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IRTRAD-L  September 1998

IRTRAD-L September 1998

Subject:

Re: Gaithersburgh Festival

From:

Philippe Varlet <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Irish Traditional Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 8 Sep 1998 14:39:48 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (98 lines)

Hi all,

This past weekend was the Washington Irish Folk Festival, held for the first
time over two days at the Montgomery Fair Grounds in Gaithersburg MD. My
festival experience started Friday night at the Gaithersburg Borders where
Beginish was performing, only two hours after landing at Dulles airport.
Paul O'Shaughnessy said to me he would be allright as soon as the room
stopped spinning... Despite jet lag, the lads played a nice acoustic set
(there was no sound system), with their own special blend of Sliabh Luachra
music and Northern reels an jigs. Brendan Begley seemed to push the tempo a
little too much on some of the reels (that polka groove perhaps), but did a
fine job on the song we heard him perform. The two Pauls, O'Shaughnessy
(fiddle) and McGrattan (flute) were in fine form, and Noel O'Grady added his
own filigree bouzouki work. I had to leave before they were done as hunger
got the best of my companions for the evening, but after dinner we went over
to the hotel where the performers were staying, conveniently located across
from the fairgrounds, and had a few tunes with Paul McGrattan, Pat Casey
(from Gurtin and New York), our own Rob and Tess, and a few others, until
about 2:30am.

At the festival itself on Saturday, we decided to start the day with Joe and
Antoinette McKenna and Mary Bergin. They were doing their sound check as my
wife and I walked through the gate, so we first took a stroll through the
grounds (my first time there). It was a gorgeous day, the kind of weather
the organizers had been praying for for the last few years (it rained every
time the last four or five years), and a lot of people came ou to enjoy it.
As Mary Bergin commented, eople from Ireland who were appreciative of the
reasonable temperature were also happy to have left Ireland as the remnants
of one of our recent hurricanes were approaching the Irish coast. The
McKenna-Bergin set was wonderful, with some especially lovely whistle duets
by Joe and Mary. Here are some people who have been playing straight
traditional music (well almost, they did sing "The Call and the Answer")
without trying to change the formula when it didn't need changing, and I'm
one very satisfied listener.

Our next stop was at the fiddle workshop, hosted by NCTA director Joe
Wilson. The participants were Paul O'Shaughnessy, New York wiz kid Patrick
Mangan (who doesn't look like a little boy anymore), Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh,
and 15-year old Turas fiddler Liam O'Conner. The four fiddlers, encouraged
by Wilson, gave a good display of contrasting styles of playing, from the
vigorous, one-note -stroke bowing of Paul and Mairead on Donegal highlands,
jigs, and reels, to the fluid New York Sligo style of Mangan. O'Conner, who
has been taught by Seamus Glackin, also has a northern flavor to his
playing, although his showpiece was a striking performance of the multi-part
hornpipe "The Drunken Sailor" followed by the reel "Dowd's Favorite"--of
course, Mangan came right back by later playing a hornpipe in E Flat ("Fly
By Night" I think). Because of recent discussions on the list about bow
trebles, I made a point of observing the players closely and I am quite
confident in saying that all of them were doing all their trebles starting
on the down bow, even Mairead who otherwise pushes the bow up on most
downbeat notes. One exception was a John Doherty jig played by O'Shaughnessy
where he used two trebles in a row. I talked to Paul about it later on and
he said he actually found it very hard to do. The only thing I regretted was
not to be up there myself in the role of host, as Joe Wilson's comments
tended to wax poetic more than to egg on the performers to reveal their
"secrets"--then again, I'm thinking as a fiddler and a teacher, and I have
to say his presentation was surely most apt for a mixed crowd of festival goers.

For the next few hours, we ended up staying in the same spot, as Frank
Harte, Solas, Beginish, and Altan were appearing on the same stage. Harte
did an amazing job to keep the crowd interested, sitting all by himself in
this large tent and telling stories about the songs he performed. I don't
particularly care for the music of Solas, but I wanted to hear what they
sounded like with their new accordion player, Mick McAuley. He is one fine
and fast player and, IMO, blends in with the band better than John Williams
did. This being said, Solas' music still irritates me more than it interests
me. One telling sign was in the sound adjustments being made while they
started their set. Egan and Doyle were obviously not happy with the mix and
talking to the sound crew, then the guitar, which had been at a reasonable
level until then, suddenly became half of the mix, with a booming bass. They
were happy, the crowd by and large was happy, but I wasn't. Another
observation I made was that their arrangements of songs sound more and more
pop, wit licks that have no particular relation to ITM. I guess that's one
way to get broad appeal. This being said, they do put on a good show. Even
when Amtrak trains rumbled by blowing their whistle, the musicians mostly
kept their composure and played on, to the delight of the audience.

Beginish did pretty much the same set I had heard them do at the bookstore,
which was a little bit of a disappointment. However, Paul McGrattan's
rendition of the Seamus Ennis air "Easter Snow" (with a little bit of reverb
helping) was quite a treat. After dinner, we came back to the grounds to
hear Altan which played a good but not devastating set. Mairead was in fine
voice, but I still think that their instrumental work is often muddied by
the combination of two fiddles. And Daithi Sproule now seems to have for his
guitar the same electronics that John Doyle uses, all for the worse to my
ear. Ciaran Tourish played a lovely rendition of the air "I am Asleep" on
the whistle--if I understood correctly, this was dedicated to Frankie Kennedy.

More tunes back at the hotel followed, until about 3:30am. As I was about to
leave, I got to meet briefly the now famous Alana Musselman (I hope I didn't
mangle that spelling too much), and we made plans to get together the next
day, but I felt so exhausted on Sunday (i'm getting too old for that stuff)
I never made it back. I regret not to have had a chance to hear Turas or
Chulrua, perhaps other listers will have heard them.

Philippe Varlet
[log in to unmask]

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