A wide array of Irish, Scottish, Cape Breton, Appalachian and other Celtic and Celtic-inspired music and dance is on tap during Boston’s annual Celtic Music Fest (BCMFest), Jan. 6-7, 2012. The grassroots, musician-run, family-friendly winter Celtic music festival takes place at three venues in Harvard Square that are all within easy walking distance of one another – a change from previous years when not all the events took place in Cambridge.
Now in its ninth year, the festival will feature more than 100 performers, a mix of established artists and new or emerging acts from the Boston area’s Celtic music community – including fiddlers, flutists, accordionists, guitarists, singers and other musicians, as well as dancers. Their styles and approach run the gamut from dyed-in-the-wool traditional to more contemporary sounds.
BCMFest kicks off with a customary Friday night “Roots and Branches” concert at Club Passim that will feature a diverse array of the area Celtic scene’s talented young musicians and singers. Fiddlers Hanneke Cassel, Kimberley Fraser and Emerald Rae, singer and multi-instrumentalist Grace Van’t Hof and Irish stepdancer Siobahn Butler will join the house band composed of Eden Forman (fiddle, vocals), Abbie MacQuarrie (fiddle, feet), Jefferson Hamer (guitar, vocals), Neil Pearlman (piano, mandolin) and Nic Gareiss (feet). Also slated for Friday night is the ever-popular Boston Urban Ceilidh – a Celtic dance party – at The Atrium, featuring a variety of dance music including New England contra (The Reiner Brothers), Breton (Triple Spiral) and Scottish (Neil Pearlman and Friends).
The festival continues on Saturday with a day-long series of performances at Club Passim and on three different stages at the nearby First Parish Church, where a grand finale concert also takes place.
Musicians Nic Gareiss and Bill Wiegant will lead a tribute to Nic Jones, one of the most influential artists to come out of the 1960s-70s British folk revival, whose albums like The Noah’s Ark Trap and Penguin Eggs showcased his distinctive guitar style and his idiosyncratic yet expressive singing as well as his penchant for reviving obscure or overlooked songs. Although not even born when Jones was in his heyday, Gareiss views his work as “crucial to understanding where the trans-Atlantic folk revival – and I would argue, revitalization – stands today.” He believes “Jones’ songs, particularly his harmonization, guitar parts, and innovative accompaniment approach, have influenced countless folk singers, perhaps the most notable of this generation being Kate Rusby. In turn, these younger folk artists have set the bar for the standard and aesthetic of traditional English, and by extension in these post-global times, Irish, Scottish and American folk.” Joining Gareiss, a stepdancer and foot percussionist, singer and musician, in paying tribute to Jones, aside from vocalist and guitarist Wiegant, will be Laura Cortese (fiddle, vocals), Jefferson Hamer (guitar, vocals), and Lissa Schneckenburger (fiddle, vocals).
Others set to perform during Saturday’s “Dayfest” include: Bob Bradshaw; Amanda Cavanaugh & Gareiss; Chasing Redbird; Dylan Courville, Wells Burrell & Bob Jennings; Corvus; the Deadstring Ensemble; Fellswater; Highland Soles; Adrienne Howard & Emily Peterson; Katie McNally & Eric McDonald; NOIR; Neil Pearlman’s Scottish Infusion; Ken Perlman & Jim Prendergast; Hannah Sanders & Liz Simmons; Triple Spiral; and The Whiskey Boys. In addition, The Boston Scottish Fiddle Club and the Stoneybatter Band will lead open music sessions, while the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society’s Boston branch will demonstrate dances and afford audience members opportunities to join in. Also on the schedule are a “Kitchen Ceilidh” of Cape Breton song and dance led by Kyte MacKillop; a “Bawdy Breakfast” presenting a more cheeky, risqué side of Celtic music; and “McThriller,” a Celtic send-up of the music of Michael Jackson.
“Our feeling is, yes, let’s have a serious side, where we explore these vital, enduring music traditions – but let’s not forget to have fun, either,” says Shannon Heaton, who co-founded BCMFest with Laura Cortese. Heaton’s husband, Matt, and fellow guitar, bouzouki and mandolin player Flynn Cohen have organized Saturday night’s finale concert which will feature collaborations by an array of artists who are generally more likely to be found at sessions in pubs than in concert settings. Among them are Tina Lech (fiddle), Ted Davis (flute), Katie McNally (fiddle), Sean Clohessy (fiddle), James Hamilton (flute), Joey Abarta (Uillean pipes), Kimberley Fraser (fiddle) and Maeve Gilchrist (harp, keyboards). Heaton also will perform with his wife, Shannon (Irish, flute, whistle, vocals), while Cohen joins his “alt-trad” band Annalivia. Heaton and Cohen also will perform as a duo and, along with some of their guest musicians, pay tribute to the Bothy Band, one of the seminal groups in the modern Irish folk music revival.
“We’re looking forward to sharing the stage with people we play music with regularly, but also some of the more underappreciated ‘tradition-bearers’ and ‘sessioneers,,” says Heaton. “There will be a good sampling of Irish, Scotttish, Cape Breton and other music that makes Boston such a wonderful place to be a Celtic musician.”
For more information on BCMFest 2012 – including a schedule and ticket prices – visit www.bcmfest.com.