CelticFest Gala was a hootenanny (March 14, Vogue Theatre)

Thanks to Caravan World Rhythms (who put on a delightful assortment of world music shows throughout the year), we had tickets to the CelticFest Gala, held at the Vogue Theatre on March 14. 

The Once, from Newfoundland, opened this festive show. Their name is a Newfoundland phrase meaning “imminently”, and they are a trio with lead singer Geraldine Hollett and two accompanists, Phil Churchill and Andrew Dale, on guitar, mandolin, fiddle and bouzouki, 

Geraldine started with an astonishing cover of Leonard Cohen’s Anthem. I love this song, and was very impressed by how she interpreted it. They then moved to a Queen song (which unfortunately I did not know), and progressed to more classic Newfoundland style songs, including a sad ballad with the repeating chorus “by the glow of the kerosene light”.

By the glow of the kerosene light

The group had great rapport with the crowd (a crowd that was rather more noisy and chatty than in typical concerts we attend). We loved hearing “The Once”, and look forward to hearing them again.

Next up was Jayme Stone’s The Lomax Project. Alan Lomax was a musical historian who collected music from thousands of folk musicians all over the world, and The Lomax Project brings many of these songs back to life. 

They started with Shenandoah, which I had thought of as a southern US seafaring song, but has a reach which extends far beyond that, with a version having apparently been found even in Norway. This group, which displayed excellent skills on accordion and fiddle and other instruments, moved through various styles and countries, including the Caribbean island of St. Eustatius. I’ve included a version not from this group, but one recorded in 1967 on the island itself.


Then came a break, during which an award was given to the Irish Sporting and Social Club

Next up, was Hermitage Green, a band from Limerick that is shortly heading to Nashville, perhaps on the cusp of breakout success. Five young men, with a particularly good-looking bassist (not to discriminate against the other lads), singing and playing what they describe as “acoustic folk rock”. I enjoyed this group. Their instruments included a djembe drum, and they definitely did not adhere strictly to Irish trad style. Here’s an example of them in a quieter mode than usual:

Next up, and the last band of the night, was The Paperboys. Although this band does some classic Celtic folk music, it is open to many other influences, particularly Latin ones, reflecting the Mexican boyhood of the founder Tom Landa. In one sentence, they describe themselves as “Mexican Son Jarocho mixed in with Irish Jigs and Reels and a good dose of Country and Bluegrass. It has healthy servings of Ska, Soca and African Highlife and we’ve been known to throw in a little White Boy Reggae.” I am glad that the Celtic Fest musical programmers did not take a hard line on what does or does not count as Celtic music. Preserving a “pure” and isolated tradition is impossible in a global world. 

This group, in addition to the great music, also had great showmanship. I loved watching the two women fiddlers facing off and dancing around the stage. There were (I think) 10 musicians in this ensemble, which included a few alumni. Here’s a video I found (but no video conveys the entire essence of the group, which is so diverse).

PaperBoys has an IndieGoGo campaign for their next album

When doing a bit of research for this article, I discovered Tom Landa has another group as well – check out Locarno

With each group, I’ve not been able to convey the full sense of what they are musically. I enjoyed the diversity of each group, and the combined diversity of the whole programme very much.


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