Hendey Feeling Quite at Home in Boston’s Celtic Music Community


As a folk musician, Adam Hendey has found Boston "an inspiring place to be."  Photo credit: Summer McCall


It’s fair to say that Adam Hendey, in a fairly short space of time, has become one of the more ubiquitous figures in the Boston Celtic music scene. Besides performing at venues and events like Club Passim, BCMFest and the Burren Backroom Series – now known as the Brian O’Donovan Legacy Series – Hendey is sure to turn up with guitar in hand at area sessions: The Burren, The Dubliner, Emmet’s, the Irish Cultural Centre of Greater Boston and Bunratty Tavern, to name a few. Besides his considerable skills as an accompanist (he also plays whistle and bouzouki), Hendey is a first-rate singer of songs from folk music tradition as well as contemporary sources, not to mention his own pen. His talents will be on full display at Summer BCMFest on July 7.

Hendey recently took some time to discuss his development as a musician and his transition into the local music community with BostonIrish contributor Sean Smith.


First, can you give us a little preview of the Adam Hendey Band Summer BCMFest performance?  

Well, first of all, it’s an honor to be part of this stellar lineup of Boston musicians; as a recent arrival myself, I’m so grateful to Boston’s music community. The wonderful people and players here have always made me feel right at home, and I’m proud to be representing our community at the festival. “The Adam Hendey Band” is sort of a revolving door of my friends and comrades in the scene – I like to use these band outings as an opportunity to develop new connections and new sounds, and experiment a bit. 

This time, I’m joined by my good friends Elias Cardoso playing fiddle; Erin Hogan on second guitar, harmonium, and backing vocals; and Brendan Hearn on cello. Many folks here in the Boston scene encounter me as an accompanist at sessions playing traditional Irish and Scottish tunes, but I’ll be exploring more vocal material in this festival performance: traditional and contemporary folk ballads, a song or two of my own, and some arrangements of original instrumental compositions, too.


So, let's see: You first moved to Boston several years ago, but then spent some time in LA before returning in 2022, right? Was the city's music scene part of what originally brought you here? 

I moved to Boston in the fall of 2018 after graduating from a master’s degree program in traditional music at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow. I was, of course, already familiar with Boston’s thriving music scene, but the move also made sense for my wife, who works as a public radio producer. 

When I first moved to Boston, I was a full-time member of a touring band back in California, and used to travel most of the year, so I went to sessions whenever I was in town, picked up some gigs, and started to make some connections here and there. My wife and I traveled home to Los Angeles in 2021 to spend some time with family and plan our wedding during the pandemic, and returned to Boston in June 2022.


How has your transition to Boston gone? What have been some of the highlights of your time here?

The transition to life here in Boston has been a dream come true. I think things really kicked into overdrive for me when I moved back to town in 2022. I’m playing gigs around town almost every night of the week, I’m teaching students –- some remote, and some in person at my apartment in Allston – and lately I’ve been enjoying the opportunity to accompany visiting artists. I performed at Boston Celtic Music Festival’s January events in 2023 and 2024, which were big highlights for me here in town. I accompanied Iona Fyfe at a Burren Backroom performance in August 2023 and Brian O’Donovan sat on stage with us throughout the evening, which was truly special. It was a blast playing with Maura Shawn Scanlin and company for the release tour of her fabulous solo album back in January. 

I’m just about to go into the studio to work on a new solo album, my first since 2016, which is an exciting project for me. I’ve been collecting old songs, writing some new songs and tunes, arranging material, and generally having a great time.


What do you see as the special qualities of Boston's Celtic music scene?

Well, I think the most immediately visible quality is its density. We have a staggering number of high-level players here, and that large community is an invaluable asset. Each person brings their own repertoire, their own experience, their own individual style – their own voice – and that diversity is a compounding benefit for us all. And because we have such a thriving scene, people travel from across the country and even around the world to come play music here. So we’re always getting new influences, new ideas, new tunes, and so on.

But Celtic music runs deep here. Many people are of course aware of Boston’s strong Irish immigrant community, but our proximity to the Maritimes has also given Boston a long-standing connection to Scottish and Canadian musical traditions, and of course there’s our own vibrant and syncretic New England contra dance tradition. Boston’s many schools, like the Berklee College of Music, are constantly bringing in talented young musicians who discover our musical traditions and offer their own, too. It’s an inspiring place to be, as a folk musician.


Talk about your musical development in general, and how you became interested in playing Irish and Scottish music.

I grew up in Fresno, California – not exactly known for its Celtic music! Traditional music didn’t really run in my family or anything. My older brother Eric discovered Marc Gunn’s Irish and Celtic Podcast around 2007 or so and started learning some tunes, and I eventually followed suit. We had a small but mighty Irish session (lovely players who are still going strong) and my brother and I used to play tunes every Tuesday night. I was playing the tin whistle in those days. 

I really fell in love with Celtic music in 2008 when I discovered the Community Music School of Santa Cruz’s Teen Celtic Music Camp, which happens every summer in the beautiful Santa Cruz mountains. I met other young people interested in folk music (including my wife), but it was also my first exposure to professional Celtic musicians. I didn’t know that was even an option. I got hooked. When I went away for college at the University of Oregon, I started writing a lot of tunes and collecting favorite traditional Scottish and Irish tunes, and I wanted to record a solo album. But I didn’t know any guitar players, so I figured I’d learn to play guitar myself! I taught myself how to play DADGAD guitar in my dorm room, and when I recorded the album in the summer of 2015, I got this sense that the guitar held a lot of potential for me.

 I didn’t see many other people my own age pursuing accompaniment as a specialty, and I’ve always loved accompaniment. It’s a very conductorly way of engaging with the music. I joined a band playing guitar, and went all-in when I went to Royal Conservatoire of Scotland for my master’s in traditional music.


Whom do you view as your major influences and sources of inspiration?

This is always a hard question, because there are so many. I have to cite my brother Eric first, because he was the first really great guitar player I knew, and I learned a lot about accompaniment through osmosis growing up playing tunes with him. But there are a lot of folks who were big influences on my playing: Brian Finnegan, Mike McGoldrick, Damien O’Kane, Liz Carroll, and Martin Hayes were all a big part of my formative listening.

Accompanists get their own call-outs: John Doyle, of course; Dennis Cahill, of course; Jim Murray, of course, and definitely Roger Tallroth. And Arty McGlynn, Alec Finn, Ian Stephenson, Jenn Butterworth. There were some rhythm sections that were big for me, too: Donogh Hennessy and Trevor Hutchinson in Lúnasa, and Ed Boyd and John Joe Kelly in Flook. And finally, singers: Kate Rusby, Julie Fowlis, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Jim Malcolm, Aaron Jones, Paul Brady and Andy Irvine, Jefferson Hamer and Eamon O’Leary. I could go on forever.


What were some foundational experiences in your becoming a Celtic musician?

Going to music camp every summer was big for me. I was a student, then a counselor, and finally became a teacher at the camp myself. I was also fortunate to have very supportive parents who were willing to drive long distances with me to visit new sessions, go to concerts, or attend music festivals. I remember once in my senior year of high school, Brian Finnegan came to California to perform music from “The Ravishing Genius of Bones”; my parents let me skip school and we drove three hours to go to a house concert in Santa Cruz on a school night, which was frankly iconic. 

In the summer of 2014, after my first year in college, I went on a long cross-country road trip and played at sessions across the United States, culminating with the Catskills Irish Arts Week in East Durham, NY. I think that summer there was also a lock-in session at Paddy Reilly’s in New York with my brother and some folks that went to about 6 a.m.

There weren’t necessarily big foundational moments so much as there were foundational relationships: my family and friends in Fresno, my friends and teachers from the Community Music School of Santa Cruz, and many mentors along the way.


You released an album last year with Eliot Grasso. Looking back, how do you see "Breathe Blue" in the overall context of your musical life?

“Breathe Blue” was a monumental release for me. I grew up listening to Eliot Grasso, and then met him as a student at the University of Oregon in 2013, and never would have imagined that 10 years later I’d be on the same discography. The album was my first project as a producer, which was a big step, and it also gave me the space to explore some very different guitar techniques. Celtic accompaniment on guitar is so often about powerful, densely rhythmic strumming – which I love and I might even say I’m known for that style of play myself – but I’ve always been fascinated with sparser cross-picking techniques, which I use at great length on that album. 

A lot of the tracks are just single tunes, often played at slightly slower tempos, and the whole album is just one whistle and one guitar (with the exception of one song that I sing, “John of Dreams”). Folks have been responding positively to that album, which has been affirming of course. 

I think “Breathe Blue” marked a turning point in my musical life. In the beginning of 2023, I became a free agent to focus on building more of a solo career and collaborate with lots of new folks, and “Breathe Blue” sort of announced to the world “I’m here, and I want to make music with you,” and that has really come true in the year since. I’m fortunate to be getting lots of new opportunities to accompany all sorts of folks, which is what I always dreamed of as a guitar player.


Any other recording projects in the works? Or collaborations?

As I said earlier, I’ve got a solo album coming up. The material is really exciting. My first solo album was all instrumental, and this new album will be my “singerly debut,” I suppose, even though I’ve been singing on gigs and recordings for a couple years now. 

I’ve got a few collaborations I’m stoked on, too: a new duo with Erin Hogan; more music and gigs with Eliot Grasso; an upcoming trio album I’m producing with some West Coast friends John and Tyler Weed (a father/son dynamic duo); ongoing musical shenanigans and controlled chaos with Elias Cardoso. And I’ve got some touring appearances coming up with Elias Alexander’s Celtic EDM bagpipe extravaganza Ramblxr, as well as the absolute legend of a singer Eilis Kennedy, whom I’m excited to be accompanying around New England in September. So I’m staying busy!

For more about Adam Hendey, see his website at www.adamhendey.com