BCMFest 2010 Will Be Playing to a 'Back-to-Basics' Theme

On January 8 and 9, 2010, the Boston Celtic Music Fest (BCMFest) will mark its seventh year of warming up the chilly Boston winter with a showcase of some of the area's finest performers in the Irish, Scottish, Cape Breton, and other Celtic or Celtic-influenced music traditions.

Greater Boston's Irish music scene is well-represented in the BCMFest 2010 line-up, with such acts as: the Makem and Spain Brothers; Tina Lech and Ted Davis; David O'Docherty; The Gobshites; Liam Hart; Sean and John Connor; Colm O'Brien; Kate Chadbourne; Michael O'Leary; the trio of Laurel Martin, Kieran Jordan and David Surette; the band Bento Boxty with lead singer Bridget Fitzgerald; and a special one-of-its-kind ensemble that will evoke Boston's classic Dudley Street Dance Hall Era of the 1930s to 1950s.

Among others appearing at BCMFest 2010 will be Flynn Cohen and John McGann, Tri, Calum Pasqua and Susie Petrov, Gordon Aucoin and Lloyd Carr, Cedar Stanistreet and Max Newman, and a family-oriented production, "The Fiddler's Wish." News and updates on the festival line-up, as well as other information, are available at bcmfest.com.

BCMFest #7 kicks off January 8 with an evening concert at Club Passim in Harvard Square as well as its wildly popular Celtic dance party, the Boston Urban Ceilidh, at Springstep in Medford. The festival continues on January 9 with performances at four stages, located in Club Passim and at nearby First Church of Cambridge. First Church will be the setting that night at 8 p.m. for the BCMFest Finale Concert, which will include performances by the Makem and Spain Brothers, Kimberley Fraser with Janine Randall, and Barbara McOwen with Anne Hooper.

This year's festival has a "back to basics" theme, say festival organizers, which will explore the core traditions in which BCMFest was forged.

"Last year, BCMFest put the spotlight on what might be called the 'fringe' of Celtic music," explains BCMFest co-founder and board member Laura Cortese. "The festival featured a number of acts that were connected to, but a little removed from, the Celtic traditions: old-timey and Appalachian, or New England contra dance music, for example. For BCMFest 2010, we felt it was important to reaffirm the importance of core traditions, and highlight people who keep those traditions alive and well in the Boston area. So, many of the acts who submitted applications this year and who were selected for BCMFest reflect this emphasis."

Shannon Heaton, who co-founded BCMFest with Cortese and also sits on the festival board, adds: "During its first six years, BCMFest has reached out to the area's diverse Celtic music community, through the festival as well as events during the year, such as the monthly Celtic Music Monday series at Club Passim and our annual music cruise in Gloucester. And every year we've seen more and more musicians, singers, and dancers come up with some great ideas and collaborations that really speak to the BCMFest mission.

"What's especially encouraging about this year is that when we issued the call for performers to apply, we made a point of stating the 'core traditions' theme, and it clearly generated a response."

The BCMFest 2010 theme certainly resonates with the Makem and Spain Brothers, who proudly carry on the song tradition cherished and nurtured by their families for generations. Shane, Conor, and Rory Makem are the sons of the late Tommy Makem, who was one of the major figures of the 20th-century folk music revival - and who himself was the son of another legendary singer, Sarah Makem. A similar love of old songs runs strong in the family of Liam and Mickey Spain, who along with the Makems have recast the tradition for the 21st century. Their performances combine folk songs of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and New England with original material, all delivered with a rousing, engaging style that has delighted audiences the world over.

Boston musical and community history is at the root of the special appearance at the Boston Urban Ceilidh by the Boston Highlands Ceili Band, whose instrumentation, style, and repertoire draw inspiration from the dance halls that once clustered around Dudley Street. The band - "Boston Highlands" is the old name for the Dudley Street area - includes Brendan Bulger on fiddle, Susan Gedutis Lindsay on flute, whistle and saxophone, and horn players Roger Gamache and Glen Carliss, as well as a vocalist and rhythm section (the complete line-up will be announced at a later date).

As Bulger explains, the bands that played in the dance halls typical of Dudley Street in the '30s,'40s, and '50s incorporated both traditional Irish music as well as popular tunes of the day in their repertoire. "It was all about dance music," says Bulger. "The bands would play something like 'Siege of Ennis' from Irish tradition, and then follow with a foxtrot, or whatever was the rage of the day. The idea was just to keep people dancing, because that's what they came out to do - while they liked the 'old dances,' they also wanted the popular stuff that was on the radio. It was a very interesting mix of musical genres.

"The tune sets had to be very well-orchestrated and notated, since they were being played by a band. The musicians who were part of that era, like Joe Joyce, Bill Caples, Brendan Tonra, Larry Reynolds, have been a big influence on people, including me. So, the Boston Highlands Ceili Band will be a way to recognize the impact of all these fine musicians, some of whom are still alive and playing. While we're not going to do an exact note-for-note recreation of a Dudley Street-type band, it will definitely be in the spirit."

Lindsay, who authored a book on the Dudley Street era, adds: "There was a strong social and community aspect to the dance halls. Many of the people who came out to them, week after week, were Irish immigrants or Irish-American; it was their opportunity to relax after a hard day's work, and to get together with friends and family. So Dudley Street was a shared experience for generations.

"We're really pleased to put together this band that recalls an important part of the Irish-American community life in Boston, and which had great significance for the development of Irish traditional music into what it is today."

A look at some other BCMFest 2010 performers:

David O'Docherty has been a mainstay of the Boston Irish community for many years as a singer, storyteller, and tin whistle player, and was a featured performer in the BCMFest 2007 finale concert.

Tina Lech (fiddle) and Ted Davis (flute, banjo, guitar) are well-known in the local session scene, including those held at The Druid, The Brendan Behan, and The Burren, among others.

Laurel Martin, whose subtle, lyrical fiddle style is reminiscent of Clare and East Galway, and Kieran Jordan - an innovative dancer and choreographer who maintains strong ties to the Irish dance tradition - will join forces for BCMFest with David Surette, a highly accomplished instrumentalist and vocalist with an interest in American and Celtic folk music.

The Gobshites draw on the blend of hard rock/punk and Irish music popularized by the Pogues, Black 47, and Flogging Molly, but with a twist - often taking songs from Black Flag, the Ramones, and other punk rockers and giving them an Irish flavor.

Bridget Fitzgerald, a former member of Cherish the Ladies and an acclaimed singer and teacher of Irish and English, is the vocalist for Bento Boxty, a recently formed band of musicians from the Boston and Providence music communities, including Cara Frankowicz, Patrick Hutchinson, and John and Lisa Coyne.

Michael O'Leary and Kate Chadbourne are two well-loved singers of traditional songs in traditional styles, and have appeared at a number of BCMFest events. O'Leary - a former student of Bridget Fitzgerald [see above] - organizes and performs at the annual BCMFest Music Cruise in Gloucester Harbor, befitting his interest in sea chanteys and maritime songs. Chadbourne brings Irish music and folklore to life through song and story, sometimes to her accompaniment on harp or piano - and sometimes relying on voice alone.

Profiles of all BCMFest 2010 performers and acts will be available on the festival Web site, bcmfest.com, at a later date.