November 29, 2021
Yes, it’s a cliché, but one that Kevin Crawford is quite happy to proclaim: “We’re getting the band back together!”
The band in question is Lúnasa, one of the more venerated and accomplished Irish groups of the past quarter-century, noted for its layered, harmonically sophisticated, exquisitely arranged sound. Crawford and his fellow Lúnasans will be fully reunited for a brief US tour that will bring them to The Burren Backroom in Somerville on Dec. 15, with shows at 6 and 8:30 p.m.
The upcoming road trip (which will also see the band play at the Spire Center for the Performing Arts in Plymouth on December 16) will mark the first time in almost two years that a full complement of Lúnasa has played together in person: Crawford (flute, whistle), Cillian Vallely (pipes, whistle), Colin Farrell (fiddle, whistle), Patrick Doocey (guitar) – who all live in the US – and, coming over from Ireland, Trevor Hutchinson (double bass). (Guitarist Ed Boyd and fiddler Sean Smyth, who reside in Ireland, are with the band for Irish or other overseas gigs.) Also joining them at The Burren will be the Galway singer, multi-instrumentalist ,and dancer Dave Curley, now living in Ohio.
This will be eighth time in the last nine years that Lúnasa has presented its version of a holiday special at The Burren, with Karan Casey and then Ashley Davis serving as their guest vocalists. That alone is cause for enthusiasm as far as Crawford is concerned, but he’s also hoping the December concerts augur a return to an active, and in-person, schedule for 2022.
“I really wondered how we would function in the pandemic,” he says. “I was afraid of losing out on that in-the-moment vibe, which you really can’t capture through Zoom or other digital means; there’s just no feeling of ‘when the magic happens.’
“We’re very fortunate we had the tools and opportunities to connect with one another during the lockdown and travel restrictions, but it just wasn’t the same.”
In recent months, as live music engagements have returned, Crawford and Vallely have been able to do some gigs with Farrell and/or Doocey (as well as Boston-area guitarist Alan Murray). These have been certainly been satisfying, but also necessary in restoring some semblance of normalcy, as far as Crawford is concerned.
“From what I could see, there were a number of ways musicians responded to the pandemic. Some got very creative and flourished, found some project to do, made recordings or videos, and so on. But I know of other musicians who just haven’t been able to pick up their instruments at all. How do you recover from that?
“I was lucky in that I started teaching after the lockdown began. The feeling back then was, ‘Ah, it’ll be over in six weeks,’ but of course it wasn’t. Yet everyone stayed with me. I wasn’t sure I could keep up with teaching for several hours every day, but I loved it. I needed a purpose, a routine, a discipline to my life, and teaching definitely helped with that.”
Still, Crawford acknowledges having had some anxiety about whether “there would still be an audience for us” whenever live-and-in-person performances resumed. The positive response the band received to its two online concerts – one of which included a guest appearance by Curley – was reassuring, however.
“Those concerts were hard work – compiling them, getting them up to an acceptable standard,” he says. “We just felt very strongly that we should give back to a loyal fan base. And the feedback we got encouraged us that people have hunger for our music.
“I do see the virtual or livestream performance as a new route we’ll all have to follow. If you can take advantage of this technology, you can bring your music where you might not be able to otherwise, maybe expand your audience. But with the live performances we’ve done so far, you can see why people still come out: They like the spontaneity, the fun, the connection that’s formed in the room. And that’s what we like, too.”
Crawford also likes the chance to collaborate with vocalists, something that Lúnasa – whose repertoire is primarily instrumental – has done with greater frequency in the past several years: Their 2018 album “CAS,” for instance, featured tracks with Tim O’Brien, Daoirí Farrell, Natalie Merchant, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Eric Bibb. Now comes Curley, whose diverse resumé includes RUNA, the Brock Maguire Band, fiddler Manus Maguire, and Moya Brennan of Clannad; among his more recent projects has been the transatlantic contemporary folk trio One for the Foxes.
“It’s a real coup to have Dave play with us – just an outstanding singer and musician,” says Crawford. “Working with vocalists has been a great experience for us as a band. We’ve really enjoyed learning how songs are crafted, which is a different discipline than instrumentals. You have to be able to rein it in, to be conscious of leaving space for the song and basically just working in the moment.”
Another enjoyable aspect of these holiday shows, says Crawford, is that they often entail coming up with “60 to 70 percent new material.” Depending on who their guest singer has been, the set list might include not only draw from the Irish/British Isles tradition, but American/Appalachian, even Breton and Galician.
“You just have to see how it goes,” he laughs. “Being spontaneous around the holidays is part of what makes them fun.”
For updates on ticket availability and other information, go to burren.com/music.
There are some other Irish/Celtic-flavored holiday events in Greater Boston, including two at the Irish Cultural Centre of New England in Canton. On Dec. 5, the ICC will host “An Irish Christmas” with Andy Cooney, a Long Island native who has sung professionally for more than three decades, has toured around the world, and been featured on CD, DVD, and broadcast television. Cooney’s repertoire ranges from classic Irish ballads to more contemporary sounds. Also on hand will be Scituate resident Erin Henry-Verina, who has worked in professional theater for almost 15 years as performer and choreographer, and the Haley School of Irish Dance. Shows are at 3 and 5:30 p.m.
A week later (Dec. 12), “Irish Christmas in America” comes to the ICC for shows at 1 and 4:30 p.m. Produced by Sligo fiddler Oisín Mac Diarmada of the band Téada, the show features Irish music, song and dance, with such eminent performers as Gráinne Hambly, Seán Gavin, and Alan Murray as well as a photographic display that evokes the traditions and spirit of Ireland.
For tickets and other information on both events, go to irishculture.org.
Two Boston-area Celtic performers will be presenting season-related concerts at Club Passim in Harvard Square this month. Fresh from her recent New England tour, Hanneke Cassel, a virtuoso Scottish and Cape Breton-style fiddler who has cultivated her own distinctive take on the tradition, will celebrate the release of her Christmas album, “O Come Emmanuel,” on Dec. 14 at 8 p.m. Promising a night of “carols, new tunes and more,” Cassel will be joined by several guests, including her cellist husband Mike Block, long-time accompanists Keith Murphy and Christopher Lewis, fiddler Maura Shawn Scanlin (of the duo Rakish), and singer-songwriter Jennifer Kimball, one-half of legendary contemporary folk duo The Story.
On Dec. 23 at 7 p.m., Irish harpist and singer Áine Minogue makes her annual visit to Passim to celebrate the winter solstice and holiday season. The Tipperary native is known for her serene, meditative sound, blending elements of new age and world music with those of Irish and other Celtic traditions, and an abiding interest in the spirituality and mythology found in the ancient Celtic world and its traditions and rituals.
Tickets and details at passim.org.
You can always count on Cherish the Ladiesto enrich a celebration
During December, the band will embark on a holiday show tour in the northeast that includes The Bull Run in Shirley, a little northwest of Route 495, on Dec. 15 at 7:30 p.m. The nucleus of the band – Joanie Madden (flute, whistle, vocals), Mary Coogan (guitar, mandolin), Mirella Murray (accordion), Nollaig Casey (fiddle, vocals), Cathie Ryan (lead vocals, bodhran) – will be supplemented by Gabriel Donohue (piano, vocals), Bruce Foley (vocals, guitar, uilleann pipes), John Madden (percussion) and stepdancers Caitlin War, Noel Spillane and Michael Holland. For tickets and details, go to tickets.bullrunrestaurant.com.