by Mary-Ann Brandon
HUERFANO- Under the canopy of azure skies and divine weather, the Spanish Peaks International Celtic Festival returned to Huerfano for another year of music and education.
An opening picnic gathering with an informal jam session at the Uptop Ghost Town on the Old La Veta Pass on Friday set the tone for the events to come.
Throughout the weekend, festival goers had a plethora of workshops from which to choose. So many were scheduled in the same time slots that one had to make hard choices. Dance, hands-on instrumental instruction, jam sessions and demonstrations were all well attended.
The headline concert on Friday evening by the “Old Blind Dogs” was a strong performance by seasoned professionals. Varying dynamics, excellent interplay and a lead singer with a compelling voice had the attentive audience rapt. Their second set was augmented by Nashville fiddle player, David Coe.
Saturday’s early afternoon performance entitled “Songs Across the Sea” had Margaret Bennett, Ed Miller, Robbie O’Connell and Jennie McAvoy trading songs and tales of how particular tunes made their way to America and in some cases found their way back to the isles in the form of Country and Folk music from the new world. Featured during this set was a lovely couple of tunes by Huerfano County’s own Kim Mckee and Ken Willson. Evidence of how McKee once won the National Dulcimer Championship was acknowledged by a clearly impressed McAvoy who exclaimed “O.M.G.” when describing the deft left hand of McKee. In keeping with the low key, academic tone of the overall festival, this set was well received by the crowd.
Later on Saturday, David Coe from Tennessee and Aine Minogue from Ireland, presented a lovely harp/fiddle concert entitled “from Ireland to Appalachia.” When asked by an audience member to describe the technical difference between Irish and Appalachian fiddle technique, Coe explained the concept of the “back beat” or “shuffle” inherent in American music that provides one key differentiation. He described how he can “really mess players up” when faced with his natural, southern, tendency to put back beat (emphasis on the back end of the 2 and 4) into the feel of the very straight and even beat, 1-2-3-4 nature of Celtic music.
The Saturday evening concert by Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill from Ireland was the highlight of the entire festival for your gal on the music beat. On paper, the idea of a purely instrumental fiddle/guitar duo that presents a jig into a reel after a reel into another jig etc… sounds tedious beyond description. In fact, this concert proved to be one of the most compelling shows that I’ve ever had the opportunity to attend at any Celtic festival. Hayes’ virtuosity on the fiddle, complemented by the perfection of Cahill’s lilting chord work and rock solid percussive rhythm guitar kept the groove in the pocket. Clearly a rare musician who has advanced technical ability but knows exactly what not to play, Cahill provided the restrained support necessary to enhance the thousands of notes that rolled off the fiddle, making for a truly sublime performance at the Fox Theatre. Opening act Cleek Schrey and Stephanie Coleman joined the duo on stage a the end for a short set trading off traditional Irish fiddle with old time, Appalachian songs. One of many standing ovations closed the show.
As is the tradition, this festival tends to draw a cerebral crowd who travel to take part in the diverse educational opportunities afforded by the program rather than use it as an excuse to party with impunity. The attendees who are devotees of this music were quite obviously delighted by the various performances and workshops. Boosting local businesses and providing school educational opportunities for our children, the Celtic festival continues to be a cultural and economically enhancing event for Huerfano County.
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