Friday, September 25, 2009

A First Taste of a Wonderful Dish!

The Irish know how to celebrate!! How do I know? Well, besides the fact that I am of that ethnic persuasion, I got to see and hear it up close and personal at one of the premiere fests in this country. The Michigan Irish Music Festival (In Muskegon, Michigan) was an experience of the best kind and we spent the whole day digging deep into everything Celtic! It was a totally fabulous day and I'm so glad I got to be there with some of the very best international Irish music acts - and they were all in one place! This was the tenth anniversary of the fastest growing Irish Music Festival in the country and the music, shopping, food, and of course the Guinness was great.

My granddaughter, Becca and I were the first to arrive and we just had to walk through the market and peruse the many booths and merchandise that was available. There were clothing stalls, small corners with lots of Celtic and Irish jewelry, and even a booth with kilts, dragon daggers, and swords which was what really captivated Becca! After checking the booths out thoroughly we decided to wait to buy anything and headed over to the big tent where Bob and Bernie's Pub was found for a lunch and something to drink. Believe it or not the music in the Pub was really pretty great! It mostly consisted of Michigan and area artists and they were pretty fabulous! From the Conklin Ceili Band to Kennedy's Kitchen they were high energy and offered really toe tapping, hand clapping music the whole afternoon.

My brother showed up after lunch and we headed to two of the tents near the lake that I was really looking forward to exploring. One was the kids tent where they offered a few musicians who are considered music makers for the kids. I have to admit that I love this wonderful group of artists because of their creativity who sang many of the typically well known Irish songs. From the Unicorn to other little ditties the tent was alive with singing, laughter and children and adults all joined in to the many hand motions and laughter that accompanied all the songs. This festival is really geared for the whole family in many ways and the young people are accepted as part of the scene as well as the next generation of musicians and music lovers.

We wandered on after the songs faded from one large tent to another smaller one that had a sign out front simply stating it as the "Session Tent." Here fiddlers, guitarists, flutists, bodhrán (dh would be said like a w), and mandolin players of all ages worked with some of the Celtic music's best who were there singing and playing from almost every group who were playing the three stages of this festival. Standing behind a circle of seated musicians was a rush since you could see that next generation sharpening their skills with some of the pros and the music was even better up close and personal. The views of Muskegon Lake in the background filled with a plethora of sailboats of all sizes made for a a lovely place scene alongside the continuous music that filled the tents and seemed to permeate the whole area. Here the many children and young adults vied for the chance to play with, and learn many musical nuances from the likes of some the local musical artists or maybe from one of the well known Irish performers who came to this festival from Cape Breton to almost every part of Ireland.

By the time they were winding down in the Session's tent, we were getting hungry so we wandered back to the pub tent for dinner where some of those great Michigan Irish bands serenaded our dinners of Irish stew, and bangers, chips and Guinness (of course!). From Blackthorn, Kennedy's Kitchen, and the Conklin Celi band - to Switchback there was wonderful music to enjoy dinner by for everyone.

The two main stages were constantly filled with music all day from the typically Celtic that spilled out from the edges of each tent and onto the grounds. It drew us from one huge tent to the another all through the late afternoon and on into the early evening. With three stages of music that played with very few breaks the whole day long there was always a place to duck into, or we could sit at the various picnic tables surrounding the edges of these music tents as well for a sun filled hour or two as well.

The three bigs tents that could easily seat over 200 were named for two of the counties in Ireland. The County Cork Stage, County Kerry Stage, (and of course the pub stage!) were continuously alive with music during each day of this three day event! Beyond these and along the banks of the lake were other smaller tents focusing on cultural history, genealogical information, and one that actually exposed visitors to the various stages of an 1800s Irish styled death, funeral, and wake.

The day was fading, but the best of the music was really still ahead of us. We wandered into one of the big tents to listen to a rather strangely named band which was a real discovery for me (Much like many of the local bands I listened too!). Captain Mackey's Goatskin shared with the crowd many old Irish folk tunes and had us singing at the top of our lungs along with many of them. The Makem & Spain Brothers sang us through many more pieces as well.

Many of the best of all the 18 bands were scheduled for the evening so we moved toward the two main tents. From Old Blind Dogs, to Slide IE (One of my personal favorite!), and Solas I was in Celtic heaven! If you've ever been to a festival like this you know the cheering, foot stomping and clapping can be thunderous and a great fun part of responding to the fabulous music and energy filled performers.

The last three acts I wanted to take in were also the last of the day and the performances were not to be missed! The County Cork Stage began the evening with the band Slide IE (a younger group from the Southwestern Irish town of Bandon) I loved this group who integrated old Celtic folk favorites with a smattering of really well written modern songs. The Irish Times calls SLIDE (Ireland) "traditional musicians with attitude," and with every song they proved their musical prowess by bringing the crowd to their feet in response.

There was a short break and then the group Solas took the stage. This group of five are definitely known for their musical versatility - great song writing too! Many of members often changed instruments throughout many of the songs to change the tone of feel of the piece. These are truly multi-talented musicians!

The final act of the evening for us was one I was really waiting to hear and experience! Natalie MacMaster is known world-wide for superb fiddling and always for a great show as well. She was joined at the festival by her husband Donnell Leahy a magnificent fiddler in his own right (And a member of the great Leahy family of Ontario Canada too!). Add to the fiddling two fabulous pianists, one from Natalie's band Mac Morin, and the other Donnell's sister Erin and you have a real powerhouse of a group onstage!

Throughout the music sets these four had such energy and displayed such exceptional musical skill with a whole lot of Celtic heart that most of their numbers brought the crowd to its feet cheering and clapping. Donnell threw in an exceptional piece of classical music that was truly breathtaking and had the audience cheering.

MacMaster and Leahy seemed throughout to be challenging each other during many of the numbers going back and forth like dueling fiddles again and again. Their fiddle face-offs echoed and really accentuated the Celtic, in the jigs, reels and ballads from Cape Breton, Ontario that were a part of this two hour concert.

This was certainly a memorable day, and I'm sure I'll relive this superb festival for many years to come!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Here's some pictures of the Michigan Irish Festival in Muskegon.

- The picture to the left is
Captain Mackey's Goatskin.

A young fiddler at the lake's

Kennedy's Kitchen in the Pub tent.

Out in the common

Shopping, Shopping everywhere!

The Session Tent group.

A final look at one of the best festivals in Michigan!!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Music, Music...MUSIC!!!

My excitement is building, and tonight is going to be hard to get through despite the fact that I am totally exhausted from all the walking I did today. I have my Coleman director's chair ready to sling over my shoulder - I have my camera and extra battery ready for taking tons of pictures, and I have my tickets put in the old purse so I don't forget them.

Tomorrow cannot come fast enough! A fun filled 10 hours of Celtic music, Celi dancing, shopping, good pub grub, Guinness, and music, music, MUSIC!

Understand it may take a few hours after I get back to digest, and begin to share this glorious gift, but share it I will! (It probably won't be until Sunday sometimes since we won't be back here until well after Midnight.)

Take care, and I hope you have a great Saturday!
Slán agus beannacht! (Bye and blessings on you!)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

It's coming - An Irish Festival to Remember!

As the weekend approaches, I am getting more excited about Saturday and the Michigan Irish Festival in Muskegon. The thought of wandering around the various stages and listening to the likes of Old Blind Dogs, Switchback, Solas to Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy is a really exciting thought!

I think I have my crew to go to the festival, I've asked my brother and he can bring a friend while I have asked a granddaughter who shares my love of Celtic music. From the stages to the Cultural Village with topics that relate to Irish Culture and genealogy to the Dance Stage that highlights step dancing and offers Ceili Dance instruction there will be plenty to enjoy and when we get the urge to shop there is the Irish Market. For me the day would not be finished without a wee bit of Irish food with some Guinness (or other brews) at the pub, Bob and Bernie's Pub that is!

This is certainly going to be a gift (from my special anonymous friend!) that I will savor for a very long time!

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Really Special Surprise

In case you haven't seen it yet in my writings, I LOVE Celtic music! There are quite a few Celtic music festivals throughout the summer and fall here and I've always said that I was going to go to them...but just could not justify the cost of the tickets. The best of these local fests in my opinion (because of the great groups that frequent it's stages) is in Muskegon and I have longed for years to join those who go get to enjoy the music in mid-September.

Well, today I began the day by walking with a friend, and then took off and did some errands. When I came home I stopped to get the mail, and went out back and loved our dogs in their run a bit before I went to the back door and opened it. Out flew a brochure for this great festival. I was a bit surprised since we live a full 30 miles South of Muskegon and I did not think we were really in the immediate area to get these flyer's. As I bent down and to pick-up the flyer I realized there was something inside and flopped open the first page of the brochure and there lay four tickets for the whole three days and nights of this above mentioned festival!

I quickly stood up and looked around - who might have done this? I found no name or hint of who might have done this but I have to say I am totally excited! I'm going to grab a few grandkids and my youngest son and we are going to share the days and I am sure have a great time listening to the best music in the world next weekend!!!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Music to Tap a Toe or Even a Foot To...

Labor Day, and I have been laborin'! Cleaned the house, vacuumed and so much more and the whole time I was enjoying my favorite kind of music - Celtic. There is really nothing better to work too!

Today my play list included the Elders (Out of Kansas City! Yup, they are an Irish/American group); Gaelic Storm (of Titanic fame); Natalie MacMaster; Aselin Debison (she only put out one CD as an pre-teen) from Nova Scotia, to Celtic Thunder who are an all male group that isn't really totally Irish but has some grand Phil Coulter songs in their repertoire like the rugby anthem "Ireland's Call," and, "Heartland." The other group that keeps me going is the High Kings and though they are produced by Celtic Woman's producers they are totally into old Celtic songs and they rock in my opinion!

I love to pick those up beat pieces that keep the toe tapping to put on the iPod. From the Canadian song "It's Getting Dark Again," which is simply a silly little ditty that keeps me hoppin' to "American Wake," (which has some really great lyrics) I get the jobs done in record time with my music driving me.

I admit I am a bit picky with my music, and a bit of a snob when it comes to Celtic music but it is easy to download individual songs I like for my iPod and not have to put the whole album on with some groups. Trust me though, these groups are all worth a listen if you're a fan, or a fanatic of this genre of music like I am.

Please understand, I am no music critic, only a consumer who really loves the Celtic genre of music. So what am I doing this evening? Listening to some of the ballads from those very same CDs!