BCMFest 2017 Earlybird Festival Passes on Sale in November

BCMFest Full Festival Passes go on sale for Passim members Wednesday, November 9th and on Wednesday, November 16th to the general public. Go to passim.org/bcmfest to get your tickets. Spread the word! BCMFest tickets and Passim memberships make great holiday gifts. Don’t miss out on securing your spot to this delightful annual event.bcmfestwebimagepress

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Club Passim to Present Second “Summer BCMFest” on July 3

Last year’s inaugural Summer BCMFest was so much fun, we decided to do it again — July 3, to be precise.

This time around, we’ve added a bit of a street festival vibe to the proceedings. Beginning at 2:30 p.m. on Palmer Street — right outside Club Passim — there will be a free outdoor concert, featuring the traditional Irish music duo of Armand Aromin and Dan Accardi. If you’ve frequented the Boston Irish session scene the past several years, you’re bound to have seen at least one, if not both, of these guys — they’re quite devoted to the tunes, and they know this music inside and out. Or perhaps you’ve seen them perform as part of that exquisite quartet The Ivy Leaf. In any case, you can count on hearing lots of fine Irish jigs, reels, hornpipes, polkas and all manner of things, played in impeccably trad fashion.

(L-R) Dan Accardi, Armand Aromin, Caroline O'Shea and Lindsay Straw, AKA The Ivy Leaf.

(L-R) Dan Accardi and Armand Aromin with Caroline O’Shea and Lindsay Straw, AKA The Ivy Leaf.

And then it will be time for Soulsha.


Soulsha celebrates — there really is no other word for it — a joyous bond between Celtic and African music, with some funk, jazz and afrobeat in the mix as well. Scottish bagpipes and fiddle intertwine with pulsing electric bass and percussion, and a nifty horn section, and then there’s their passionate, expressive singer/frontman Elias Alexander — who, one year at BCMFest, duct-taped himself into a pair of stilts and paraded into Harvard Square for a jam session. Soulsha, invariably, incites people to dance, so be prepared.


The Coyne Family at the Feile Cheoil Boston, 2014.

At 7 p.m., Summer BCMFest will move indoors to the comfy confines of Club Passim for a ticketed evening concert that begins with the Coyne Family: Lisa (flute, whistle) and John (bouzouki) and their children, Josie (fiddle) and Rory (accordion). We often hear the phrase “roots and branches” associated with Irish/Celtic music, describing how its core traditions have, over time and distance, taken on new influences and styles to become something that might seem different yet still retains connections to the original. Well, in this case roots and branches refers to a family tree — John and Lisa are accomplished musicians in the Irish tradition, and have instilled a love and respect for the music in Josie and Rory, who in turn have fashioned their own identities and interests.

Capping off Summer BCMFest will be fiddler Mariel Vandersteel, who has connected with folk and traditional music in many ways, shapes and forms. Suffice it to say that Mariel has traveled great distances, musically and geographically, whether playing fiddle tunes from the Appalachians, studying the hardanger fiddle in Norway or traveling through countries like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, India and Bangladesh (via the State Department-sponsored American Music Abroad tour, as a member of BCMFest co-founder Laura Cortese‘s band The Dance Cards).


Mariel Vandersteel and her trusty, and cool, hardanger fiddle. (Photo by Natalie Champa Jennings)

Playing traditional tunes or her own fine compositions, Mariel melds the styles and sounds of the various fiddle communities in which she’s traveled. She’ll be accompanied by guitarist Owen Marshall, who’s played at BCMFest in many different collaborations; Owen, among his many other activities, is a member of the excellent Maine-based traditional Irish trio The Press Gang.

Summer BCMFest is supported by a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Tickets for Summer BCMFest are $18 for the general public, $10 for Passim members and students. For reservations and other information, go to passim.org/bcmfest.


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BCMFest 2016 Preview: Nightcap Concert — Q&A with Neil Pearlman of Alba’s Edge

Another in a series of features about BCMFest 2016 that will be appearing in this blog right up until the festival (January 8 and 9), so as to better acquaint you with the events, activities and personalities that make up BCMFest. In this installment, Neil Pearlman talks about the Saturday evening Nightcap concert, “Changing Currents: The New Wave of Celtic Music in Boston,” that will be led by his band Alba’s Edge and features a host of special guests including Ed Pearlman, Laura Scott, Elias Alexander, Bridget Fitzgerald, Joey Abarta, Kevin Doyle, Matt Heaton, Shannon Heaton, Gordon Aucoin, Terry Traub and Katie McNally, with host WGBH-FM’s Brian O’Donovan.


Neil Pearlman in his usual station -- at the keyboard.

Neil Pearlman in his usual station — at the keyboard.

Q: The Nightcap concert theme has to do with Celtic music’s journey to America, and Boston in particular. We know about Boston’s reputation as a hotbed for Irish tradition, but it’s also been quite the hub for Scottish and Cape Breton music and dance, right?

Neil: That’s right — Boston is one of the closest major cities to Cape Breton Island, so there has long been a strong connection between the two. People have moved back and forth quite a bit, coming here for jobs or moving back to Cape Breton to reconnect to their family roots. There is a strong Cape Breton community in Boston and many of Cape Breton’s most famous fiddlers have strong connections to Boston — Jerry Holland was born in Boston and fiddlers like Joe Cormier and Bill Lamey have lived here for large parts of their lives.

There’s also quite a strong community of Scottish traditional musicians and dancers in Boston, which is where my family ties are strongest. The Boston Scottish Fiddle Club was started by my father, Ed Pearlman, and it has been integral in fostering a community interest in Scottish traditions for many years. Boston also has one of the strongest and most active branches of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society. In addition to these older organizations there is a vibrant community of young musicians who are eager to put their own personal stamp on the Scottish tradition. This coexistence of the older traditions with a vibrant younger generation is a big part of what this year’s Nightcap concert is about.

Q: Is there an example or two of how a tune or song from Scotland traveled to Boston or the US and, over time, took on a character all its own?

Neil: You can find examples of this kind of thing all the time, and not only with tunes making the journey but also with songs and tunes being born from the journey itself. There is an entire repertoire of Gaelic songs that deal with the experience of displacement and immigration. But in terms of a tune originating in Scotland, traveling and changing, one of my favorite examples is “Mrs. MacLeod of Raasay.” It’s a classic old Scottish tune and a different version of the same tune is also played in the Irish repertoire with the key changed and the parts in a different order. It came to the US and made its way into the Appalachian fiddling repertoire in a form that mixes the Scottish and Irish versions and in fact it also went to Quebec where they have their own completely distinct version.

It’s amazing what happens as music travels with people and changes as they change, bringing their own experiences and personalities to it. And at the Nightcap concert you’ll have a chance to hear some great examples of Celtic tradition being re-imagined in America by musicians and dancers who are active right now.

Alba's Edge performing at last year's BCMFest. (Photo by Leanne McNally)

Alba’s Edge performing at last year’s BCMFest. (Photo by Leanne McNally)

Q: Your band Alba’s Edge incorporates some elements of jazz. Do you see some common threads between jazz and Celtic music, or are they really radically different?

Neil: For me it’s not really a question of what comparing distinct genres. I consider myself to be a Scottish and Cape Breton musician but jazz was an important part of my musical upbringing, so when I’m playing honestly and from the heart that sound is also present. Since it comes directly out of my own musical development it feels very organic. Traditional music from around the world has always adapted and incorporated sounds from the current cultural environment and the musicians who were playing it at the time. The Scottish fiddle music from the 19th century has a lot more flowery and classically influenced edges to it than the tunes of the early 18th century. The Cape Breton piano tradition started picking up boogie-woogie bass lines in the 1950s. In my view, the music Alba’s Edge is making is just another example of this. My sister Lilly and I grew up in a family steeped in Scottish and Cape Breton traditions so when we write or play music it comes from that place. But we also grew up surrounded by the cultural melting pot here in the US so our music inevitably comes from that as well.

Q: You grew up in a household of music and dance. In what ways do you think your family has influenced your musical development?

Neil: My family has always been and continues to be central in my musical development. In fact, I could probably trace nearly every aspect of my musical development back to my family in some way. Seeing my parents provide for our family while staying true to their art was huge for me because it showed me from a young age that being a professional musician is a valid career path that’s actually practical and attainable. They were very hands-on without being pressuring, so I always wanted to be involved in music and dance because it was so much fun and because I would be missing out otherwise — never because my parents were forcing me. Along with my siblings we started performing as a family band when I was about 13, so I grew up very comfortable being on stage, and mom and dad were always supportive of all our ideas and creative endeavors. They worked hard to foster our natural curiosity and that has affected my development in so many ways. Musically, it has resulted in my continuing interest in discovering new kinds of music and new sounds, which is really what Alba’s Edge comes out of. Many aspiring musicians don’t have the opportunity to grow up in that kind of environment and I’m incredibly grateful to my parents for that.

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A special “Thank You”

Dan Hogan speaking at the BCMFest Nightcap concert in 2013.

Dan Hogan speaking at the BCMFest Nightcap concert in 2013.

Interrupting the BCMFest 2016 countdown to extend a Boston Urban Ceilidh-sized round of gratitude to Dan Hogan, who during the past year stepped down as executive director of Passim after seven years. It was under Dan’s leadership that BCMFest formally became a program of Passim, formalizing a partnership that dates back to the very first year of the festival (2004). The BCMFest Committee will be forever grateful to Dan for the support and enthusiasm he brought to BCMFest and its mission. It was always a pleasure for us to invite Dan up on stage for the festival’s finale concert to offer his take on things — and even to join in a song:

Dan Hogan with Brian O'Donovan, left, and the BCMFest Committee lead the audience in "Wild Mountain Thyme."

Dan Hogan with Brian O’Donovan, left, and the BCMFest Committee lead the audience in “Wild Mountain Thyme.”

We’d also like to take the opportunity to welcome Jim Wooster to his inaugural BCMFest weekend as Passim’s executive director. Hope you enjoy the show, Jim.

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BCMFest 2016 Preview: Q&A with Tommy Sheridan and Rosanne Santucci (Buttons & Keys)

Another in a series of features about BCMFest 2016 that will be appearing in this blog right up until the festival (January 8 and 9), so as to better acquaint you with the events, activities and personalities that make up BCMFest. Here is a Q&A with Tommy Sheridan (button accordion) and Rosanne Santucci (piano), who are performing at the festival as the duo Buttons & Keys.

Q: You each came to Irish music from different backgrounds — talk a little about how you started playing.

Tommy: I was born in Boston (Brighton) to parents from Mayo (father) and Tipperary (mother).  We had frequent house parties that were usually accompanied by music, primarily accordion and fiddle. My father started me playing a single-row Hohner. My mother had a cousin in Worcester, Bill Holohan, who played fiddle and helped me a lot with tunes and reading. He also gave me a couple of original O’Neill’s books.  I also spent three years at the Cambridge Conservatory of Music on piano accordion.

Tommy Sheridan in his glory.

Tommy Sheridan in his glory. (Photo by Sara Piazza)

In my early teens, I started going to the various Irish music clubs flourishing at the time.  It was there I leaned to play in a group for dancing, be it waltzes, highlands, polkas, foxtrots, quicksteps and set dances. Playing for step dancers was also part of the night.

The Connacht Ceili Band was started in the mid-60s and I became leader in 1969, taking the band to Ireland twice.  We kept it going for 25 years, at which point the years caught up with us. I stopped playing entirely in the mid-90s to spend time in freezing hockey rinks watching my youngest.  About 2000, it was Pat Reynolds (drummer), Mike Reynolds (box), and Larry Reynolds Sr. (fiddle) who dragged me back out to sessions and festivals. Playing sessions is very different than playing for an audience or for a dance crowd, so I had to learn all over again.

Rosanne: I came from the classical world, working as a freelance flutist and accompanist. I didn’t start playing Irish music until I was over 40. I liked the little bit I had heard, but (incorrectly) assumed you had to be raised in the tradition to be able to play it, so I never made the attempt — until one day on a whim, I slunk into the Green Briar Pub session in Brighton with my silver flute and was instantly smitten. I’ve immersed myself in the music ever since, picking up a variety of new instruments (primarily Irish flute and uilleann pipes) along the way.

Yes, those are just some of the instruments Rosanne plays -- but at BCMFest she'll be tickling the ivories.

Yes, those are just some of the instruments Rosanne plays — but at BCMFest she’ll be tickling the ivories. (Photo by Sara Piazza)

Q: So then, how did you get together as a duo, and what do you enjoy about playing with one another?

Rosanne: I think I met Tommy at the Green Briar, but our paths would cross at other local sessions. I really admire his wonderful musicianship and his enthusiasm for learning and sharing new tunes. He’s been on the Boston Irish music scene for decades and can he ever tell stories! We only recently started playing box and piano together. Like fiddle and pipes, it’s a combination that works particularly well; the ornamentation and range of the accordion really shine when paired with simple piano backing. And I love having the opportunity to sit back and let Tommy do the hard work of playing the melody!

Tommy: I met Rosanne playing at the sessions, first as a flute player, then as an excellent piper. It was only in the last year that I heard her on the piano.  It was quite exhilarating, as I always loved playing with a good pianist.  There is something special about the piano, and Rosanne brings out the best in me when providing backing.  Most houses and halls had uprights when I was younger and I miss not having their sound.  Rosanne is quite able to quickly pick up the correct chords when I decide to play something weird.  She’s very easy to get long with: She’d have to be when I go off on one of my tangents.

Q: We know Irish music has a long history in Boston, going back generations. Do you think Boston’s brand of Irish music has a special sound, a style, a “vibe” that makes it different from Irish music in other locales?

Tommy: Looking at “Boston” Irish music from the inside, I am not able to judge what a Boston “vibe” would be.  However, from feedback I’ve gotten from outsiders who stop at our sessions, I can say that we are known for quality, open sessions where people are welcomed and it is encouraged that all egos are left at the door.

In past times, it was the accordion and fiddle that prevailed, backed by piano and occasionally with a flute or two.   The dance bands, pre-showbands, would have horns and standup bass in addition to accordion and fiddle.  I’m just making a distinction between session music and dance music.  I would say that today’s Boston music is being influenced by a number of pipers.  The accordion has been replaced in many senses by the pipes.   And aren’t most accordion players wanna-be pipers anyway?   We are also lucky in having Berklee and other college students who bring their inputs to the sessions.

Q: Although you’re obviously immersed in Irish music, your repertoire also includes tunes from Scottish and Cape Breton traditions. How is that you came to incorporate these kinds of tunes in your music?

Tommy: My interest in Cape Breton music goes way back to listening to Winston “Scotty” Fitzgerald on records and on the radio.  Our piano player in the Connacht Ceili Band was Sally MacEachern Kelly from Cape Breton and she played both the Irish and Cape Breton style.  Whenever any of the leading Cape Breton players would come to Boston, we’d have great all night sessions at Kelly’s.  Among the greats were Angus Chisholm, Bill Lamey, Winnie Chafe, Dougie MacPhee, John Allen Cameron, and many others.  When I was in my early teens I played at dances and on weekly radio with Sy Fisher and his Cape Breton dance band.   Scottish music was discovered through the recordings of expert accordion players Will Starr and Jimmy Shand.

Q: Who have been some of the most important people for you — teachers, mentors, bandmates, etc. — during your time as an Irish musician?

Rosanne: There are many! To name a few, piper Patrick Hutchinson and flute players Shannon Heaton and James Hamilton, who have given me invaluable guidance in both style and technique. And the Boston session leaders over the years who welcomed me into the Irish music family — Frank Horrigan, Tara Lynch, Sean Connor, Liam Hart, Mike Reynolds, Terry Weir, John Gannon, Joey Abarta, and of course Tommy (apologies to anyone I’ve inadvertently left out).

Tommy: Among many influences on my playing include Joe Derrane, Paddy O’Brien (Tipperary), Joe Burke, Martin McDonagh (Walpole and Connemara), Raymond Roland, fiddle player Andy MCGann, and multi-instrument master Jimmy Kelly. Among my current favorites is Annette Owens. I also have to give Larry Reynolds Sr., Michael Reynolds, and Paddy Reynolds credit for getting me back playing.


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BCMFest 2016 Preview: Voices carry

Another in a series of features about BCMFest 2016 that will be appearing in this blog right up until the festival (January 8 and 9, if it’s not on your calendar yet), so as to better acquaint you with the events, activities and personalities that make up BCMFest.

If you go to a Celtic music festival with the hope — no, make that the expectation — of being able to join in a song or two, well, you should get yourself to The Attic at 1 p.m. during BCMFest’s Dayfest (January 9): That’s when The Kelly Girls and òran mór will lead a good hour’s worth of sing-along songs.

The Kelly Girls: tunes, not temps.

The Kelly Girls: tunes, not temps.

This’ll be the BCMFest debut for The Kelly Girls (Aisling Keating, Nancy Beaudette, Christine Hatch and Theresa Gerene), who are based in the far western suburbs and have played at local places like The Bull Run Restaurant, Waxy O’Connor’s Pub and Main Street Market & Cafe, as well as the Williamstown Fair in Ontario (the oldest annual fair in Canada) and aboard the Nova Star Cruise Ship running from Portland, Me., to Nova Scotia. So they know a thing or two about keeping people entertained, as this video clip shows.  Oh, and in case you might wonder: No, they don’t have anything to do with the famous temp agency — but they have a nice little tribute to the “other” Kelly Girls on their website.

Those fine fellas of òran mór, Peter Hale (left) and Dave Hallowell, holding forth at BCMFest 2015.

Those fine fellas of òran mór, Peter Hale (left) and Dave Hallowell, holding forth at BCMFest 2015.

òran mór — the duo of Peter Hale and Dave Hallowell — are back for a third time at BCMFest. While they’re no strangers to the Boston area, you’re more likely to find them up north a ways, at places like the Ri Ra in Portsmouth, NH, where they are a Monday night fixture. Dave started out playing blues and R&B, but over time gravitated into folk/acoustic music and eventually Irish/Celtic material, with some guidance by people like David Surette, Ed Gerhard and Randal Bays. Peter came from a family with strong Irish roots — “Nancy Whiskey” was the first song with a chorus he learned (at age 6), he says, “other than something from ‘Sesame Street'” — and later on took an interest in singers like Luke Kelly, Christy Moore and Dick Gaughan. Here’s a sampling of Peter and Dave.

Mind you, you don’t have to sing along during this set — but why wouldn’t you want to?

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BCMFest 2016 Preview: Youth movement

Another in a series of features about BCMFest 2016 that will be appearing in this blog right up until the festival (January 8 and 9, if it’s not on your calendar yet), so as to better acquaint you with the events, activities and personalities that make up BCMFest.

BCMFest is a multi-generational festival, because we feel it’s important to show how the love for Celtic music and dance in the Boston area is shared by people of all ages — including those who aren’t old enough to drive. That’s why, through the years, BCMFest has featured performances by young musicians and dancers, who help ensure these traditions will live on. On the schedule for BCMFest 2016 are two such acts, Scottish Fish and Realta Geala, that came together in different ways but share some important characteristics — namely, a zeal for traditional music and the support of their parents and other caring adults.

Scottish Fish, out of water.

Scottish Fish, out of water, outstanding in their field.

The idea behind music camps like the Boston Harbor Scottish Fiddle School is that what happens during the “off-hours” is at least as important as what happens in the classes and workshops that take place over the course of the camp. People get a chance to practice what they’ve learned, but also have the opportunity to seek one another out for some good solid jamming, and, well, sometimes one thing leads to another and before you know it, you’ve got yourself a band.

That’s more or less how Scottish Fish got started. Ava, Caroline, Guilia, Julia and Maggie had known and played music with one another in various combinations over time, so when they all showed up at the 2013 Boston Harbor session, there was little question of forming a band. Since then, they’ve appeared at BCMFest twice (including in last year’s Nightcap concert) and at other events in and around the Boston area, playing traditional and contemporary Scottish and Cape Breton music — including some of their own pieces — on fiddles and cello. (Here they are performing at a fundraiser back in February.)

Realta Geala, prepping for their appearance at the All-Ireland Fleadh last summer.

Realta Geala, prepping for their appearance at the All-Ireland Fleadh last summer.

The formation of Realta Geala (which in Gaelic means “bright stars”) was rather more structured than that of Scottish Fish. This group of approximately 20 musicians, ranging in age from 9 to 16, came together a few years ago through the music school of Boston’s Reynolds-Hanafin-Cooley Branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. Realta Geala — many of whose members have received individual instruction at the CCE music school — is an ensemble class, in which the students learn to play extensive arrangements of tunes with an eye toward public performance.

This past spring saw Realta Geala take on a major challenge: participating in the CCE’s annual Mid-Atlantic Fleadh in New Jersey, a series of competitions across many ages and categories. The result? A first-place finish in the under-age 15 Grupa Cheoil — in which competitors play an eight-minute medley of tunes with varying rhythms and tempos — and an invitation to the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, or All-Ireland Fleadh, a week-long festival of competitions and other special events. Watch the video of Realta Geala’s winning performance, and you’ll get a sense as to how much work it involves, from both an individual and collective standpoint.

But as Sean Clohessy, who along with Kathleen Conneely directs Realta Geala, pointed out in an interview, the goal for Realta Geala is about far more than competitions or prizes: “It’s been great to see them come together and progress not only in their musical abilities but also in development of musical friendships that extend beyond the classroom walls.”

The experience of both groups says a lot about the positive aspects of adult involvement in children’s activities. Talk to the members of Scottish Fish, and you’ll hear them express appreciation for great performers like Hanneke Cassel and Katie McNally, who have provided not just teaching but mentoring and friendship. Realta Geala not only has had Clohessy and Conneely in its corner, but other CCE music school faculty and plenty of adults willing to pitch in where or when needed, such as helping fund the group’s trip to the All-Ireland Fleadh.

And, of course, there’s the parents: Somebody has to schlep these young musicians to and from lessons, rehearsals and gigs, not to mention house and feed them and, y’know, give them love and nurturing and stuff like that.

Still, as the grown-ups will be the first to tell you, it’s the kids themselves that ultimately decide what kind of musicians they’re going to be, or whether they’re going to play music at all. When “A Christmas Celtic Sojourn” creator and host Brian O’Donovan talks about the Harney Academy of Irish Dance’s role in the show, he’ll explain that the dancers are there not because they’re kids, “but because they’re good.” Scottish Fish and Realta Geala are definitely good — and have earned a place at BCMFest.

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