March 29, 2023
You might think that after its busiest March in years, the Greater Boston Irish/Celtic music scene would collectively put its feet up and take a breather. Wrong. There’s plenty to enjoy in April, too.
•The Le Vent du Nord concert (part of the Global Arts Live series) at City Winery Boston originally scheduled for March 29 has since been shifted to Monday, April 3, at 7:30 p.m. This transcendent Quebecois outfit (Nicolas Boulerice, hurdy gurdy; Oliver Demers, fiddle; Simon Beaudry, guitar, bouzouki; Andre Bruent, fiddle; and Rejean Brunet, accordion, bass) continually shows vitality and inventiveness in incorporating contemporary material – some of it their own compositions – alongside the traditional, and with an awareness of global influences. They’ve also broadened their already considerable appeal through various projects, such as “Le Vent du Nord Symphonique” – collaborations with the Portland Symphony and Orchester Symphonique de Québec – and involvement in the annual “La veillée de l’avant-veille” year-end event in Montreal. Not surprisingly, the band has a bushel of honors and nominations from, among others, the Juno Awards, Canadian Folk Music Awards and North American Folk Music & Dance Association.
More at citywinery.com/boston
Singer-songwriter Aoife Scott plays in the Burren Backroom series on April 2.
•The Burren Backroom series hosts a pair of distinguished, albeit sometimes overlooked, singer-songwriters from the Celtic scene. First on April 2 will be Dublin's Aoife Scott, who built on her trad/folk roots (she's a member of the Black family; daughter of Frances, niece of Mary) to become a songwriter of increasing stature. Her compositions include “The Wild Atlantic Way,” her paean to the west coast of Ireland, and “We Know Where We Stand,” a forthright musing on Irish identity. Possessed of a crisp, dynamic voice, Scott has won the Irish Post Music Awards Best Folk Act honor and Live Ireland Emerging Artist of the Year Award; her song “The December Letter” was selected as Single of the Year at the ALSR Celtic Music Awards and was the most played Christmas song on RTE Radio 1 for December 2018.
Then on April 26, Glaswegian Alan Reid comes to the Backroom. Long-time fans of the Battlefield Band remember Reid's imaginative use of electronic keyboards that enlivened the group's arrangements of Scottish tunes and songs (check out "Four Minute Warning" from their "Anthem for the Common Man" album), but he also penned or co-wrote some of their most memorable songs, like "Shining Clear," "The Image of God" and "I Am the Common Man," and contributed a fine singing voice as well. When Reid left the band in 2010, he had already established himself as a solo artist, releasing his first album, "The Sunlit Eye" in 1997. Reid has taken on some fascinating projects, such as composing music for an album with Rob van Sante recounting the life and exploits of Scots-born mariner and American Revolutionary War hero John Paul Jones (presented in a multi-media show at the Mystic Seaport Sea Festival in Connecticut in 2015), and having his work included in the National Theatre of Scotland’s production of “The Glasgow Girls” musical about asylum seekers.
Tickets, details on Burren Backroom events at burren.com/music.html
•With her brand shiny new album all set to go, Boston-based fiddler Hanneke Cassel will be at the Shalin Liu Performance Center on April 14. Cassel has blazed a path by dint of her unique style and sound, blending the elegant, sometimes flamboyant grace that is the mark of classic Scottish fiddle with rhythmic briskness and bluegrass or even jazz-inspired improvisational runs, whether playing traditional tunes or the many she has composed. Besides performing across North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia, she has been a teacher and mentor to scores of aspiring Celtic fiddlers at various music camps as well as at her alma mater Berklee College of Music, where she has served as a guest instructor in the American Roots department. On her forthcoming release, "Infinite Brightness," Cassel is joined by long-time accompanist Keith Murphy (guitar, harmonium), Jenna Moynihan (five-string fiddle), Tristan Clarridge (cello) and Yann Falquet (guitar) – Murphy and Moynihan will be with her at this concert.
Go to rockportmusic.org for more information.
•Club Passim’s offerings this month include The Nordic Fiddlers Block on April 19. Kevin Henderson (Shetland), Anders Hall (Sweden), and Olav Luksengård Mjelva (Norway) are exceptional exponents of their respective fiddle traditions, with which they create a fascinating synthesis of styles and sounds – sometimes haunting, sometimes vigorous, sometimes jovial – while upholding the distinctive flavor of each element. They’ve performed as part of “A Christmas Celtic Sojourn” here in town, as well as the Tønder Festival in Denmark, Scotland’s Celtic Connections and Cape Breton’s Celtic Colours, and even created their own annual fiddle camp, which has taken place in Norway and Sweden. The trio has released three albums and accompanying music books.
Local Irish/Celtic fans probably know him best as the lead singer and guitarist for Galway’s We Banjo 3, but David Howley will be on his own this time when he comes to town on April 25, having recently completed his first solo album, “for Venus.” Though steeped in Irish traditional music, Howley has long pursued interests in Americana, bluegrass, country, and rock, with a charismatic voice and personality to match. He also has amassed an impressive portfolio as a songwriter, penning some of WB3’s most popular songs, some of which have dealt with mental health awareness and the plight of immigrants.
Kalos, the trio of Ryan McKasson (fiddle), Jeremiah McLane (accordion), and Boston-area native Eric McDonald (guitar, vocals), returns to Passim on April 27 to formally launch its debut album, “Headland.” Their specialty is, as they put it, to purposefully explore the "dark edges" floating on the rims of tradition, including those of Scotland, Ireland, and New England. In addition to leading the band The McKassons, McKasson – the youngest ever to win the US National Scottish Fiddle Championship – has appeared on three albums by local fiddler Hanneke Cassel [see above]. He also has played in a duo with McDonald, a member of acclaimed bands Daymark and Cantrip who has performed with Katie McNally, The Outside Track and Andrea Beaton, among others. McLane explored several genres of music before immersing himself in Celtic and French traditions; he also co-founded the much-loved trio Nightingale, a force in New England folk music for a decade.
House of Hamill comes to Club Passim in Harvard Square on April 30.
Self-proclaimed sophisticated indie Irish folkies House of Hamill close out the month at Passim on April 30. Originally the duo of Brian Buchanan (fiddle, guitar, mandolin, vocals) – a member of popular Canadian Celtic rock band Enter the Haggis – and Rose Baldino (fiddle, vocals), formerly of Burning Bridget Cleary, H of H became a trio with the addition of bassist/vocalist Caroline Browning. Together, they perform original as well as traditional material, and covers of songs one might not necessarily expect – say, an all-violin version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” or “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Their versatility is in full flower on their debut album “Folk Hero.”
Tickets and other information available at passim.org.
•Boston College’s Gaelic Roots series winds up its 2022-23 schedule on April 21 with Irish singer and scholar Lillis Ó Laoire. A Donegal native, Laoire grew up speaking both Irish and English and learned sean-nós – traditional Irish unaccompanied singing – when he attended college in Galway. Since then, he has cultivated an exalted reputation for his academic work, teaching courses in Irish language, folklore and Celtic civilization at the National University of Ireland-Galway and publishing widely on Irish language songs and related topics – including a study of renowned sean-nós singer Joe Heaney – while serving as editor of the journal Folk Life. All the while, he has continued to sing. In fact, he won 2019 Traditional Singer of the Year honors in the prestigious TG4 Gradam Ceoil Awards.
The free concert takes place in Connolly House (300 Hammond St. in Chestnut Hill). See bc.edu/irish for more about Gaelic Roots.
•The Celtic Angels Ireland show will come to the Spire Center for the Performing Arts in Plymouth on April 2 at 3 and 7 p.m. Emphasis on the word “show”: This is a stage production in the manner of other such extravaganzas you’ve likely seen or heard of, featuring popular songs in the Irish/Celtic domain meticulously arranged for the Angels’ vocalists and their band, the Trinity Ensemble, and interludes with the Celtic Knights Dancers.
Tickets, info at spirecenter.org.
•In the Further Hopeful Signs of Normalcy Department, the New England Folk Festival – better known as NEFFA, and one of the longest-running folk and traditional music festivals in the United States – will return to an in-person format for the first time since 2019, on April 21-23 at its new location in Marlborough. For more than seven decades, NEFFA has featured both performative and participatory music and dance for all ages from numerous folk traditions and cultures, including Irish, Scottish, and Cape Breton. It is almost entirely an all-volunteer effort, and that includes the music and dance performers, some of whom make a living from their chosen art. While there are a range of organized events throughout the weekend, spontaneous sessions have always been a hallmark of the festival. You can check out the schedule and find other information through neffa.org.