Lunasa at McIntyre Hall, Mount Vernon, Washington
Friday, March 13, 2009
Lunasa – The story so far (Compass Records)
Four days before Saint Patrick’s Day and the Skagit Valley audience was rearing to go as the Irish sensation Lunasa appeared on McIntyre Hall’s stage. Bassist Trevor Hutchinson anchored the band stage left while flutist and master of ceremony Kevin Crawford stood on the other end of the stage sending his bandmates off on alternating flights of fancy. Guitarist Paul Meehan, fiddler Sean Smyth and piper Cillian Vallely rounded out the quintet offering up their own share of delightful musical moments.
This concert marked Lunasa’s first appearance in Mount Vernon, a small city tucked half way between [wiki:Seattle], Washington and Vancouver, British Columbia. But Celtic music is no stranger to Skagit Valley residents. The annual Highland Games draws folks from near and far. And the occasional Celtic music performer has been known to grace the stage of Lincoln Theatre and McIntyre Hall. Although McIntyre Hall is a relatively new venue, it has offered its stage to both local performing arts organizations as well as, touring international acts. The acoustics work well for opera, symphonies and acoustic musical acts such as Lunasa.
I had been looking forward to seeing this Irish quintet in concert. I recently interviewed Kevin Crawford for a local publication and had already given the band’s retrospective CD, “the story so far” several listens. I was reminding of the quintet’s uniqueness during the performance. For instance, the band’s rhythm section consists of guitar and bass, which is unusual for contemporary Irish bands. The fiddle also provides rhythm along with melodic lines while the Irish pipes provide drone, bass, treble melody and rhythm. Crawford’s flutes provided the bulk of the band’s lilting melodies and at times we as accompanied by Smyth and Vallely on whistles. In sound healing medicine, all the chakras were covered. And the musicians provided a gamut of moods, from partying to solemn.
Anyone who has seen Lunasa in concert or heard any of their numerous recordings, including the retrospective CD, has witnessed the tightness of this band and the musicians’ intense focus. At times, you could actually see this concentration in the form of furled brows. Crawford would joke with the audience and his fellow musicians, but this did not deter from the musicians’ focus as they traveled through musical twists and turns not uncommon in Celtic or even Scandinavian music. And when I say Celtic, I am using this word in the widest sense. Lunasa included music from Galicia, (the Celtic region of northern Spain), music from Cape Breton (Canada), and Brittany (France).
I could give you a play-by-play of every song performed and stories to go along with those songs, but I would rather provide an overall picture. However, the first set of Galician songs which appeared in the first set included a ballad, a march and a muiñeira (a Spanish jig), and I was delighted to hear these Galician songs. It felt like a homecoming for the Celts who to most folks only reside in the British Isles.
Of course, most of the repertoire was Irish Celtic music, familiar to the local audience. The musicians traveled down crooked musical roads, sometimes leaving me breathless while my feet just kept tapping out the odd rhythms. None of the musicians wore watches except for Hutchinson who kept time on his small double bass. Meanwhile, piper Vallely barely cracked a smile as he multitasked on his Uilleann Pipes. And Smyth had some tuning difficulties with his fiddle which caused him to leave the stage for a brief moment as his fellow musicians carried on through a lively set of songs.
Certainly Lunasa gave audience members their money’s worth and also provided some folks with fodder for the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. After an encore, audience members still lingered about the lobby, purchasing CDs, talking to the musicians and digesting a musical experience they will not soon forget.
Lunasa’s 2008 retrospective CD, “The Story So Far…” acts as a musical Cliffs Notes for those of us just discovering Lunasa’s music. The booklet includes a brief history and the CD features music from seven albums and ten years of making Celtic music. Enchanting ballads appear alongside rollicking jigs, reels, Celtic Diaspora musical fare.
This recording does not only show off musical prowess and the band’s water tightness, but it gives listeners a glimpse into the vast Celtic Diaspora. People that tell me that if you heard one traditional Irish song you have heard them all are missing the boat. Each musical tradition has its excitement, intricacies and innovations, not to mention subtleties. Lunasa provides listeners with all of the above while causing people to think they might just be hearing something new.
If Lunasa is not coming to a town near you, then the next best thing would be to pick up “the story so far” and drink its celebration of Celtic music.
Patricia Herlevi hosts the healing music blog, The Whole Music Experience and she has been contributing to World Music Central since 2003. She enjoys acoustic music from around the world.
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