An unexpected gift from the friendly owner of a hole-in-the-wall music shop on a cobblestone corner changed the trajectory of Adrian Crookston’s life.

A decade ago Crookston, now a 29-year-old Moscow accordionist, was living in a tiny exposed-brick upstairs apartment with his family in the picturesque northern Italy city of Turin. His life was turned upside down because of his daily walks to and from a university through a cobblestone piazza.

“There was this one room I’d peer into that was full of accordions from the ceiling to the floor. I was amazed,” he remembered.

Crookston mentioned it to his mother, and one day when he returned from school, an accordion appeared on his bed.

“My mom had talked to the music-store owner — who happened to be our landlord — and he gave me my first accordion for free,” he said.

Fast forward 10 years. Crookston’s accordion and the bands he’s played in have taken him around the country and the world. He’s in Moscow now. The pandemic has curtailed his touring, but his enthusiasm for the instrument and his music is as strong as ever.

When he returned to the states from Italy, Crookston landed in Austin, Texas, to continue his studies. He met many people in the city’s diverse music scene and eventually joined a Brazilian forro band. Forro is an accordion-heavy genre of upbeat dance music that originated in northeastern Brazil.

“It’s a partner dance music — similar to salsa in that sense,” Crookston said. “it makes people want to get up and dance.”

When asked to share his most memorable experience playing music for a crowd, his eyes lit up. “Just one?” he asked with a laugh. After a long pause, he recalled a forro-band performance at an outdoor jazz festival in front of 500 in a Nepal forest.

The audience couldn’t stop dancing. “It was magical,” he said.

The musician’s travel plans — including a trip to Singapore — were put on hold in March as live music in front of large crowds on indefinite hold. To pass the time, Crookston initially gave music lessons in Moscow and worked part time at a restaurant, but has recently settled into a job at Northwest River Supplies to pay the bills.

His roommate is his younger brother, Richard, who he considers his best friend and lifelong music buddy. Richard, a skilled bass player, marvels at his brother’s musicianship.

“He’s both gentle and furious — he manipulates time and space to squeeze the air into a fierce sound,” Richard said. “He’s internationally known now. He’s a great artist, and he doesn’t know it.”

One of his former restaurant coworkers, Taylor Gould, said Crookston tends to brighten the days of everybody he encounters.

“If Mr. Crookston were a legume, he’d be a garbanzo bean for sure,” Gould said. “He’s versatile, serviceable and part of what makes the Palouse so great.”

Crookston said while pandemic has upended his life and career as a professional musician, he’s found solace in joyful concert memories and his trusty accordion.

“It just has a sound that reminds you of coming home,” he said. “It’s the sexiest instrument in the world.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ellen Dennis graduated from the University of Idaho in December with a degree in Journalism. This story was written in a UI feature writing class for instructor Don Shelton, a former executive editor with The Seattle Times, and is being published as part of partnership with the UI Journalism and Mass Media Department. Dennis worked for The Daily News before being hired in January as a reporting intern for The Daily Herald in Everett, Wash.

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