Over its first decade, “A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn” has made a point of featuring performers representing the younger generation of Irish, Scottish, and other Celtic music and dance traditions. And there’s even more of a “youth movement” to this year’s show – the 11th edition – which will take place on March 19 and 20 in Sanders Theatre at Harvard University in Cambridge, with additional performances at Worcester’s Hanover Theatre (March 17) and Zeiterion Theatre in New Bedford (March 18).
The 2016 line-up includes The Outside Track, a “pan-Celtic” band with Irish, Scottish, and Cape Breton influences; Newfoundland traditional ballad singer Matthew Byrne; Boston-based uilleann piper Joey Abarta; and 13-year-old Haley Richardson, already established as an up-and-coming fiddler.
National Heritage Fellowship winner Kevin Doyle and the Miller Family, a trio of New England siblings, will provide the show’s dance component, while Vermont guitarist-vocalist Keith Murphy will once again serve as music director.
“When you gather musicians, singers, and dancers of this stripe, it’s often a let-down to just do one performance,” says the show’s creator and host, WGBH-FM broadcaster Brian O’Donovan. “So it’s nice to be able to add an extra date at Sanders Theatre, as well as once more go on the road, to Worcester and New Bedford. One of the things I love about the experience is the friendships and collaborations that result from ‘Celtic Sojourn,’ and I’m sure there will be plenty to come from this year.”
Although they’ve been together for a decade, The Outside Track remains a potent symbol of the Celtic music scene’s fountain of youth. They’ve released four albums, including the recent “Light Up the Dark” [see this month’s CD reviews] all to great acclaim, and have been lauded for both their instrumental and vocal work. Co-founders Allie Robertson (harp) and Fiona Black (accordion) from Scotland are at the heart of the band, along with long-time Irish guitarist Cillian Ó’Dálaigh, and their new colleague, lead vocalist and flute and whistle player Teresa Horgan from Ireland. There’ll be a bit of local flavor for The Outside Track’s “St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn” appearance, as Greater Boston’s Emerald Rae stands in for their regular fiddler Mairi Rankin, a Nova Scotia native who supplies the Cape Breton side of the band’s personality.
“The Outside Track really typifies, in a very exciting way, the versatility you see in the more recent generations of Celtic musicians,” says O’Donovan. “They care deeply about the tradition, and it shows, but they also can shift easily into a contemporary mode. Teresa Horgan is a perfect example: One minute, she’s singing a sean-nos [old-style] piece that’s hundreds of years old, with all of the traditional ornamentation; the next, she’ll be doing a Nanci Griffith song – and it all works.”
Newfoundland-born Matthew Byrne, meanwhile, has staked his claim as one of North America’s best interpreters of traditional songs to come along in the past five years, on the strength of his two albums, including last year’s enthusiastically received “Hearts & Heroes” (winner of the Canadian Folk Music Awards “Traditional Album of the Year” honors). Byrne’s strong, sensitively delivered vocals, nimble guitar accompaniment, and repertoire combining centuries-old ballads and contemporary songs rooted in tradition, have brought him increasing attention not only throughout Canada but in the US as well – including at the summer “Celtic Sojourn” show in Lowell last August.
“It was a pleasure to have Matthew with us in Lowell, and he got a wonderful reception from the audience,” says O’Donovan. “He’s one of those special performers who is equally gifted in his singing and guitar-playing, and has deep roots in the folk song tradition through his family.”
Joey Abarta is widely acknowledged as among the most talented young uilleann pipers in the US or elsewhere, and has become a mainstay of the Boston Irish music scene since moving to the area seven years ago. In addition to performing, he has also helped to organize events – such as a regular series of ceili dances in Jamaica Plain – and taught at the music school of the Comhaltas Ceóltoirí Éireann Boston branch. Abarta also has toured frequently, including with Mick Moloney and the group The Green Fields of America.
“The great Seamus Ennis used to say that it took 21 years to make an uilleann piper – seven years learning, seven years practicing and seven years playing – and where Joey is concerned, I think Seamus was onto something,” O’Donovan says. “Joey is a powerful piper, and he just gets better and better every time I hear him. We’re so lucky to have be part of our music community in Boston.”
Haley Richardson, a protégé of renowned Sligo-style fiddler Brian Conway, has already amassed several Mid-Atlantic Fleadh and All-Ireland titles, appeared with notable Irish music personalities such as The Chieftains and Mick Moloney, and released an album, “Heart on a String,” accompanied by her older guitar-playing brother Dylan. Last spring, she made an appearance at The Burren Backroom series, as part of a trio with Dylan and their friend, uilleann piper Keegan Loesel.
“One thing that really comes across with Haley,” says O’Donovan, “is that she has a true connection to the music. There are many young players who are technically brilliant, yet they don’t, or can’t, put their heart into their playing. Haley does, and that’s why she is a delight to listen to.”
Kevin Doyle, a virtuoso of old-style traditional Irish step dance and American tap dance, has been a frequent performer at Boston-area events, including “A Christmas Celtic Sojourn” and BCMFest. The Miller Family – Ruby May, Evelyn, and Samuel – have been dancing and competing since childhood with the Goulding School of Irish Dance in Medford and Cranston, RI, and have also appeared at events and venues around Rhode Island, notably the Blackstone River Theater.
“Dance is being given a big turn in the spotlight for this year’s show, and in Kevin and the Millers we have some extraordinary talent,” says O’Donovan. “Kevin is just amazing: He’s been at it for decades and still has that infectious joy and showmanship to his dancing. The Millers bring an extra dynamic, in that they frequently perform as musicians and vocalists, so they have a sense of themselves as both dancers and artists.”
Keith Murphy is a highly respected musician and singer of New England and Newfoundland folk traditions, and an integral part of “St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn” since becoming the show’s music director in 2012, O’Donovan says.
“His musicality is stunning, but his skills in arranging and organizing are equally laudable. What you want from a music director is a leader who’s a good coach, and who can get the best out of people; that’s what Keith is – someone who has the respect of every musician he comes into contact with. He has really brought a lot to the show.”
For ticket information and other details about “A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn,” see wgbh.org/celtic.