In autumn, Highland Perthshire turns copper, red, and gold: it’s known as The Big Tree Country, and with good reason. As roads and walkways traverse mountain and valley in central and eastern Scotland, there are gorgeous views to be seen at any season, really, but the flaming colors of autumn add depth and color to a journey there.
So does music. Songwriter Dougie MacLean grew up in Dunkeld, and still makes his home there, though his music has taken him all over the world. Both those things play into the festival he started several years ago. It is called Perthshire Amber, and it is coming up this year beginning on 29 October and running through 7 November.
Dougie has been writing and playing music for several decades now, and at first he created a weekend event during which he could pull out old favorites, revisit lesser known pieces, and have fun trying out settings beyond the usual in the concert hall for two hours format. As musical friends came along to join in, a festival was born. This year, artists will include many whose music draws on tradition and keeps it fresh and new as well. The band Grada, whose members hail from Ireland and New Zealand, will be on tap, as will Crooked Still, who are known for their creative take on bluegrass, are coming from the United States. Kris Drever, inventive guitarist and singer from Orkney, will pair up with long time friend Eamonn Coyne, from Ireland, who plays the banjo and is part of the Latin Celtic fusion band Salsa Celtica. Michael McGoldrick, who seems to be everyone’s choice to play flutes and whistles on their album projects and who has a fine solo album of his own out, will bring his tunes to the stage. Karen Matheson, lead singer of Capercaillie, will be fronting her own band at the festival, and Fred Morrison will offer his always intriguing music on the pipes too. MacLean will play solo concerts and share bills as well. At the opening concert, he will host award winning musician Julie Fowlis, who brings Gaelic song into the mix.
The gigs at Perthshire Amber are not confined to concert stages, either. There will be several of those, and music will also be offered in a castle, a distillery, and a crannog, as well as on song bus tours of the Highland Perthshire landscape, and at other venues.
A highlight of the festival in addition to the music is its care for the community. This is expressed in several ways, including The Big Knit and Amber Harvest. All through the year, people in Scotland and around the world knit squares which are made into warm blankets and other items, which are auctioned off at the festival with funds raised going to organizations which help those in need. When Dougie was touring in the United States several years ago, he was introduced to the idea of people bringing non perishable food to concerts to go to food banks to help those in need. He brought the idea to Perthshire Amber, and each year, festival goers have increased their donations of food to Amber Harvest.
There will be workshops and talks as well as formal concerts, and no doubt much good fun and good fellowship to be had as another year of music unfolds during the days of Perthshire Amber. Last year, several of the the concerts were a available to see online, too, by subscription. Plans are still being finalized about that this year. There will be more information about this, as well as news about other festival events, at the Perthshire Amber web site.
photo of Dougie MacLean by Calum MacIntosh, courtesy of Perthshire Amber