A ‘musical smoothie’ blending eclectic sounds and songs

To say that Gigi “Gee” Rabe knows music is an understatement. This virtuoso accordion and steel drum player holds a Master of Arts in ethnomusicology from the UCLA, and has completed her Ph.D. coursework in the same field.

Her areas of research, which influence and drive her career as a player, are accordion performance around the world, Americana music, subcultural music, music and religion, popular music and culture, youth and music, smooth jazz, world beat, tango, Balkan music and Caribbean music, especially ska and steel band music.

How that will play out with her Atomic Hipster combo at the Thursday, Aug. 16, Idyllwild Summer Concert date should be a delight for Idyllwild audiences.

Gigi Rabe and Her Atomic Hipsters perform Thursday, Aug. 16, at the Idyllwild Summer Concert Series.
Photo courtesy Peter Figen Photography

Gigi and Her Atomic Hipsters is the product of Rabe’s life experiences in music and the performing arts. Because her life has been filled with musically diverse experiences, so is her Atomic Hipster playbook. “The band’s sets are musically diverse,” said Rabe, “a musical ‘smoothie’ — a mix of exotica, space-age pop, bachelor pad or lounge music, easy listening, island, swing and world fusion. We encourage audience members of all ages to dance and participate in our interactive, family-friendly show.”

Rabe’s curiosity as a child led her to write poetry, short stories and screenplays as an elementary student. She dabbled in playing the Hammond Piper Autochord organ and taking violin lessons at school. But it was not until a door-to-door salesman convinced Gee, with her parents’ support, to take trial accordion lessons that she found her calling.  She continued to hone her craft as an adult, inspired by jazz accordionists Art Van Damme and Frank Marocco.

While an undergraduate music major at Cal State University, Long Beach, she noticed similarities between the left-hand buttons on the piano-accordion and the steel drum. Steel drum became her next musical passion.

Rabe has studied with eminent accordion teachers in a variety of styles, including Western classical, jazz, Argentinean tango, Bulgarian accordion, Tex-Mex and manouche, or gypsy jazz.

She has recorded for film composer Randy Newman, film producer Mary Sweeney and musician/actor Micky Dolenz. Her accordion playing is featured in films including “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2,” “Monsters University,” “Puss in Boots,” “Ice Age 4” and “Hotel Transylvania.” She performed as an accordionist with Josh Groban for a PBS special and was a guest artist with Orange County’s Pacific Symphony. Her steel drum work has been featured on the FX mini-series “Fargo,” and on the movie soundtrack “Forever Plaid.”

With Rabe are Craig Fundyga on vibraphone, Chuck Alvarez on guitar, Benj Clarke on bass, Bobby Easton on auxiliary percussion, and Simon Carroll on drums and percussion. Rabe will be playing both accordion and steel drum as she and her Hipsters perform group originals, and walk and dance the audience down memory lane with songs of the ’50s and ’60s such as “Besame Mucho,” Strangers in the Night” and “Spanish Eyes.” The evening will be heavily flavored with Latin and Caribbean rhythms and sounds.

She has appeared with Lisa Haley and the Zydecats on tour and in Idyllwild. Audiences will find in Rabe the same delight, zest, happiness and celebratory playing that Haley exudes. It will be an upbeat and happy night.

Gigi and Her Atomic Hipsters take the stage at 7 p.m. Opening for Rabe at 6:15 p.m. is local Roger Dutton.

ISCS presents these concerts free for Idyllwild audiences. Events, including the Cranston Fire, have taken a toll on the budget for the series. Producer Ken Dahleen estimates he and his board are about $10,000 short of making budget with three concerts to go. Audience members are encouraged to attend and contribute.