In the back corner of the dimly lit Village Lanterne in Lindenhurst, light dances on the pearly white keys of Bud Gramer’s accordion as gracefully as his fingers.
He sways from behind the great instrument hanging from his neck. German words leave his mouth as an upbeat melody.
It’s safe to say most of the Village Lanterne patrons don’t know German, but they know the songs. When the chorus calls for participation, they cheer in harmony and raise their steins.
For the last year, Gramer has been the star of the show on Tuesday nights (though his music fights with the smell of sauerbraten to fill the air).
Gramer started playing the accordion when he was 9 years old growing up in the heavily German-influenced neighborhood of Ridgewood, Queens. Like many of his young friends, his Austrian-immigrant parents wanted him to learn the accordion. But unlike many of his friends, who eventually traded their accordions for baseball bats, Gramer, 56, has never tired of his instrument.
He played his first paying gig in Maspeth, Queens in 1973, and 40 years later enjoys it just the same.
“It’s the electricity I get from the crowd,” he said. “It’s kind of like when there’s an athlete or a baseball player and there’s a full house. You feel so much more into it, you feel motivated.
“That’s what drives the musician,” he added. “It’s that electricity, it just gives you a wonderful feeling.”
Gramer has sustained his hobby with appearances at local festivals, German-heritage events and places like the Village Lanterne, where owner Thomas Lorch, also of German heritage, fosters the tradition.
He considers himself lucky to have found a regular gig at Lorch’s restaurant, not far from his home in New Hyde Park, and with a regular, appreciative crowd that has taken to a style of music that for most is probably seldom heard before they walk through those doors.
Lorch, 52, whose family lived in Germany for a few years when he was a child, said when he opened the restaurant in 2007, friends and family asked: “Why German? There’s nothing like that around here,” he said.
“Exactly,” was his response.
His bet paid off. Lorch said he has never strayed from the traditional German motif and he’s had a loyal crowd of customers from the start. They like his mother’s recipes and they like the melodic hum of the accordion. Gramer supplies the latter.
“He’s a very talented musician,” he said. “You could throw any song out there and he’ll know it. If he doesn’t know it, he’ll know it next week when he comes in. I’ve got to be honest with you, I’m very lucky to have him.”
Wayne George, 55, of East Islip, is a regular. He and his wife love the atmosphere and the live music, and have made good friends at the Village Lanterne — Gramer and his wife, Linda, who performs with him on the weekends, included.
“If you come here on a Friday or Saturday night,” he said, “it’s packed. It’s really very nice. We all participate and we sing.”
Lorch loves German music because it reminds him of where he grew up, he said, but it’s the regular customers who prove its merits.
“The regulars can’t get enough of it,” he said.
Gramer, who worked for 32 years in the travel department of the United Nations while playing gigs on the weekends, said music has allowed him to carry on his family’s heritage and connect with others.
“Music is the universal language,” he said. “Sometimes if people are having a rough day or if I’m having a rough day, I put the accordion on and I play a few songs and most of the time I feel a lot better. The world could use a lot more music.”