The Washington Irish Folk Festival, now in it's 23rd year since the 22nd has
just completed, was the usual over the top presentation of exceptional
performances, genial atmosphere, and interesting venue. The Festival was held
at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds one week after the Montgomery County Farm
Fair. The Farm Fair was gone but the flies were a week without food and
looking forward to our arrival. There was much fanning and swatting, which
looked pretty natural in a venue with cattle barns, and little stalls which
were transformed into concert settings and crafts booths. The crafts were
really great and lots of people were shopping in advance of the Christmas
rush. The concerts and workshops that I saw were wonderful. I worked a great
deal of the weekend in the Hospitality area and was fortunate to have a great
volunteer staff including Kathleen Connery, Mike Hogan, Alana Musselman, Dave
Abe and loads of others to help me.
In concert I saw Craobh Rua put on a lovely set full of solid playing, great
songs, nice instrumental solos. They are a treat to hear in concert.
I programmed the Next Generation sets (who would have guessed out there?)
and they were great. There was a set featuring young harpers including Lily
Smigen-Rothkopf, Bridget Highet, Sarah Mullen and Amy Colgan that attracted a
lot of listeners who were pleasantly amazed and completely entertained. A set
featuring the strong combination of Patrick Mangan on fiddle, Eliot Grasso on
pipes, Dan Gurney on accordion, and for the first time in Washington, Boston
fiddler Doug Lamey, who was the surprise of the weekend for me ---- he was
brilliant ---- and he bonded up right away with the other guys and a new pack
is forming (summer camps take note!) The real "next" generation set featured
Arjuna Balaranjian on hammered dulcimer and flute, Gabe Osborne on harp,
Graham DeZarn on fiddle and Sean McComiskey on accordion. These guys are
musicians in progress, and although each of them has great solo strength it is
in the group dynamic that they display raw potential. These are the players a
lot of festival goers come watch because it is fun to see them grow from year
to year, developing repetoire and stage technique. They put on a killer set
and surprised themselves at how well it came out given the number of hours
that had gone into the practice.
I saw Altan and Solas and Cimeara and was wowwed as never before (and that
was already a huge wow) by Winnie Horan's fiddle playing. She is playing in
superlative form, really lightning gorgeous. I enjoyed all three bands and am
sorry to say that I didn't get to see all the others except as they came thru
the dinner line.
The evening parties at the hotel were open to the public but not advertised
(for obvious reasons) and they were a raucous, free form display of Irish trad
partying. There were acrobatic feats, and ceiling swinging in the middle of
Cape Breton sets and stepdance displays, not to mention whirling derivshes and
some fine zoit dancing on the parts of the famous and the (now) infamous. The
session in the comfy bar (wild circus tricks were performed in the 70's disco
palace called Raffles which was next to the comfy hotel bar) was a jaw
dropper. The fiddlers included Mairead, Paul O.s, Dave Abe and lots of others
making for a great Donegal style session. It was a wonderful treat to be
there with access each completely different musical free-for-all.
I could go on all night but I'm still 100% sleep deprived. It was great
seeing all of you, and those who weren't there should come next year.