dogs and ride her three horses.
Skyler Fell services accordions, sells and rents the instruments, and offers lessons. Her trio, Tumbleweed Timemachine, plays at Joshua Tree Saloon each first Saturday of each month.
An expert equestrian as well as musician, she wants to teach “yoga for horse lovers.” Other plans call for competing in dressage and setting up her metal shop so she can get back to her hobby of making life-size, metal sculptures. (“For a while, I was into making lamps out of junk car parts,” Fell reveals.)
And then there’s her desire to establish a local clientele for Accordion Apocalypse.
“One of my favorite things about my business is being able to carry on a traditional craft, but also to inspire people to the joy of music with the accordion,” she says. “I love teaching beginning lessons.”
In the midst of working on other accordions, Fell has been rebuilding for herself the same model she lost to fire: an Italian accordion made in 1927. She still has the first two instruments she owned. Her partner plays the (second) one she acquired through work/trade at Boaz Accordions.
“I was using the original accordion for rentals,” Fell says. “Now it is sitting on a shelf ‘being the first accordion.’”
A state of rest in Fell’s presence makes it “rare.”
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