Thursday, December 30, 2010

Jigging Through a Blizzard For Irish Festival II: Young Dubliners and Swagger

Not even a foot of snow could prevent us from relishing in Utah's Winter Irish Festival.  Salt Lake City's snow plows had given up making their passes along the streets which were flush with spin offs and sliding cars.  Fortuitously, we'd agreed to car pool ... and we got to ride in our friend's 4WD truck.
It was a crazy time. The post-Christmas rush had hit and many of us were slammed on all fronts: holiday travel, parties, family, trying to ski or snowboard our brains out, work, not to mention the perpetual snow shoveling activities for a week's worth of storms.  But this was the one concert indulgence we were determined not to miss.  One of the concert posse had gone snowboarding all day and rather than worry about her hair, she bought a $50 hat to wear. I admire priorities like that.

We headed due east to Park City in the relentless snow storm.  Dinner was supposed to be on Main Street, but one of the group who was already up there wisely decided that the eating establishments would have too long a wait, so we went to someone's condo, drink wine and ate freshly prepared appetizers while we waited for the rest of the group ... and pizza.

It was 8:55 pm and we were still sitting around chatting.  The concert was supposed to start at 9 pm, but of course, you never really know how timely things are going to run til you arrive.  We put on shoes and hopped in a few cars.  Princess parking was not too hard to come by, amazingly, and fortunately for the one of us who wore 4" heels.  After a short hike up icy Main Street, we found our way to Harry O's, where we bought tickets and checked our coats.

We'd heard the VIP seating areas on either side of the stage and along the walls were quite pricey ... the figure I heard was $200 per seating area.  People would actually sit through a concert with two of the country's premier Celtic Rock bands? "This, I gotta see," I thought to myself.  I would have to have my legs chopped off not to be on the dance floor jigging and dancing to the whirring Irish tunes I knew would be emanating from the stage any minute.  The Harry O's staff politely but sternly kept me from even putting my ice water on the VIP area divider near the foot of the stage ... so my pictures are mostly a one-handed effort.

Slaymaker Hill had just taken the stage. We'd seen them before at the Summer Irish Festival in Deer Valley. Someone mistakenly thought they were Swagger, and I assured them the Swagger musicians would be in kilts.  In the end, only one was, and definitely eye candy for all the women in attendance.

Swagger's set was about 50 minutes.  After the concert, one of the band members told me they tour with and are the "warm up" band to The Young Dubliners, but they play it like their the stars, and in Utah, they most definitely are.  I recognized many of their Celtic fusion songs since I have heard them play several times, and I would have seen them yet one more time had my plans to attend their recent Piper Down concert not been derailed by a broken furnace on a Saturday night.   Suffice it to say, I'm addicted to their music - which merges Irish and Scottish traditional sounds with rock, funk, reggae, jazz, country and folk - and incredibly proud they're from Utah.  They play with unquenchable spirit and energy.

I'm sure it was frustrating to Swagger and the Young Dubliners that the crowd was light that evening, probably due to the extreme weather.  Based on the number of Harry O's staff present, I'm guessing they were geared up for a much larger audience.  But as the saying goes, the show must go on.

Swagger's lineup included the usual lively fare: "Morrisons Jig," "Next Time I See Her," and "Myrtle's Daughter."  About the time they played "Whiskey in the Jar," the crowd let loose, at least as far as I could see from the middle of the dance floor.  We met and danced with some fine gentlemen from Salt Lake City who like us braved the roads to hear their favorite band, the Young Dubliners.  Meanwhile, I glanced over at the VIP sections. They were filling up.  Yes folks people really can and do sit during a Celtic rock concert.  I didn't even spy any toe-tapping.  Their somewhat blank stares were perhaps an indication of irritation at the over-jubilant jigging and swinging crowd on the dance floor in the center of Harry's.

In a conservative state where propriety is paramount, Swagger's merchandising splashed their sense of humor across a t-shirt "What's under your kilt?"  They wrapped their packed set - 11 songs - with "Whiskey on the Floor" and "Paddies in America."

Rick Butler - Vocals/Guitar/Mandolin
Dennis Harrington - Fiddle/Vocals
Sam Cottrell - Lead Guitar/Vocals
Bill Hepworth - Bass/Vocals
Mark Motonen - Drums
Seamus McKean - Guitars, Vocals, and Green Tambourines

with contributions by:
Eric Slaymaker - Tin Whistle and Mandolin
Kenny Gordon - keys, tin whistle, and anything else you hand him
Mike Gibbs - Bagpipes

The Young  Dubliners kept the Celtic rock energy that Swagger had set up going strong with "Saoirse," "Real World," and "Howaya Girls."  Then ... their music and the lights toned down for a few ballads and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."   I was not expecting this ... I don't remember the band mellowing their set at the Irish Festival this summer.  But it was masterful nonetheless.  The art of revving up the crowd at the entrance, toning down for a few numbers, and then building to a finish with songs such as their lively renditions of "Rosie" and the traditional "I'll Tell Me Ma" is an art that only the great musicians and bands possess.  Near the end of the set, they played a few numbers from the "Saints and Sinners" CD.

The story on the Young Dubs could've been far different.  Though two founding members were from Ireland, they were based in Santa Monica and perhaps could've devoted themselves to Hollywood stunt acts or surfing their way to obscurity.  Much to my delight, they embraced their Irish roots at the Irish Rover Pub back in 1988 and have been bringing their Celtic rock to audiences throughout the world ever since. They hold a special place in my heart ... I love the music and one of the band members looks like an Irish fellow I used to date, perhaps not ironically the one who told me about the Young Dubs.

I looked at my cell phone clock shortly before 1 am.  Yes it was incredibly late for a "school night."  And the Young Dubs carried such that we didn't make it back to our cars in the Park and Ride til about 2 or so.  The fatigue of the next day was something I could've done without.  But the photos tell the story and the memories of a splendiferous evening will be discussed for a long time to come. 

The Young Dubliners
Co-founder Keith Roberts (vocals, guitar)
Brendan Holmes (bass, vocals) 
Bob Boulding (guitar, vocals)
Chas Waltz (violin, keyboards, harp, mandolin, vocals)  
Dave Ingraham (drums, percussion)



 Photography courtesy of Amy O'Neill 

Disclosure: Admission price for this event was $30. I received NO compensation for this review.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Utah's Top Ten Concerts of 2010

All the concert bloggers I know are posting their top ten lists.  Perhaps I'll take a beating for this being overkill, but I have two lists: one for the national touring bands and a second list to recognize our Utah musicians (and those nearby in Colorado and California, with Utah roots), some of whom also tour regionally and beyond.  Selection criteria for both lists was simple:

  • Musical quality
  • Performance execution
  • Crowd engagement
  • Amazingness 
  • I was there

These rankings were not derived from a panel of professional (or bribed) judges.  The skating judge from France did not influence my decisions!  This is merely my evaluation of how much these events rocked. And they did.
National Touring Bands in Concert - 2010
  1. Scorpions - USANA Amphitheater
  2. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy - High Road to Human Rights/Liberty Park
  3. Young Dubliners - Irish Festival / Deer Valley
  4. Avenged Sevenfold - USANA Amphitheater
  5. Dave Matthews - USANA Amphitheater
  6. Swagger - Park Silly Sunday Markets   
  7. Blackberry Bushes - Piper Down
  8. Little Big Town - Peppermill Concert Hall/Wendover Nevada
  9. Dark Star Orchestra - The Depot
  10. The Bravery - Park City Main Street/VISA Freestyle International World Cup

      Utah's Finest Local/Regional Concerts - 2010
      1. Shaney McCoy - Salt Lake City CD release concert
      2. Stonecircle - Jeanne Wagner Theater
      3. Ryan Hiller - Deer Valley
      4. Michael Lucarelli - Intermountain Acoustic Music Association Local Concert Series
      5. Jen Hajj and Utah Slim with Heartroot - Mestizo Coffee House
      6. The Lab Dogs - Pat's BBQ
      7. Bryon Friedman - Deer Valley 
      8. Bronwen Beecher - Vertical Diner
      9. Stephanie Mabey - Bobby Boggs' Birthday House Concert
      10. Guy Benson - Carolyn's Backyard Garden Concerts

        Friday, December 24, 2010

        Have a Rockin' Merry Christmas from FeliciaEvita!

        Music is a safe type of high. ... It's nothing but rhythm and motion.
        - Jimi Hendrix

        Thanks to all my readers, followers, and friends, for your encouragement and support this year.  Special mention to my Uncle Rich for kicking me out of my writing comfort zone, my daughter Angie for all her social media consulting advice, and the Green Team, the Concert Posse, and many concert afficionados for all the fun times.  And thanks to the musicians who create so we can sing, tap, jive, groove, vibe, and dance to their music.
         Happy Christmas!

         Music is the universal language of mankind. 
        - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

         And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those 
        who could not hear the music.  
        - Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

        As a rock star, I have two instincts, I want to have fun, 
        and I want to change the world. 
        I have a chance to do both. 

        Tuesday, December 14, 2010

        Stonecircle's Winter Solstice Concert: Flute Nirvana

        It was plenty chilly outside, but inside, it was a warm and captivating evening.  The Jeanne Wagner Theater in downtown Salt Lake City showcased Nina Cooley and Tiffany Draper, the Celtic flutists of Stonecircle.  Yes, there were fiddles, vocalists, mandolins, keyboards, accordions, bodhrans, whistles, and guitars, but the flutes rocked my world for about two or so hours Saturday night.
        Before I go an inch further down this post, I must confess, I have played (Western concert) flute since the age of 10.  I have a smallish collection of flutes and flute music from other countries.  If I love to play - and I do - I love hearing flute even more.  And if I had to pick a genre for a day's worth of listening, nine days out of ten, it'd be some form of Celtic.  So don't expect partiality here.
        Stonecircle's Seventh Annual Winter Soltice concert was a holiday tradition for many Salt Lake locals.  In the darkness of winter, we found light and hope in the Celtic melodies of old.  I was in an especially effervescent mood, as I looked with anticipation to a wine and chocolate party later in the evening and my family's arrival for Christmas festivities later in the week. (Side note: the wine and chocolate party I so anticipated turned out to be the following week. A story for the AARP moment files.)

        The rolling melodies of "Maid on the Shore" transported me to another world of consciousness.  The first thing I noticed was that both flutists were miked.  I once played my flute in a group where I was not miked and grew weary of friends and family who came to see me telling me they couldn't hear me.  Better to play in my dining room and be heard.

        Songs such as "Blackbirds and Thrushes," "Annabelle's Bones," "Wish You Were Here," and "American Stranger," were set to a colourful, changing backdrop of clouds and light shapes.  The music speaks to the listener, or not.  In my case, Irish music always does.  Maybe it's all those Irish great-grandmothers of mine.  Interspersed amongst the Western concert flute and the Irish flute were a cache of high and low Irish whistles.

        Towards the end of the first half of the concert, string issues sent the guitar player off-stage to tune and led to vocalist Mary Johnston-Coursey's enchanting impromptu a cappella rendition of the Gaelic tune, "Nach Jassen." 

        Nach jassen ball ai banishoon
        Nach jassen ball ai weerese
        Nach jassen ball ail hullel walla 
        Hunya Loss na weerie
        Yan wa han a veteren
        Yan wa han breignen yech
        Yan wa han a veteren
        His spoats a cook ku faiden may

        "The Butcher Boy" was a sad love tale: boy-loves-and-leaves-girl.  And the audience learned simple lyrics "Hey!" for "The Pilgrim."  The Irish high whistle solo was especially amazing - no time to breathe!

        All of the musicians were craftsmen extraordinaire. Bronwen Beecher, who I have reviewed in solo performance previously this year, delivered her fiddling finesse.  Guitarist George Shoemaker charmed the audience not only with his playing but also his new baby daughter. Special guests Steve Keene, Brian Dobson, and Mark Cantor shared their love of all things Celtic with the addition of accordion, keyboard, whistles, and mandolin.

        At the commencement of the second half, narrator Mark Cantor asked that applause be held until the end of a long series of songs which comprised the Winter Solstice Suite.  "Gaudete" was a four-part harmony sung in a cappella. The depth of submelodies entranced me and I was sitting on my hands to avoid clapping.  Just the same, I could have stayed and listened all night.  The tunes flowed from the lullaby-like "Sussex Carol" to jiggy "Lilting Banshee," and ponderous "Bring the Peace."  "The Snows" bled into "A Health to the Company:"

        Here's a health to the company and one to my lass
        Let us drink and be merry all out of one glass
        Let us drink and be merry, all grief to refrain
        For we may and might never all meet here again

        "The Huron Carol" meter reminded me of "Good King Wenceslas."  The final number, "Cantus," hinted of Enya and Taize.  Then the stage went dark.  Could it really be over?  Surely there would be a standing O!  This is Salt Lake City.  Ah yes.  Everyone gets a standing ovation, in this case, deservedly so.

        So taken was I by the encore "The Blacksmith," that it guided my CD purchase after the concert.  This culmination of fiddling, drums, and flutes was spellbinding.  I could get lost in Stonecircle's whirling melodies, and I did that night.  Auditory heaven.  Flute nirvana.  What more can I say?

        Bronwen Beecher, Fiddle and Violin
        Nina Cooley, Flute, Percussion, Vocals
        Tiffany Draper, Irish Flute, High and Low Whistles and Bodhran
        Mary Johnston-Coursey, Vocals and Percussion
        George Schoemaker, 6 and 12 String Guitars and Vocals

        Special Guests
        Steve Keene, Accordions and Keyboards
        Brian Dobson, High and Low Whistles and Bodhran
        Mark Cantor, Narrator and Octave Mandolin

        Many thanks to WaveLight Studio

        Disclosure: Admission price for this event was $18. I received NO compensation for this review.