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Celtic Celebration at One Longfellow Square

Venue: One Longfellow Square, Portland, ME ~ July 12, 2012 ~

Jul 24, 2012
Kimmy Sophia Brown

The Celtic Celebration at One Longfellow Square was a night of total immersion in the world of reels, jigs and airs. I thought I was a big fan of Celtic music, but I realized that once I was among these connoisseurs of the genre, I was in over my head. The subtleties of the many melodies known to these musicians could be compared to the sensitivity of the palettes of wine aficionados. The musicians mentioned the names of the reels or their composers and the audience knew what they were talking about!

NAIA ~ photo by Sharyn Peavey
NAIA ~ photo by Sharyn Peavey

Uilleann (pronounced ill'en, the Irish word for elbow!) piper, Tom Wilsbach, an adorable looking, white-whiskered man, was the soft-spoken MC. His gentle, understated presence and appearance caused me to envisage a thatched-roof and a peat-fire blazing at One Longfellow Square, while St Brigit hovered above, blessing the crowd.

First up was the Don Roy Trio. Don Roy is hailed as one of the greats of the Franco American fiddling style. Their career spans decades. They have appeared in such places as The Kennedy Center, and countless other venues, and have been written up in many music magazines.

Don's wife, Cindy, looked as cheerful as a chirping robin, whilst playing the piano. Jay Young was steady on the standup bass. I read that he said that he has a kind of psychic connection to Cindy while they're performing, and often knows what notes she's about to play before she plays them. A fine guitarist called Larry Burkett rounded out their group.

First they played a rather serene air, peaceful and slow, and as their set progressed, the reels and jigs sped up. Finally Cindy's feet were step dancing away under her piano, adding a dimension of spunky rhythm. Let me reprint a quote from the flyer about this event, because I doubt I could say it better: "Ethnomusicologist Bau Graves, calls Roy the finest Franco fiddler in New England, whose playing, 'exactly exemplifies what Franco American fiddling is all about. It is simultaneously precisely controlled and wildly danceable.'" To find out more about their recordings and performances you can visit their website: The Don Roy Trio.

Uilleann piper, Kieran O'Hare, originally from Kansas City, Kansas, (not Missouri!), but who now resides in Portland, was next. He quipped that his mother described the Irish pipes as, "part oboe, part whoopee cushion and part brassiere". With that, he played a tune by John Dougherty, which was said to have been given to him by fairies, entitled, "Paddy's Rambles Through the Park". Of note, Kieran told us that his instrument is a copy of one built in 1820, which is lower in pitch than the traditional pipes. Rather than blowing with a mouthpiece like the Scottish Highland bagpipes, the Irish pipes work with a bellows, which is pumped with one elbow against the body. Kieran's hands were going like mad and the songs were gorgeous.

The concert then took a decidedly feminine turn with Naia; comprised of Danielle Langord on harp and Nicole Rabata on flute. They joked that they sometimes call themselves the cover band of the Mulcahy family. I'm sure that's an inside joke but I didn't get it because I don't know this music like they do! They played original pieces as well as traditional. We flew away on daydreams conjured as their hands let loose and the music flowed. Visit their website at Naia.

Our MC, Tom, took the stage with his penny whistle instead of his Uilleann pipes. He played an air from Donegal for us about the selkie. As he described the legend in the song, I realized that it must be where John Sayles got the idea for his film, "The Secret of Roan Inish". He played another sweet tune, which he said he learned from Sharon Pyne called, "The Coal Miner's Reel".

Oh my goodness, then came the icing on the cake for me! Seeing Tom Rota in his element, on Uilleann pipes – along with his two fine companions, Jaime Eller, on fiddle, and Michael Jeanneau, on bouzouki – who form the band, Boghat – was incredible. Tom's hands are miracles; I couldn't believe how fast and furious he played. Boghat was intense, fresh, and joyous. I've seen Tom host many events at OLS, but seeing him playing music truly warmed my heart. I could connect the dots between the man who has been responsible for booking so many fine shows, with his heart as a musician. Visit their website at Boghat.

We enjoyed a solo set from Elly Marshall, fiddler par excellence that kept the spirit flying. Her playing was fluid and eloquent.

THE PRESS GANG ~ photo from their promo gallery
THE PRESS GANG ~ photo from their promo gallery

By then the show was really ripping. The Press Gang appeared next. Alden Robinson played fiddle, and the way he was sitting with his legs bouncing up and down reminded me of a Martin Hayes performance I attended last year. Christian "Junior" Stevens played his various squeezeboxes with amazing alacrity, and the versatile Owen Marshall (the brother of above mentioned Elly), played guitar and bouzouki. At one point Owen leaned down and was squeezing a hand pedal and doing something mysterious in a box while this amazing underbelly of emotional sound welled up and surrounded the tunes like a musical fog. I was wondering what the box was when someone said something like, "Over there, by the harmonium!" and that's how I found out what it was! Those guys were amazing, just riveting. Visit their website at The Press Gang.

I think the one thing that surprised me about the show was that there were no singers. At the same time, the reels, jigs and airs were joyous, foot stomping and uplifting. I was mesmerized from start to finish, especially when the whole gang – probably about fifteen musicians, self-nicknamed, "The Cumberland County Regiment" – got up on stage and roared a few more tunes for us. I swear the ancestors were clogging their brains out all around us. It was a rousing evening, played to a crowded house, and a great day for the Irish! And Franco Americans and Scots too!


For music lovers visiting Portland, Maine, I highly recommend
One Longfellow Square ~ "Portland's Premier Arts Venue"
Check them out at

Kimmy Sophia Brown has loved humor and music and freedom for as long as she can remember.She is especially passionate about the environment and caring for animals.

She writes the column "From the Back Porch" as well as reviews of music in her column "MusicViews". Her goal in her music reviews is to introduce music she loves to people who may not have heard that particular artist or CD. For information about how to submit a CD for review, click here.

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