Sunday, September 26, 2010

8 Hours of Heart Pounding Celtic Heaven

Three of my favorite Celtic/American group all contained in one festival - now that is what I call   heaven!  This year's Michigan Irish Music Festival was great and the temperatures were cool enough to enjoy simply strolling between venues, and taking in the food and the market as well.

Like in years past the young and old alike mixed and mingled in all of the concerts and also in the food and market tents which held goodies to savor and so much to buy. 

My granddaughter and I kept going back to the market tent where everything from shirts, kilts, jewelry, Shillelaghs, as well as the ever present unusual and strange items which lurked under the merchants signs.  Though the huge market tent was filled  with almost everything you might imagine from CDs, tin whistles and one of my favorite items this year Irish Wackie Woolies.  (All kinds of products sport these colorful (Irish) "sheep with an attitude.")

The main attractions were of course the many concerts that featured some of the best Celtic groups from all over.   This year Gaelic Storm was the biggest draw.  If you saw Titanic, you saw and heard this talented band who provided the music and was also the band playing the tune "John Ryan's Polka" for the Irish party in third class.  Unlike the ship, the group has sailed off into quite a sunny career in the Celtic/American music scene.  Most of their first albums were reflective of many of the Celtic groups on the scene these days, but their newest album has much more of a rock and roll feel, and so did the performance we enjoyed in their Saturday evening show.   The music certainly did not disappoint with more white hairs in that "mosh pit" up front than I have every seen.  The group seems to be reaching all ages, and really enjoys sharing their love of all Celtic music with the audience.

My personal music favorites were three groups that have graced the stages of this Irish Fest before.  Blackthorn who uses both tight harmony and grand tales between the songs which made for a very enjoyable 2 hours.

Leahy (pictured here), an eight sibling band from Canada had no trouble holding all captive with their explosive musical ability.  I really enjoyed the true Celtic soul in their music.  Donnell (husband of Natalie MacMaster who also is a master fiddler.), the oldest of the siblings plays a mean fiddle, but he is not the only talent in this group as each of the family members are really musically gifted as well.  From drums, keyboard, piano, fiddle, to guitar they bring their brand to the Celtic music and keep  singing through their phenomenal playing.  This was a really enjoyable concert that was way too short in my opinion. 

Brent Hoad, one super fiddler, is just one of the talented crew that makes up The Elders.  This Kansas City based group with lead singer Ian Byrne sang us through so many of their well known and riotous songs as well as one of their signature ballads, Men of Erin which was done with a tight harmony in acapella.  This group based in the Celtic tradition blends stories in song with an almost rock based musical excitement that is truly impressive.  As I shared my thoughts on the group with a fellow concert goer we both agreed, "this group is totally jigs and reels based Irish music - on steroids!" 

Always one of my favorite parts of this festival, the Session Tent was a way station for many of us who between concerts wanted to enjoy the best of musicians there, and some of the up and coming young instrumentalists as well.  This is simply one of the best events of the whole festival because it offers young musicians a chance to experience playing with professionals from every walk of the Celtic music world.

  As we looked back on the day with the songs, food, shopping, as well as all the pure joy that this kind of festival brings we were glad we came.  We were thankful to those who shared their music; to all those who listened, stomped and clapped in time; and of course to all who served with such gracious abandon.  This is what makes a festival like this a real gift every year to the whole community here in West Michigan.