The Bay Area as a Place to Hear Traditional Celtic Music
Updated November 6, 2002
If you don't think the Bay Area is a good place to hear traditional Celtic music, check out this list of musicians who have passed through the Bay Area in the last year, and read my short reviews of selected concerts:
(The longer and better-crafted) Reviews of 1998 and 1997 Concerts are now on a new Page
These by no means are the only concerts I went to, just the most memorable ones.
Halali in Berkeley August 14, 2001. Halali is a young band with wonderful musicians with Bay Area connections that plays traditional music form Ireland, Scotland and Cape Breton. Hanneke Cassel- fiddle and piano, Laura Cortese- lead vocals, fiddle and step dance, Lissa Schneckenburger- fiddle and harmony vocals with Flynn Cohen on guitar. Laura is from San Francisco nad Hanneke has taught for years at the Valley of hte Moon Fiddle School. Hanneke and Laura also appeared on the fine, locally produced CD "The Wee Hours - the Future of Scottish Music in North America. The fiddling in this group is particularly strong.
Martin Hayes, Paddy Keenan, Andrew MacNamara, Junji Shirota in San Francisco, March 5
The Josephine Marsh Band at the Plough & Stars, San Francisco, March 4
Altan at the Mystic Theater. Ireland's finest traditional group showed why. A terrific concert in an intimate venue. Highlights for me were the numerous duets, including an incredible set of tunes by Ciaran Tourish (fiddle) and Dermot Byrne (accordion). I think Ciaran Tourish is perhaps the most under-heralded fiddler playing with a top group, and it is nice to see Mairead giving him increasing exposure, and of course when the two of them play together and the rest of the group kicks in, hold on because its a great ride. Nice to see the band having so much fun at a concert too.
Waterson:Carthy at the Freight & Salvage, February 14. This was the first time I had heard the incredible English folk family of Martin Carthy, Norma Waterson, and Eliza Carthy. What was most memorable about this concert was how much fun this family had with each other performing. The highlights were the gorgeous harmonies they would achieve when singing together. Plus Eliza pulling out another instrument -- Leicestershire bagpipes on a tune.
Robin Huw Bowen & _______ in Berkeley at the Freight & Salvage. This concert was almost a mystical experience. Bowen's partner sang and read Welsh poetry and sagas (I have the term wrong) as he accompanied on the triple string harp. The two created a mood of another time and place to an astonishing degree, and for a couple of hours the entire audience was completely captivated. When they come back in 2001, I'm going to drag a bunch of my friends along with me.
Karan Casey & Niall Vialley (in Berkeley and Sebastopol). Karan, formerly the voice of Solas, is my favorite Irish singer, just ahead of Dervish's Cathy Jordan. And her voice and singing is as brilliant live as it sounds on her records. Niall is one wicked concertina player and the two make a great musical pair.
Dervish at Sebastopol (twice if I remember). Dervish may be the best traditional Irish band touring today. The band is strong on every front with Cathy Jordan providing compelling vocals on the songs. And Dervish loves Sebastopol. It makes for a mighty combination; one not to be missed.
Mary Jane Lamond at the Plough & Stars, March 22. Mary Jane arrived in S.F. with a bad cold and a voice that would barely allow her to talk. She got on the stage of the Plough, which is a very noisy bar, started to sing, and the place got as quiet as I have ever heard it. Mary Jane has a very hot band touring with her, and they can crank up the energy level very high. Singing only in Gaelic, Mary Jane did two long sets with the crowd going wild. It was a bravura performance and the somewhat jaded and packed crowd loved every minute of it.
Connie Dover & Roger Landes November in Sebastopol. Connie has the voice of an angel that she applies to Scottish, Irish and French traditional tunes. My favorite female singer in a rare West Coast appearance Roger Landes is a very fine guitarist. "Just occasionally, a voice arrives on the folk scene that is so pure, so beautiful, so magical, that it tells you: this is how to sing a song. Such a voice has Connie Dover." - Alastair Clark, The Scotsman (Scotland's National Newspaper) Clark is right; this concert is definitely worth the drive. Landes is the master of the cittern (aka "Irish boouzouki) and a fine guitarist.
Jerry Holland - June 12 in Alameda at The Adelphian Center. Jerry Holland is one of the most exquisite fiddlers in Cape Breton, where he is adored. He is also perhaps the best living tune writer in Cape Breton, adding gorgeous tune after tune to the tradition. Plus he is an exceptionally modest and gentle man.This was his first appearance in the Bay Area, but hopefully not his last. Accompanied by Jody Stecher (who only got 40 minutes to learn the tunes), it was an evening of the finest in Cape Breton fiddle. Jerry's precision and lightness of touch is astounding, as is his ability to make the fiddle sing the tunes. Jerry is in a love affair with Cape Breton music, and it is clear that the feelings are mutual.
Tabache-- May 9 in Berkeley at Sally Greenberg's House (and later at The Freight). This very young Scottish duo, now trio, was stunningly brilliant. They play with skill and passion.When both Aidan and Claire are fiddling together, I could only compare them with Altan. Claire also is brilliant on flute and as a singer. To see what all the fuss is about, rush out and get their new album: Waves of Rush. NOW!
Lúnasa-- May 8 in S.F. at the Plough & Stars. This new Irish instrumental group of seasoned players was greatly anticipated and the Plough was full. The sound system failed, and the band had to substitute their own sound system, so the music didn't get started until 10:30, a bit of a wait for those of us who had claimed seats at 8 pm! Not to worry, no one left. Lúnasa came out and their music was smoking. The crowd went wild. That pretty much describes the scene for the next two and a half hours. Sheer brilliance on flutes, tin whistle, bass, uilleann pipes and fiddle. The band has a unique sound with all those whistles and flutes, and its fabulous. Their debut album, Lúnasa had demonstrated that they are a great studio band. Their performance at the Plough showed that they are even better as a live band. (Hey, I'm not alone; Matt Malloy said they reminded him of the excitement the Bothy Band could generate.) Don't miss them at the 99 Sebastopol Celtic Festival!
Natalie MacMaster, April 23 and 24 at the Villa Montalvo in Saratoga and the Community Center in Sebastopol. Words fail trying to describe the brilliance, energy, and generosity of this young Cape Breton fiddler. Of course, Natalie's show was amazing; they always are. No performer I know puts more effort and heart into a show, every night, and the show reflects that. Natalie is still as charming as ever, and her show this year displayed more of her and pianist Joel Chaisson's terrific Cape Breton step-dancing. The crowd adored the whole show; they always do.Was it worth the 50 mile drive two nights in a row to see Natalie. Anytime. Always one of the highlights of any music year. For more about Natalie...
Hazel and Jennifer WrigleyApril 14 -in Berkeley at the Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse the whimsical twins from the Orkney Islands were back for another magical concert. Fun, quirky, and very musical, they won the audience's heart quickly. With their shaggy dog stories, infectious humor and wonderful playing, they once more proved that they are an act never to be missed.
Great Big SeaApril 13 in San Francisco at Slims.- this fun male quartet from Newfoundland came to party, and they were not going to let the fact that is was a weeknight stop them. After an over-long opening act, GBS came out to a restless crowd. It took them about 10 seconds to get the crowd involved. The 200 or so people seemed to have a large Canadian component because they knew the words to all the songs and sang and danced along. Despite a murky sound system, GBS' act was simultaneously spontaneous and very polished. They are terrific singers and entertainers. Surely all the folks there that night will come back. It is easy to see why GBS has won so many of those ECMA "entertainer of the Year" awards.
Altan at the Great American Music Hall, January 10. The best traditional Irish group playing today at the top of their form. Although Ciaran Tourish's bruise on his cheek cut into his whistle playing, his fiddling was as great as ever. Mairead, the other Ciaran, Dermot, and Daithe all looked rested and were having great fun. The hall looked packed with a crowd that enthsiastically appreciated all that Altan was doing, calling them back for two sets of encores. This was the sixth time I have seen them in the last 12 months and I have never heard them play better. Awesome -- Irish music at its very best.
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