Hello, this thing on?

Hi folks, been a while.

But wanted to make sure you knew:


That’s right. The official countdown to BCMFest 2015 has begun. You can read the equally official announcement about the festival here. As always, there will be some “old familiars,” like the Friday night Roots and Branches Concert at Club Passim and the Boston Urban Ceilidh, tons of stuff at Dayfest on Saturday, and the Saturday night BCMFest Nightcap finale concert, but this year also will feature the debut of The BCMFest Academy at the Passim School of Music. And of course, you’ll see plenty of new faces, and hear new sounds, on the BCMFest stages.

You can check in regularly for BCMFest news and updates at our website. As in years past, this blog will help to illuminate and elaborate on the various events, activities and personalities associated with the festival, so make sure you stop by here, too.

BCMFest 2015. It’s only three months away.


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BCMFest 2014: Good evening to your Nightcap

Although BCMFest will have its traditional pause for the dinner hour shortly after the sun goes down Saturday, that won’t be the end of the festivities. After all, what better to follow dinner but a Nightcap?

The BCMFest Nightcap is the festival’s finale concert, the last dance of this two-day party. And “dance” definitely is the magic word for the Nightcap this year.

Dance, always a major component of BCMFest, takes center stage at this year's Nightcap.

Dance, always a major component of BCMFest, takes center stage at this year’s Nightcap.

The concert, which takes place at First Parish Church in Harvard Square, will feature solo, duet, and group performances of dances from Ireland, Scotland and Cape Breton, performed by some of the most accomplished dancers in the Greater Boston area. They’ll be accompanied by a house band of top-notch local musicians and singers. And BCMFest’s good friend Brian O’Donovan of WGBH-FM’s “A Celtic Sojourn” will serve as emcee.

Two of our favorite traditional-style dancers, Jackie O’Riley and Jen Schoonover, are producing (and, thankfully, also taking part in) this year’s Nightcap. Jackie studied Irish step dancing at University College Cork with dancing master Peggy McTeggart and here in town with Kieran Jordan, another long-time BCMFest buddy. Jackie was inspired to learn the rich improvisational tradition of sean-nós dance, and the old-style step dancing which has influenced modern, competitive step dancing and now runs her own Irish dance program for children. In addition to BCMFest, Jackie has been part of the international sean-nós dance show “Atlantic Steps,” and has collaborated on projects with friend and fellow dancer Rebecca McGowan in Washington, DC – you can see Jackie and Rebecca earlier in the day Saturday as part of the production “Stepping Back.”

Jackie O'Riley, left, with Kieran Jordan.

Jackie O’Riley, left, with Kieran Jordan.

Jen’s excellent command of Scottish and Cape Breton dance is familiar to audiences at BCMFest, Gaelic Roots, NEFFA and elsewhere in Greater Boston as a member of Highland Dance Boston, and she has performed at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC,  “Good Morning, America,” and the Chestico Days stepdancing festival in Cape Breton. Jen’s done behind-the-scenes stuff, too,  such as co-choreographing Bonnie Rideout’s national production, “A Scottish Christmas.”

Jen Schoonover.

Jen Schoonover.

Jackie and Jen see this year’s Nightcap as celebrating the symbiosis between music and dance, and exploring the various roles dance traditions have fulfilled over the years, whether at small gatherings of friends, in competitions and performance settings. “Music is at the root of these dance traditions, where dancers often contribute to the music with sounds they make with their feet,” explains Jen. “In turn, dance has historically fueled musical forms. The two have always been intertwined, and we’re looking forward to putting them together again in the spotlight.”

Joining Jackie and Jen are the aforementioned Kieran, Kevin Doyle — a performer of old-style traditional Irish step dance and American tap dance whose resume includes “A Christmas Celtic Sojourn” — as well as Abbie MacQuarrie, who’s also been active with Highland Dance Boston and has been part of BCMFest since she was barely in high school.

Providing the music are John Coyne (bouzouki, vocals), Joey Abarta (uilleann pipes), Chris Stevens (accordion, concertina), Neil Pearlman (piano) and Katie McNally (fiddle), with singing by Mairin Ui Cheide and the duo of Donald Gillies and Kyte MacKillop.

It all shapes up to be a memorable evening, and a great showcase for Boston’s Celtic traditional dance. Have a Nightcap with us, won’t you?

Information on the BCMFest Nightcap and the rest of the festival is available here.

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BCMFest 2014: Daaayyyyyyyy(fest)-O

In our last missive, we described the goings-on at The Attic during the Dayfest portion of BCMFest (Saturday, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.). We also told you how the first part of the day is full of music, songs and stories for families with children. So it seems only fair to give you a little overview of what else will be happening in Dayfest.

Besides The Attic, there are three other venues for Dayfest: Club Passim, plus the Sanctuary and Parlor stages in nearby First Parish Church (which is also where The Attic is located).

Close but comfy quarters at the Parlor Stage (BCMFest 2008).

Close but comfy quarters at the Parlor Stage (BCMFest 2008).

At Passim, you can listen to: Joey Abarta, master of the Irish uilleann pipes; Liz Simmons, a highly accomplished traditional/contemporary singer who has performed at BCMFest with Annalivia, Long Time Courting and Hannah Sanders; a special group presentation, “Pluck It Like You Mean It,” with a focus on fretted-string instruments, like guitars, mandolins, bouzoukis, banjos…maybe even a ukelele or two; Scottish Fish, an ensemble of youthful fiddlers playing that Caledonian style; Diane Taraz, who in addition to lovely settings of songs from American and Celtic traditions (accompanying herself on guitar and dulcimer) writes some of her own material; and one of our favorite husband-wife duos, Matt & Shannon Heaton, belting out tunes and songs from the Irish tradition and their creative minds with guitar, flute, bouzouki and accordion.

The line-up at the Parlor Stage is: the trio Wisp of Thistle (two fiddles and piano), who capture the grace and delicacy of Scottish country dance music; “SoundShapes,” an intriguing look at the interplay of Irish dance with music, song and the spoken word; Owen Marshall & Lindsay Straw, dynamic performers of mainly Irish instrumental and vocal pieces on guitar, bouzouki and banjo; “Stepping Back: Old Irish Dance,” featuring  sean-nos (old style) Irish dance in both a traditional and more contemporary vein; the ebullient, possibly erratic duo Fresh Haggis, who do all kinds of things with Scottish music; Lindsay Adler, whose musical reach extends throughout Celtic and world traditions, with a modern twist or two; Jenna Moynihan, a talented fiddler thoroughly at home with the Scottish and Appalachian traditions; dead-on string band arrangements of Irish as well as bluegrass, original and even early music with Flynn Cohen & The Deadstring Ensemble; and one of BCMFest’s characteristic slightly-off-the-wall collaborations, “Celtic Elvis,” with a surprise guest or two.

And then on the Sanctuary Stage we have: “Raising the Rafters,” a celebration of song explored through centuries-old and more recent vocal styles; Alba’s Edge, weaving together Scottish fiddle with jazz, Latin and a bit of funk; a veritable hurricane of Celtic wind instruments in “That Blows!”; Irish step dancing in small and large numbers with Boston University’s Irish dance troupe Step About Boston; Irish, Scottish, New England and French Canadian traditional music performed with youthful exuberance by Sparrow’s Joy; the artistry of Scottish dance, from both traditional and more contemporary vantage points, with Highland Dance Boston; and the big-band Afro-Celtic funk ‘n soul sound of Soulsha.

(The specific times for these events can be found here.)

Sounds like a busy day, doesn’t it? Well, the good news is, there’s more to come afterwards — the BCMFest Nightcap. But that’s another story.

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BCMFest 2014: Attic-quette

Welcome to The Attic, otherwise known as BCMFest’s activity room!

Located on the top floor of Harvard Square’s First Parish Church, The Attic serves not only as one of four — count ‘em — performance venues for the Dayfest portion of BCMFest (Saturday, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.), but also as a place for participatory events. For example, you can have a try at Scottish country dancing, with able assistance from none other than the esteemed Royal Scottish Country Dance Society of Boston (no, you don’t need to wear a kilt, or even plaid).

A Scottish session in The Attic, with a lovely view out the window.

A Scottish session in The Attic, with a lovely view out the window.

If you’ve got a fiddle, or accordion, or flute, or some-such instrument, bring it along. You can play some Scottish/Cape Breton music with Jigs & Saws, who got together through the Passim School of Music‘s Celtic Ensemble, where they were under the tutelage of accomplished musicians Kimberley Fraser and Katie McNally. (This, by the way, is something BCMFest organizers find really cool, because a major point of the whole enterprise is to encourage budding musicians to — literally — get their act together and share their talents and skills in a public setting.)

Or you can take part in an Irish session, led by Kathleen Parks, a splendid fiddler who’ll be performing with Cat and the Moon as part of the BCMFest Roots and Branches concert Friday night, and the young members of the delightful quartet Sparrow’s Joy.

If you like doing a bit of singing, then you can hang around for “In The Tradition,” an in-the-round presentation of contemporary songs that all have a certain traditional vibe, with Lindsay Straw, Barbara Cassidy, Peter Hale & Dave Hallowell (better known as the duo Òran Mór) and Sean Smith. You can count on there being choruses a-plenty for you to join in on.

At times during Dayfest The Attic becomes more of a listening room, for performances by fiddle-cello duo Elizabeth & Ben Anderson; those Òran Mór guys; the aforementioned Cat and the Moon plus the two other Roots and Branches acts, NØÍR and the trio of Mark Kilianski, Bronwyn Keith-Hynes and BB Bowness. But if you’re a hands-on, feet-in kind of person, The Attic will be a fun place for you to be.

(Want to know what times all these things happen? Go here.)

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BCMFest 2014: All In the Family

BCMFest is by no means an “adults only” type of thing (OK, yeah, maybe some of those traditional ballads can be a little smutty). Families with children have a place in the festival, too – in fact, the first part of BCMFest’s Saturday “Dayfest” schedule is largely devoted to special programming for young ones, and the less-young ones accompanying them. And as you can see in the photo below, parking was at a premium for last year’s children’s/family events:

Morning of Dayfest, 2013.

Morning of Dayfest, 2013.

Kicking off things at 10 a.m. in Club Passim will be Katie McD, a Galway native with a troubadour’s heart and songwriter’s vision; she’ll be followed by Matt Heaton, who as a traveling musician (he’ll be playing later in the day with his wife Shannon) and father has had lots of practice keeping kids entertained.

Matt Heaton has branched out his talents to include kid's music.

Matt Heaton has branched out his talents to include kids’ music.

Katie McD

Katie McD, radiant smile and a voice to match.

But it’s not only grown-ups in the spotlight during the Family Music portion of Dayfest. Give a listen to Realta Gaela, a group of youthful musicians from Boston’s Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann Music School, and the trio Skylark, talented teen fiddlers who are firmly rooted in the Irish instrumental and song traditions.


And for something a little, well, different, you can listen to a recitation by Sean Smith of the classic story “Albert and the Lion,” written by Scotsman Marriott Edgar.

Youthful musicians from Boston's Comhaltas Music School make up Realta Gaela.

Youthful musicians from Boston’s Comhaltas Music School will perform at BCMFest as Realta Gaela.

BCMFest has a lot going on, so once the special kids/families programming is done don’t feel you have to leave. Stay and listen to the other music and dance events at Club Passim or the First Parish’s Sanctuary and Parlor stages, or drop in on a jam session in The Attic of First Parish. Here’s the schedule to help you choose. Who knows, maybe your little one will show a fondness for sean-nos dancing, or for joining in sing-alongs, or decide that he/she absolutely has to learn fiddle or accordion. If that happens, you’ll know you’re in good company.


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BCMFest 2014: The BUC

We’ve already told you about the Roots & Branches concert at Club Passim, so here’s some info on the “other” BCMFest opening-night happening, the good ole Boston Urban Ceilidh.


In the mass of humanity, Boston Urban Ceilidh, BCMFest 2012.

In the mass of humanity, Boston Urban Ceilidh, BCMFest 2012.

The BUC is BCMFest’s dance party, a great way to socialize, make new friends (and meet up with old ones), get some exercise, and maybe learn a dance or two from traditions of Ireland, Scotland, Cape Breton and elsewhere (such as Brittany in France). Even if you’ve never tried a round of, say, “The Dashing White Sergeant” or have no idea what a “ceili hold” is, don’t worry: The BUC has excellent callers to guide everyone through the various steps and figures. Oh, and you get to dance to some of the area’s best musicians, too – you’ll find that live music really gives you an extra burst of energy in your dancing.

Cape Breton dance, Boston Urban Ceilidh.

Cape Breton dance, Boston Urban Ceilidh.

While the “BUC” has a history as a free-standing event and actually pre-dates BCMFest – it was first held in the fall of 2003, a few months before the first festival took place – the two are inextricably linked in the hearts, minds and dancing feet of BCMFest friends and supporters.

But don’t take our word for it: Here are a couple of clips from past BUCs.



Unfortunately, we don’t have any video (that we know of) from the time Rushad Eggleston started a conga line across the room in the middle of “The Virginia Reel” – for that one, you will have to take our word…

The 2014 Boston Urban Ceilidh takes place on Friday, January 10, at 8 p.m. in The Atrium, 50 Church St., Harvard Square. If you’re attending the Roots & Branches concert, bring your ticket stub to the BUC and you get $5 off.

For all BCMFest info, go here.

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BCMFest 2014: Of Roots and Branches

Some metaphors are obvious, but unavoidable. For instance, “roots and branches” has become a hugely popular term to describe the relationship between traditional music and its many outgrowths.

“Roots & Branches” also is the name of BCMFest’s Friday night opening concert, and with good reason. This event serves as a kind of overview of the festival, celebrating the music traditions of Ireland, Scotland, Cape Breton and other Celtic lands, as well as the music forms that have sprung from those traditions. And the Roots and Branches concert is often a showcase for the many talented young musicians in the Greater Boston area, who explore new interpretations of those music traditions they cherish.


Assembled multitude at the grand finale of the 2013 BCMFest Roots & Branches concert in Club Passim.

Here’s a look at the performers in this year’s edition of Roots & Branches:

•Native New Jerseyan Mark Kilianski came to Boston as a jazz guitarist, and to study more of the same at Berklee College of Music. But he found himself drawn to the folk/trad sounds around town, and began playing Irish, bluegrass, Quebecois and just about anything fiddle-driven. After performing as part of a duo, The Whiskey Boys, for a few years, Mark decided to branch out into some new musical experiences, including collaborations with Virginia-born fiddler Bronwyn Keith-Hynes and B.B. Bowness, a banjo player from New Zealand to explore connections between Celtic, bluegrass and old-timey.

“I believe that Boston’s strong Irish roots make the city fertile as a trad hotbed, and the seeds are sewn by being a mecca of education,” says Mark. “You bring young, talented people to a place where the tradition is strong and you get young, dedicated musicians with a love for trad music. I was playing in rock bands and studying jazz in New Jersey, but the bluegrass and Celtic music scenes blind-sided me when I got to Berklee. It’s so rich, and there are so many good bands and musicians here.”

(L-R) Mark Kilianski, Bronwyn Keith-Hynes and B.B. Bowness

(L-R) Mark Kilianski, Bronwyn Keith-Hynes and B.B. Bowness

Is it tricky merging those different styles together? Not when you play with two people like Bronwyn and B.B., he says.

“The most difficult thing about genre-hopping is playing with the right groove. It’s easy to play the right notes and chords, but to play with the right accents, lilt and nuances take a keen ear and lots of practice. Bronwyn, B.B. and I understand those distinctions in bluegrass and Irish music, so we can bridge the two pretty fluidly. That is also why I love playing with those two gals, and on top of that they’re both great improvisors and hard workers, so there’s lots of room to create and grow together as musicians.”

•Sorry, but contrary to what their name implies, NØÍR does not perform soundtracks from “The Maltese Falcon” or “The Big Sleep” or “Double Indemnity” or other classic film noir. The South Shore-based trio of Stuart Peak (guitar, bouzouki), Torrin Ryan (uilleann pipes) and Mark Oien (fiddle, hardingfele) plays the seemingly unlikely combination of Norwegian (“NØ”) and Irish (“IR”) traditional music.

Stuart and Mark were hosting sessions when Mark first came up with the idea of a band that would incorporate his family’s cultural heritage. After trying a few different line-ups, they brought in their friend Torrin who “fit like a glove,” recounts Stuart. “We knew we had something unique.”

NØÍR at BCMFest 2012.

NØÍR at BCMFest 2012.

Unique though it may be, the Norwegian-Irish musical connection works quite well, according to Stuart, one of the most active Irish music session players you’re liable to meet in Eastern Massachusetts.

“Both genres of music are highly danceable. They both evoke certain emotions in a similar way. There might be different rhythms in the music, but either can get your feet tapping. The slower Norwegian tunes also have that somber, lonesome sound like so many of the haunting airs in Irish music. There are traditional dances set to certain pieces just like Irish music. While most Norwegian tunes are very distinct, there are some that have almost the exact same melodic phrases as Irish music. Certain tunes in Irish music really lend themselves to being played on the hardanger fiddle, while certain Norwegian tunes have always been played on a regular fiddle. It’s pretty enlightening stuff once you start comparing the two.”

•Much like Mark Kilianski, New York native Kathleen Parks wasn’t all that familiar with Boston’s music scene until she moved here in 2012 to attend Berklee College of Music. She was immediately struck by the high level of activity she saw among both Berklee faculty and students, and knew she was in the right place.

“I thought it would be difficult to gig, but then I moved here and met so many musicians I instantly clicked with,” says Parks, who had studied under legendary Irish fiddler Brian Conway.

Cat and The Moon: (L-R) Charles Berthoud, Ricky Mier, Elias Alexander, Kathleen Parks and Eamon Sefton.

Cat and The Moon: (L-R) Charles Berthoud, Ricky Mier, Elias Alexander, Kathleen Parks and Eamon Sefton.

More than a year alter, Parks has made herself right at home in Boston, having co-founded Cat and the Moon, which is making its BCMFest debut. Joining Parks are Ricky Mier (banjo), Eamon Sefton (guitar and bodhran), Charles Berthoud (bass) and, more recently, Elias Alexander (percussion) in presenting a thoroughly eclectic blend of Celtic, bluegrass, jazz and original material, drawing on influences that run the gamut: Jean-Luc Ponty, Bela Fleck, John Doyle, Chris Thile, Eileen Ivers, Thelonius Monk and Django Reinhardt, among others.

Meanwhile, Parks’ education continues, and she couldn’t be happier about it: “Now I am finding out just how lively the music scene in Boston is and how easy it is to find places and events to play and make a name for yourself.”

The BCMFest 2014 Roots & Branches Concert begins at 7 p.m. on Friday, January 10, at Club Passim. For more information about the event, and the rest of BCMFest, go here.

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