Monday, September 29, 2014

Bethlehem Celtic Classic 2014

For the past six years, Haley and I (and often Dylan though not this year) have attended the Bethlehem Celtic Classic in Bethlehem, PA. It is one of our favorite Celtic fall festivals and celebrates all aspects of culture and heritage from Ireland and Scotland. There is everything from the "showing of the tartan" parade, pipe band competitions, dance competitions, the US National Highland Athletic Championships in the main field, Haggis eating competition, fiddle competition, workshops, a kids area with crafts, and music on a number of stages from the huge Grand Pavilion to quieter, more intimate stages in venues throughout the festival grounds and the main street of town. Add to that vendors selling all sorts of wares from kilts to swords to hand-made jewelry, food from haggis to corn on the cob on a stick, and about 30,000 people and you have one really cool festival.

For a number of years, our main reason for attending was the fiddle competition and hanging out with Haley's fiddle playing friend, Alex and his family. Last year, Haley was asked to perform during the fiddle competition rather than compete (she had already won the under 14 age division four times and had three more years to go). She liked the idea of being able to perform rather than compete because she still had a reason to go and hang out with her friend, Alex, and Livia (who was going for her 1st time) plus Patch and Alanna.

This past spring, John Whelan invited Haley to perform with his band in the Grand Pavilion at this year's Classic. She jumped at the chance….she loves to perform with John as part of his band. After months of waiting, we rose super-early on Saturday morning to drive to Bethlehem so we'd arrive in time to watch Livia compete and Alex perform during the break in competition (he'd won the under 18 age division a couple years and had a few more years to go so performed rather than competing). Livia did a great job and won the under 14 age group.

After Livia and Alex finished, we walked into town for our yearly lunch at the Brew Works. We had the biggest table in the place...table for sixteen, please! Lunch took a really long time but we all had fun.

From lunch, or maybe "lupper" by the time it was over, Haley and I checked into our hotel, she made herself beautiful for the night's performance, and then it was time for rehearsal. She still thinks rehearsal is as good as the performance itself. The band was minus a fiddler, Kathleen, this gig so they had to divide Kathleen's "parts" between Haley and Genna and they had a new flute player, and awesome dancer, Jonathan. They worked hard for a little over two hours putting together the set.

Haley and I rode back into the festival with Genna, had a bite to eat, then watched the Glengarry Bhoys performance. They packed the huge Grand Pavilion tent with more people, unable to fit inside, lined up around the perimeter and had them waving their arms and screaming. Incredible!

Glengarry Bhoys

Haley with D'Arcy, the fiddler for Glengarry Bhoys
The John Whelan performed the final act of the night (9:30pm).  They were high energy and fun with great music, most of which John has written himself. At the finale, John invited Haley's friend, Alex, on stage to play a slow air then join the band for a few tunes.

Here's a little video I took of their first set…

After the performance, everyone walked back into town for a late night session on the 2nd floor of a pub. It was a huge session with a lot of great musicians/performers and ran until the wee hours of the morning…we left around 2:30am and it was still going strong.

Sunday morning, Haley and I slept in a bit then went to breakfast with John and the Srour family. John left to head back to CT for a day of teaching and the Srours took Jonathan (flute player/dancer) to the train for NYC. Haley and I went into the festival to enjoy the day. Haley wanted to see her friend Rose's band Burning Bridget Cleary so we headed to the Grand Pavilion first. Rose asked her to join them onstage for a set during their show and afterward we watched the rest of the performance. 

Haley and Rose
We walked around the festival for while, looked at all the vendors' displays, watched a bit of Timlin and Kane's performance…

…and caught a little of Mick Moloney and friends before we had to be at the Highland fields for Haley to receive a scholarship from the Bethlehem Celtic Cultural Alliance. Exhausted after the awards presentation and our day in the crowds and sun, we walked back into town and headed home.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


This fall is full of changes for our family.

Newt is off to college. Instead of seeing him, I have to make do with talking or texting him daily. The whole family is looking forward to seeing him in a couple weeks on his first visit home.

Dylan is no longer playing football. The time came where he had to chose his music or sports because one took up time he needed for another. He chose music.

It is pretty easy for anyone to see the changes in Haley…she is growing up. Her face is maturing…along with the rest of her. Besides the physical changes, she has had a lot of other changes this year.

For the first time since she was seven, she is not involved in an orchestra. She decided she wanted to spend her time doing Irish music. I was initially a little worried about her not having time to make music with kids around her age…since she spends most of her music making time with adults but opportunities have come up in the last six months that allow her to work, play sessions, and perform with her young Irish music playing friends regularly.

Another change has been her violin teacher. We have known for a while she will eventually need a "violin" teacher because her teacher is a violist. Her teacher came up with a solution, after Haley decided against her first idea of a solution. So at least for the next few months, she is working with a new teacher. She enjoys her lessons with him and having someone new to play for has motivated her to practice even more (even using her Dr. Beat without me bringing it out…Miss Gerry would be so happy). I am not allowed to attend her lessons so she has also taken control of her violin education and practice….though she still often asks me to listen while she is practicing or comes and plays for me to show me what she is working on. I don't know what will happen when our time with him is over but for now she's in a good place.

Change #3…I thought we'd be unable for her to continue with her writing tutor due to finances (college) so had come up with a writing program for her myself. This week her writing tutor asked us to visit for tea because she had a proposal for Haley. Turns out she is publishing a book (Christian home schoolers might enjoy checking out the link) and would like Haley to provide the music for her audiobook version. In return, she will continue to work with Haley on her writing.

One last change…hasn't happened yet but is in the works…a new full size fiddle. We are doing a lot of shopping. It isn't easy.

Amazing how God provides so things fall into place. I feel like Haley's entire musical life has been one "accident" or "coincidence" after another. I have to think maybe God has a plan we don't know about because I surely couldn't have planned any of this.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Wild Weekend…at Wildwood

This past weekend got off to an early start.

Haley and Dylan were asked to do three performances throughout the weekend in Wildwood, NJ as part of their Irish Weekend. We drove down late Thursday afternoon to check into our hotel before the kids' first gig on Thursday evening, opening for Derek Warfield and The Young Wolftones.

Haley and Dylan played a great set together then we listened to the rest of the concert. Haley and I walked back after the concert while the boys took the van back. It was a lovely cool evening and I love the atmosphere at the beach so I walked as much as I could all weekend…not hard to do because Tinkerbell went with us and couldn't wait to walk, leave her scent, and smell all the other dogs around the island.

Friday morning Tinks had me up early so I dressed and took her for a long walk along the beach road. We must have walked for an hour. The sun was just coming up and I took some beautiful photos on my phone.

We used to spend a couple weeks camping at the beach every summer back before our trips to Ireland and music camps took up all our funds and vacation time. I forgot how much I enjoy just being at the shore.

The rest of the family woke up when we returned to the room and we all got ready to go out to a pancake house for breakfast. After breakfast we walked up and down the boardwalk. There was an old car show going on so the boys were happy. We took the kids back to the room so they could put on their performance clothing then went down to the festival which was already pretty crowded for a Friday afternoon. We walked around and looked at all the vendors goods, had some food, listened to some music, Haley did some dancing, then it was their turn on stage.

They did another great job. Some friends did a set dance to one of their tune sets and they had a crowd of people talking to them afterward. We escaped as soon as we could because they were hungry and we had plans for dinner at the Lobster House in Cape May…a family tradition at least once a year. We ordered take-out and ate outside on the deck. After dinner we drove back to Wildwood, had some ice cream for dessert, and took a walk in the dark along the beach before retiring for the night.

Our day repeated again on Saturday….early morning walk with Tinks, pancake house breakfast, walk on boardwalk where kids rode a couple rides (weren't running on Friday morning), and festival with performance. There were way more people at the festival on Saturday. Due to a bit of a scheduling issue, the kids were able to perform a little earlier on Saturday so right after they finished their set, we jumped into the car and headed home to drop off the dog. They wanted to try to make it to PA for the CCE-DV Ceili because John Whelan was going to be there to play with the Sligo Six.

I think most people who would normally attend were back in Wildwood where we left them at the festival but it was a nice quite gathering like a house party. The kids danced and played music and we all enjoyed the company. We didn't get back home until the wee hours on Sunday morning but had a quiet day at home planned cleaning, catching up on schoolwork, and, for me, reading. The day didn't quite go as planned though because Haley got a call asking her to come help host the session at the Plough. The regular host had called out and Tom needed someone with a melody instrument. She decided it would be fun so she and I spent our evening there.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Whew! What a weekend!

We started our weekend early with a wonderful house concert Thursday evening. The Alt, one of the bands created during a late night at Swannanoa a couple years ago (the other is The Teetotallers), consists of Nuala Kennedy, John Doyle, and Eamon O'Leary. John and Eamon are the two guitarists Dylan always chooses to learn from at Swannanoa. Add to them Nuala with her sweet voice and lovely flute and whistle playing and wow!  Tight vocal harmonies and lively tunes. Amazing!

I think I've said before how much we like the intimate "private" experience a house concert provides and this one was no exception. We could have listened all night and we kind of did. After the concert we popped in our newly recorded and purchased CD and listened all the way home…and it was our listening choice while riding all over the place all weekend.

We had a late night but we were all up early Friday morning. Dylan went off to school then Haley and I headed to the northern part of the state so she could work in a recording studio to lay down a few tracks with Mike for Andy's new Irish clarinet CD. It was a long but fun day!

Working out variations.
They finished up a Donegal reel set then played around with a slow air playing melody and harmony then playing cannon-style. It was pretty cool to listen to Haley play the third "round" of the cannon on her first try especially considering she learned the air very recently and Andy had only decided that morning to try it so she hadn't had a chance to practice.

Laying down tracks.
After the day of recording, Haley and I headed south to Philly. We grabbed a quick dinner then headed to the Irish Center for the Philadelphia Ceili Group's Annual Festival (40th!!!). Friday night is always a ceili in the ballroom and a "Rambling House" concert in the fireplace room. For the Rambling House session there is a host musician, Gabriel, who invites musicians, both local and visiting, on stage to play a few sets with him. Haley enjoyed hanging out with her friends, Alex and Keegan, while they listened to the music and took their turns on stage.

Haley especially enjoyed playing a couple tunes with two musicians from Beoga, Niamh Dunne and Seán Óg Graham and Niamh's father. We saw Beoga in concert one year at the Fleadh in Cavan and they are one of Haley's favorite bands. Niamh has a beautiful voice and is a lovely fiddle player and Sean is great on both accordion and guitar.

Gotta love the microphone eye patch.
Late night number two.

Saturday Haley, Dylan, and I headed back to the Irish Center for another full day of festival. The kids took some workshops on their respective instruments then rehearsed, and hung out with their friends, Alex and Keegan, before their "set" at the festival. The Converse Trio (Haley, Keegan, and Alex) accompanied by Dylan played a lively set in the afternoon. They sounded great!

They also joined Next Generation for their set then ate dinner before a wonderful concert by Fullset…a group of young, dynamic musicians. Their music was great and they put on a very entertaining show.

Late night number three.

I had to drag Haley out before the after-concert session because we had another early morning on Sunday for a fiddle lesson in New York. We carpooled with Livia and Amy so the trip was pleasant and fun, the lesson productive, and Haley, exhausted from her busy weekend fell fast asleep on the ride home then went to bed for short nap before dinner.

Back to school tomorrow.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Let the Fun Begin…or the Storm?

Summer was a whirlwind!

 It was fun, amazing, and over way too soon! I knew it would be that way. sigh.

The last two weeks allowed us to get back into a rhythm with school, catch up on make-up sessions for work, and take a breath before the fall festival season. Today was the start. Haley, Dylan, and I headed to Ship Bottom, NJ today for their annual Irish Festival. This would be the 3rd year the kids played here but last year, as we were getting ready to leave, Haley had a little run in with a toothpick that left her spending the day in an ER and the evening in surgery. (See this post for details.) This morning, however, we made it into the car toothpick-free.

The kids played a nice set right after Mass. They included a couple tunes they've composed together. (Their composition "sessions" go something like this…Dylan fools around with a guitar chord sequence. He finds something he likes and plays it over and over then Haley decides she'll add some fiddle on top of it…and poof! They have a new tune.)

Not the best picture but with the bright sunlight behind them it was difficult.
There was a really cool little spot near the stage tent with music notes as part of the bricks. Dylan is a bit camera shy but Haley jumped right on it.

From Ship Bottom, we headed back across the state to Philly. We met Haley's friends and fellow Converse Trio band members, Alex and Keegan, at St. Declan's Well for the weekly Irish music session. The kids love when they get to play with Kevin and Fintan! Dylan jumped in at the end to rehearse with the others for their next stop…a promo appearance for next week's festival, the Philadelphia Ceili Group's 40th Anniversary Irish Festival, on the radio station WXPN with Gene Shay.

We walked the block to the station from St. Declan's. The full moon, clouds, and city skyline all lit up were really pretty…the pictures just didn't do it justice but here's one try.

The station was much bigger than any of the others we have been to. The others were tiny little places with one or two (if they have a couple stations in one tiny building) rooms they broadcast from. This station is in the basement at World Live Cafe and there are a number of broadcasting rooms including a very large room where the kids played. The walls have really cool art all over them and in the main station area, the walls are covered by the signatures of famous people who have been to the studio.

It took some time for them to set up the big studio room with mics. The kids rehearsed and joked around then once everything was set up, they were on air.

Sitting in the studio, we were a little confused as to when they were actually broadcasting but people listening at home said they sounded great.

We left right after they finished to get the kids home to bed. School in the morning! Looking forward to a great festival and a lot more fun next weekend!