Three nights, three groups, three chances to hear the music of Ireland on the Susquehanna
Three exceptional Irish groups are poised to wash up on the Susquehanna’s shores, just in time to warm our hearts (and toes!) and to lift our winter-weary spirits. From Williamsport’s Community Arts Center to the Weis Center for the Performing Arts and the Campus Theatre in Lewisburg, the area will be filled with folk, traditional, and even classical music with the Celtic lilt.
The party starts in Williamsport on March 15 with the return of The Irish Rovers in their “Farewell to Rovin’” tour. No strangers to the CAC, this group always gets a warm welcome in Williamsport with its rollicking tunes and lively banter. If you have always wanted to see the Rovers, go now, as this is the last time this band will tour in the United States. Founded in the 1960s, this group of Irish immigrants first organized the band in Canada and has spent the last five decades spreading the joy of Irish folk music around the world.
George Millar and his cousin Ian Millar are both from Ballymena, original member Wilcil McDowell is from Larne, Sean O’Driscoll is from Cork, and bodhran player Fred Graham is from Belfast. Joining the Rovers are multi-instrumentalist Morris Crum from Ireland, whistle/flute player Geoffrey Kelly from Spirit of the West, and fiddle player, Gerry O’Connor—all who regularly play on Rovers recordings or tours. Expect a foot-stomping sing- along with one of the most famous and beloved bands to rock Billtown.
The party then wends downriver to Lewisburg where two very different Irish groups will come ashore to delight. Martin Hayes Masters of Tradition will play at the Weis Center on March 21. The heart and soul of Masters of Tradition is the musical collaboration of Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill. Hayes is one of the finest Irish fiddle players,and the artistic director of the Masters of Tradition Festival held in August each year at Bantry House in Bantry, West Cork. There, Ireland’s most distinguished traditional musicians are invited to play in a more intimate chamber music setting. Dennis Cahill is an American from Chicago, from Irish parents, and is a master guitarist. Indeed, it is the synergy between the fiddle work of Hayes and the sparse but essential accompaniment of Cahill that forms the center of this group, and has cemented the role of the guitar in traditional Irish music. The other musicians, vocalist Iarla Ó Lionáird, fiddler Cathal Hayden, guitarist Seamie O’Dowd, Máirtín O’Connor on accordion, and uilleann piper David Power were chosen by Hayes as artists in their own right.
The tour has evolved from the music at the festival, says Kathryn Maguet, executive director at Weis. “This traditional Irish group plays like no other.” Different from the music of the pub and the concert hall, this is the music played in people’s homes, and is grounded in County Clare and the music of Hayes’s father, P.J. Hayes. The music is subtle, full of energy, and different every night, as these seven musicians weave traditional Irish music in solos, duets, and trios. “One of the things I want people to experience is a sense of the bedrock of the music,” says Hayes. “In its purest form, Irish traditional music speaks a universal language.”
The music then flows into another form a mere five days later, as, on March 26, the Dublin Guitar Quartet takes the stage at the Campus Theatre in Lewisburg. Maguet notes, “This and the Masters of Tradition are very different concerts.” Four Dublin musicians— Brian Bolger, Pat Brunnock, David Creevy, and Tomas O’Durcain—create a unique chamber music experience by arranging classical and contemporary music for guitar. They are perhaps best known for their collaborations with Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Arvo Part, and Gyorgy Ligeti. The warm, beautiful result has brought them acclaim from new classical artists, and, perhaps more importantly, introduced a wider audience to classical work being written today and the composers writing it. Magret says that Dublin Guitar Quartet “moves seamlessly from serious to ‘not-so-serious.’”
In a month when everyone is just a little bit Irish, we have a chance to drink deeply from the river of Celtic song and music right here in North Central Pennsylvania. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!