Harvard Square in January: cold, sure. Snow, very likely. Winter winds: also likely. What will warm you right up, though, is the music going on. It’s time for the Boston Celtic Music Festival.
This year, the fest takes place on 13 and 14 January. During two evenings and a full day of events on Saturday the 14th, you’ll get the chance to hear New England based artists from Irish, Scottish, Cape Breton, Quebecois, and related genres in all sorts of collaborations. There will be concerts, workshops, dance sessions, ceilidhs, kid friendly music, established artists, rising stars, and much fun to be had.
The music begins on Friday evening at Club Passim. The Roots & Branches concert will feature Yann Falquet, Quebecois guitarist and singer, Irish-style fiddle player, accordionist, and singer Heather Cole-Mullen, and the Jordan Tirrell-Wysocki Trio, who offer a lively New England take on Irish traditional music.
Dancing begins on Friday evening too. Just as the concert is winding down at Passim, things are heating up nearby at The Atrium, where the Boston Urban Ceilidh will be getting underway. Breton, Cape Breton, and Scottish dance music will feature across the evening. It’s a highly anticipated event, not least because steps and figures are taught as the music moves along — you’ve no need to be expert or even familiar with the dances of the Celtic lands to join in the fun. You might get to join in a parade, too, as people move from Passim over to The Atrium.
Next morning, kid and family friendly events start off Saturday’s schedule at Passim, and there’s more dance fun to be had in the attic of First Parish Church as the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society demonstrates and teaches favorite styles. Intimate concert sets from many of the region’s top musicians occur through the afternoon hours, as do workshops and singalongs, and from time to time, music with a bit of humor thrown in too.
Among the musicians you’ll see at this season’s BCMFest are fiddle and harp duo Jenna Moynihan and Mairi Chambeul, Scottish and Cape Breton style fiddle and keyboard duo Katie McNally and Neil Perlman, the Galen Fraser Quartet, singers Sean Smith and Colleen White, and Laura Cortese’s eclectic All in Always. Keltic Kids and Scottish Fish will also be on hand, as will Big Ham and Shadow Hands (otherwise known as Lindsay Straw and Dan Accardi), Mariel Vandersteel, and many others.
Festival organizer and co- founder Shannon Heaton points out that as festival committee members begin evaluating performer applications, each year a theme emerges. “This year, the BCMFest Committee saw numerous acts with a particularly strong appreciation of Celtic traditions,“ Heaton says. “Even the newer fusion-type acts have that solid ‘trad’ foundation. Given how many younger performers will be featured this year, it shows how our local community has taken the tradition into its heart and home.” Following on that idea, the committee chose Tradition and Renewal: Looking Back and Moving Forward as the theme for BCMFest 2017.
The strands of that idea will draw together at the BCMFest Nightcap Concert on Saturday evening in the sanctuary of First Parish. The evening starts with a sure to be lively take on the idea of a Cape Breton house party, with Rachel Reeds inviting friends to join in sharing song and tune and story. Shannon Heaton will offer music, image, and story as she shares her project Irish Music Stories. There will be a grand finale to close the evening too, with many participating musicians on hand.
Boston Celtic Music Festival had its own beginnings a bit more than fourteen years ago, as Shannon Heaton and Laura Cortese were walking through Davis Square in Somerville, and passed by The Burren, a well known Irish pub. Heaton, whose flute playing and singing is based in the music of Ireland, and Cortese, whose fiddle playing draws on the music of Scotland, got to talking about how the Celtic traditions so strong in the Boston area tended to operate separately. They knew there was a lot that players, singers, and composers from these traditions would enjoy and could share, but it rarely happened. What if, they thought, we had a big party, or maybe a weekend, or maybe — a festival? And they made it happen.
BCMFest artists play in places which hold long connection to the history of music and the history of Massachusetts, too. The First Parish community is nearly four centuries old and among other things has seen Harvard graduations and speeches by Ralph Waldo Emerson within its walls. Club Passim’s history reaches back to the early days of the folk revival and beyond, with Joan Baez, Chris Smither, and Carolyn Hester among those who played its stage in those days, and who sometimes return.
Sharing traditions and carrying them on: that is at the heart of the music which happens around Harvard Square during BCMFest. “Traditional music energizes so many of us,” Shannon Heaton says. “And this process of connection to the tradition by performers and listeners alike revitalizes the tradition.”
But what if you won’t be making it to Harvard Square on the 13th and 14th of January this year? There are four things I’d suggest.
*Check the schedule at Concert Window to see if any of the events this year will be available by live stream Update: Concert Window was a great service when this article was first published but, sad to say, it has since closed its doors.
*Keep an eye out for BCMFest events through the year, including monthly concerts at Passim
*Many BCMFest performers have recordings available, and most them tour in New England and across the US. Several also tour internationally in places as disparate as Kazakhstan, Thailand, and Scotland.
*Put it on your calendar for next year. It’s always on a weekend early in January.
Photographs, top to bottom: Jenna Moynihan by Kerry Dexter; Gemme & Falquet courtesy of the artists; BCMFest parade by M Passarini; Shannon Heaton by Kerry Dexter; Sean Smith courtesy of the artist; Lindsay Straw by Kerry Dexter; BCMFest workshop by Kerry Dexter. Thank you for respecting copyright.
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