BCMFest 2018: Halfway through — PLUS important note about Sunday events

Well, folks, it’s two down and two to go — days, that is — for BCMFest 2018. There’s plenty more to come, of course, with Dayfest today and tomorrow, the first BCMFest Festival Club tonight, and the climactic BCMFest Nightcap Sunday evening in The Sinclair.

Now, an important word about Sunday: If you’re looking to get tickets in advance, please follow these links for Dayfest and the BCMFest Nightcap.

Meanwhile, here’s a quick pictorial look at some of what’s happened so far (Emerging Artist Showcase, Roots and Branches concert, Boston Urban Ceilidh):


















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Countdown to BCMFest 2018: Sing along with the Bhoys and Girls

Another in a series of features about BCMFest 2018 that will be appearing in this blog right up until the festival (January 18-21), so as to better acquaint you with the events, activities and personalities that make up BCMFest, which is marking its 15th anniversary.

It’s all well and good to sit and listen to music, and you’ll get plenty of chances to do that at BCMFest. But Celtic music was made for sing-alongs, and you’ll have two special opportunities to raise your voice during Saturday Dayfest (January 20): First, with the Boston Harbor Bhoys at noon; and then at 4:45 p.m. with The Kelly Girls.

The Kelly Girls


The Boston Harbor Bhoys


 We asked Eddie Biggins of the Boston Harbor Bhoys and Kelly Girl Aisling Keating to talk about the art — and science — of getting audiences to sing along.

Q: Based on your long experience, do you think most people actually do like to sing — even if they say they can’t?

EDDIE: Yes! When we can get an audience singing, it really doesn’t matter how good you sound. It’s about the community of it, the participation. We think that on some level, most people like to sing.

AISLING We absolutely believe that people want to sing along! Sometimes audiences tend be a bit shy, so we always find it most successful when we invite and entice them to join in. We like to teach the audience a chorus on an original tune that they might not be so familiar with, or just let them chime in on a song that is more familiar. Sharing music is a beautiful experience that creates an amazing connection between audience and performers and there is nothing more wonderful than when everyone  lifts their voices to the rafters. 

Q: If you have an audience that seems reluctant to join in, do you have any special techniques or shticks to get them singing?

AISLING: The best technique is simply to invite and encourage folks to join in!  We love to have fun and connect with our audience. Us having fun, puts our audience at ease.

EDDIE: Sometimes shaming them into it works! <Laughs> Some people may be reluctant because they don’t know the words, so we encourage them to sing “la la la” if they don’t know it. And if an audience truly does not want to participate, well…you have to know when to give up, too. Sometimes they just prefer to listen.

Or, we can always launch into “Piano Man.” You can’t not sing along to that one!

Q: Obviously, with sing-alongs one tends to rely on songs that are likely to be familiar to most, but do you enjoy teaching songs that are maybe a little off the beaten track, too? What ones fall into that category?

EDDIE: It can be fun to teach something that the crowd might be less familiar with. We like to have the audience sing the “Day-I-Ay-I-Ay” parts of “The Galway Girl,” which is something they may not be used to. We seem to teach more hand clapping parts than singing parts (“Whiskey in the Jar,” “Wild Rover,” “Finnegan’s Wake”).

AISLING: We love to teach an audience a new song, particularly a band original.

Q: Off the top of your head, what are three songs you do that pretty much everybody will sing along to?

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Countdown to BCMFest 2018: Quebecois Showcase

Another in a series of features about BCMFest 2018 that will be appearing in this blog right up until the festival (January 18-21), so as to better acquaint you with the events, activities and personalities that make up BCMFest, which is marking its 15th anniversary.

Many Celtic musicians and Celtic music fans are drawn to the Québécois tradition for its infectious beat and pulse, as well as some apparent commonalities with Irish, Scottish and other related music. In any case, it’s loads of fun to listen to, and BCMFest is happy to have Adrienne Howard, Eric Boodman and Max Newman give us a sampler of la musique de Canadia française.

Q: OK, the big question: Can Québécois music be considered “Celtic”?

ADRIENNE: The way I think about it, it can be considered Celtic as much as Appalachian can be considered Celtic. It is an amazing music that has grown out of some diverse roots. Similar to Appalachian music it has taken Irish and Scottish tunes to different places. But very unlike Appalachian it also grew from the diverse music traditions coming from France. Breton music is another Celtic root, but also the varied Gallic music traditions from the rest of France. In my mind, the form of the tunes most definitely shows the French sensibilities. Then of course there’s all the creative composers up in that part of the world that have really brought the music to its own place. Perhaps I should add that modern québécois fiddlers often do borrow ornamentations from Irish fiddle music. Does that make it more on the Celtic side of things? Maybe it is something for BCMFesters to debate about and decide just what sort of branch (or grafted branch) Québécois music fits in with Celtic.

MAX: With the big caveat that I’m not a Québécois music specialist nor from Quebec, I suspect you’d get as many different answers to that question as there are people to answer it. To the best of my knowledge, “Celtic music” is a modern invention without an agreed-upon definition or historical basis. I certainly couldn’t claim to know what “Celtic music” is! So it’s not something I get worked up over.



ERIC: It seems that there is some overlap between traditional Irish music and traditional Québécois music, so it doesn’t seem out of place to play these tunes at a Celtic festival. That said, I totally agree with Max.




Q: Give us a little info about your musical backgrounds.

ADRIENNE: On fiddle I alternate mostly these days between Québécois and old-time with an occasional touch of Breton and Irish traditions. As a hurdy-gurdy player, I’m particularly excited by the repertoire of central France, and by the integration of the hurdy-gurdy into other musical traditions, such as old-time and Breton.

MAX: Here’s something about me: I love dance music, primarily contra dancing. I’m lucky enough to play with the Stringrays, featuring the legendary New England fiddler Rodney Miller (New Hampshire Artist Laureate, National Endowment for the Arts Master Fiddler, etc.).

ERIC: I love all kinds of traditional music, and I’m pretty fortunate to have fallen in with some great contra dance musicians around New England with whom I get to fiddle and foot-tap.

Q: When and how did you get interested in playing Quebecois music — and what attracts you to the tradition?

ADRIENNE: I was lucky enough to first hear it as a teenager from an accordion player who was living in Indiana. I only got a chance to play with him once but I guess it got my head ready to explore it further when I had the chance. I learned some on my own from Laurie Hart’s fantastic Mel Bay book “Danse ce soir,” but my next real chance was the Northeast Heritage Music Camp where I learned from Daniel Lemieux.   Once you really get to be in the same place as someone playing with such fun and joy I think you can’t help but to be hooked. But of course that’s just the way it happened for me. I just love the feel of the music (all the off-beats and changing pulses), and I think its variety is fantastic.

MAX: My specialty has become the dance music of New England, which enjoys friendship and trade with its neighbors to north. Although I’m primarily a guitar player, the piano-playing of Quebec is an important touchstone for my playing. As far as my interest in Québécois music, I’ll add that as an Alaskan, I have a natural affinity for peoples of northern climes.

ERIC: I grew up in Montreal, and as a kid took weekly group lessons from two amazing fiddlers there (Jonathan Moorman and Laura Risk). Then, towards the end of high school, I started going to the Tuesday night sessions at Vices&Versa, and the overpowering joyful energy got me hooked on Québécois music.


Schedules, ticket information and other details about BCMFest are available here.






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Countdown to BCMFest 2018: “From Spark to Flame” — Q&A with Pumpkin Bread

Another in a series of features about BCMFest 2018 that will be appearing in this blog right up until the festival (January 18-21), so as to better acquaint you with the events, activities and personalities that make up BCMFest, which is marking its 15th anniversary.

Pictures tell a story, and so does music. To close out BCMFest 2018, the festival’s Nightcap concert, “From Spark to Flame,” will be devoted to the stories behind the music: Performers will share the songs and tunes that hold special meaning for them and talk about the people and experiences that provided the spark to light their musical flame. Hosting the concert will be Neil Pearlman, an innovative musician and creator of the “TradCafe” podcast.

The line-up for “From Spark to Flame” is: Irish accordionist Natasha Sheehy; singer-songwriter Molly Pinto Madigan; From Medford to Copley Street, an all-star cast of Boston-area Irish musicians Joey Abarta, Nathan Gourley, Matt Heaton and George Keith; fiddle-cello duo Sailbow; a Cape Breton Showcase with Rachel Reeds, Jake Brillhart and Janine Randall; and Pumpkin Bread, the original folk/Celtic quintet of Conor Hearn (guitar), Maura Shawn Scanlin (fiddle), Steven Manwaring (mandolin), Aidan Scrimgeour (accordion) and Jackson Clawson (piano).

Pumpkin Bread (L-R) Steven Manwaring, Jackson Clawson, Maura Shawn Scanlin, Aidan Scrimgeour and Conor Hearn.

We talked with Conor recently about Pumpkin Bread’s mix of contemporary and traditional styles, and the importance of baked goods in a band’s development.

Q: First, the question on everyone’s mind — why “Pumpkin Bread”?

CONOR: We all sort of started playing music together in a casual, social way. We’d have soup nights and play sessions in our apartments as a way to decompress from being in school and everything, so a lot of our music happened in these settings in which we were also cooking and baking. I think one night we were making pumpkin bread and we made up a song about it. It was probably really dumb, but it kind of stuck, and people tend to associate some of that warmth and coziness with our music, so it makes sense to us in that way.

Q: Where do you all hail from and how did you wind up getting together?

CONOR: Aidan and Steven are from Massachusetts — Steven from Sudbury and Aidan from Salem. The rest of us grew up in various places around the country: Jackson from San Francisco, Maura from North Carolina, me from Maryland. But eventually we all moved to Boston for school; Jackson, Steven, and Aidan and I all met as freshmen at Tufts University, and Maura went to the New England Conservatory.

Q: Listening to your music, one can definitely hear some trad sounds — a bit of Celtic, perhaps even a contra dance-type thing here and there, and so on. But there’s an unmistakably contemporary feel, too, like in the way some of the tunes are structured, or in the song lyrics, for instance. Talk a little about the different influences that define Pumpkin Bread.

CONOR: There’s definitely a sense that we’re all coming from really different places. Maura and I both have a lot of common repertoire coming from a trad Irish and Scottish background, and Maura has also been studying classical music for many years. Jackson grew up playing funk, R&B, and gospel music in San Francisco, and Steven and Aidan both come from a jazz background. Collectively, though, the band is more interested in producing an output of original music that draws on our folk interests and sensibilities. So we aren’t consciously thinking about it as much as a fusion project, despite our varied backgrounds.

Q: What is it about the Boston folk music scene that provides such inspiration for bands like Pumpkin Bread to form?

CONOR: To begin with, there are so many liberal arts, arts, and music schools in the area that it feels saturated with all sorts of creative people. The schools are definitely a reason people like us make that inevitable pilgrimage here, even if temporarily. And since people are usually only in school for four years, there is this sense that new people are always arriving, which keeps it feeling fresh in an interesting way.

Then there’s also the element of the music scene here that, though it mingles with the music schools in town, is just indigenous to Boston on its own. We’re staying here, for the moment, because our friends are here and we like it, and ultimately that’s what our band is about!


Schedules, ticket information and other details about BCMFest are available here.

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Countdown to BCMFest 2018: Roots & Branches concert — Q&A with Nic Gareiss and Allison de Groot

Another in a series of features about BCMFest 2018 that will be appearing in this blog right up until the festival (January 18-21), so as to better acquaint you with the events, activities and personalities that make up BCMFest, which is marking its 15th anniversary.

The Friday night Roots & Branches concert was traditionally the kick-off event for BCMFest, starting just a little ahead of the Boston Urban Ceilidh, which always takes place the same night. Now, of course, with the festival beginning on Thursday night, it will be the Emerging Artist Showcase that formally gets BCMFest underway. But Roots & Branches has always had another distinctive quality, aside from being first on the schedule: It set the tone for the weekend, serving as a kind of overview of the festival, celebrating not only the traditions found in Boston’s Celtic music scene but the styles and sounds that have sprung from or been influenced by those traditions.

The 2018 Roots & Branches concert on January 19 will continue to fill that role with three acts that, taken together, give you a sense of the foundations on which Celtic music is built and how far its elements have traveled geographically and in the human imagination:

Fódhla, the Boston-Portland trio of Ellery Klein (fiddle), Nicole Rabata (flute) and Bethany Waickman (guitar), with a firm footing in the Irish music tradition.

•Award-winning singer-songwriter Molly Pinto Madigan, whose work draws on the magical, transformative, often dark character of the British Isles and European ballad tradition.

•The duo of Allison de Groot and Nic Gareiss, whose presentation of old-time Appalachian music combines Allison’s deft touch on five-string banjo and Nic’s uniquely inventive, expressive form of step-dancing.

Winnipeg native Allison, though new to BCMFest, is no stranger to Boston — she attended the Berklee College of Music, where she studied in the American Roots Program. Michigan-born Nic, meanwhile, has been a regular performer at BCMFest and elsewhere in the Boston area.

We asked Allison and Nic to talk about their music, and why it fits in just fine at a Celtic festival.

Allison de Groot and Nic Gareiss.

Q: You definitely seem to fall in the “Branches” category: How is your brand of music connected to the Irish/Scottish/Celtic traditions, and what makes it different?

NIC: In our duo we perform mostly Appalachian old-time music using the five-string banjo and percussive dance. Those are our mediums. Apart from the historical fact that thousands of Celtic peoples made their way to the Appalachian mountains and met Native American, African-American, Germanic, and Nordic neighbors there, morphologically, the forms of music and dance we perform are structurally quite similar to sounds and movements that exist in contemporary Ireland and Scotland.

In addition to these similarities of keys and cadences, beats and bars, shuffles and sashays, sociologically, cultural forms from our side of the Atlantic often act as mirrors or reference points for traditional musicians and dancers in Celtic cultures. I remember observing this while living in Ireland pursuing my MA in ethnochoreology at the University of Limerick. North American traditional tunes and steps are often seen as not only contrasting Celtic traditional arts, but also informing them, perhaps even calcifying their aesthetic sense of themselves. We see this in Scotland as dancers look to Cape Breton step dance to reconstruct what Scottish dance might have looked and sounded like prior to the highland clearances, as well as in Ireland where contemporary Irish step dancers borrow (or steal, we call it!) steps from American tap dancers to create virtuosic solo moments in commercial shows like “Riverdance” and its many spin-off shows.

That said, there’s a specific feel or swing to the Appalachian music we love and it’s that sense of time and timbre that marks it as uniquely American.

Q: How and when did you two start performing together, and what have been some of your favorite gigs so far?

ALLISON: We met at a festival in the woods near my hometown of Winnipeg in 2012. Nic completely blew me away. The day after that festival I moved to Boston and just a few weeks later we crossed paths again through a mutual friend Jack Devereux. There is a fun video of the three of us playing “Black Eyed Suzy” at Club Passim, the first time Nic and I ever made music together. We did a really special tour of Prince Edward Island together and one of my favorite gigs (ever!) was at Baltimore Fiddle Fair in Ireland last April.

Q: Nic, you’ve performed at BCMFest several times over the years — what makes it enjoyable for you?

NIC: My first BCMFest was 2007 as a guest of Eric Merrill and the Western Star. I was 21, it was my first trip to Boston and I still remember being stuck by the city’s vibrant and welcoming traditional music and dance community. I think BCMFest has done a lot to nourish that. Over the years, I feel lucky to have been invited to perform at the festival as an “honorary Bostonian” and each trip confirms the warmth and richness of the traditional arts community that the festival creates.

Being invited back for the 15th year holds tremendous meaning for me as well. I wasn’t doing a lot of performing in 2007, having taken a little break after performing a lot as a teenager. Laura Cortese’s invitation to the festival 11 years ago and the incredible energy and enthusiasm of the artists and audiences really rekindled an interest in performing professionally. You could say it was a crucial moment in the decision to do what I do and to make traditional music and dance a full-time pursuit.

Schedules, ticket information and other details about BCMFest are available here.

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Countdown to BCMFest 2018: Scottish music — Q&A with Susie Petrov

Another in a series of features about BCMFest 2018 that will be appearing in this blog right up until the festival (January 18-21), so as to better acquaint you with the events, activities and personalities that make up BCMFest, which is marking its 15th anniversary.

Susie Petrov has been a mainstay of Boston’s — heck, New England’s — Scottish music scene for decades now, as a brilliant musician on piano and accordion,  a top-notch arranger of tunes, and a teacher of Scottish country dance. She’s played at weddings, ceilidhs, Burns Nights, Highland Games events, various concerts and festivals, and of course, at BCMFest; Susie also served on the BCMFest organizing committee during the festival’s early years.

Susie Petrov with accordion and ready smile.

In recent years, Susie’s teamed up with fiddler Calum Pasqua and piper Dan Houghton as the trio Parcel of Rogues. BCMFest 2018 will see Susie and Calum in a new collaboration, and she talked about it — and about Scottish music in general — with us recently.

Q: When they hear the phrase “Scottish music,” a lot of people might tend to think of bagpipes (lots of them) playing all kinds of big, noisy reels, jigs, marches, etc. But the style you and Calum play has a different feel to it — kind of classical in a way. So where does this brand of Scottish music come from?

SUSIE: Calum and I both spent many years training as classical musicians.  We like to think that music is music.  No matter what the tradition from which it springs, it must be played as beautifully as possible.  We are also passionate about the quality of ensemble playing when we play together.  This year, we are excited to present a new collaboration where I get to play with Calum’s New York band, New York Brogue. Our show will feature one duo set for Calum and myself flanked by two ensemble pieces.  In the first piece, Calum will show off his recent work on the tenor banjo!

Q: How did you get turned onto playing Scottish music?

SUSIE: My friends founded a local Scottish Country Dance group in Washington, DC, when we were in high school.  I thought it was the most stupid activity imaginable and they finally dragged me to a dance the summer after our junior year.  I was hooked on the music on the first night.  All the dance groups used recordings and would hire a band from Toronto once a year for the annual ball.  When I heard the piano playing of Stan Hamilton (an immigrant from Ayr in Scotland), it blew my mind and I had to find tunes to play.  There were no fiddle camps in those days and the only source of music was the Library of Congress.  Thomas Jefferson’s original bequest contained some first editions of Scottish tune collections.  While studying at the Peabody Conservatory, I would play tunes behind closed doors.

Q: When and how did you Calum start playing together? 

SUSIE: I first heard Calum play at a Scottish dance weekend when he was 7.  As a teenager, I heard him play with Stan Hamilton.  Much later, we were having a session at Juilliard when Natalie Haas was a student there and he came out to play.  Then, he went to fiddle camp and competed in the US National Fiddle Championship at the Loon Mountain Games, where I happened to be sitting in the audience.  He played most beautifully and when I met him in the hallway, I introduced myself and he mentioned he was looking for a pianist.  We commuted between Boston and New York for our rehearsals and went on to be the first Americans to play the winning set in the 2008 Glenfiddich Invitational Fiddle Champoinship at Blair Castle in Scotland.

We are still most proud of our recordings, “In Conversation” and “That Pinewoods Sound.”

Q: As a former BCMFest organizing committee member, you have a unique perspective on the festival. What impact do you think it’s had on the area’s Celtic music community?

SUSIE: I am thrilled to be able to come back and enjoy the fruits of all our BCMFest committee members’ hard work.  I think the festival works hard to present the music made by seasoned concert performers and by session players who create a community of folks who gather to play together in homes and pubs.  I am also pleased to see the opportunities the festival creates for emerging artists and ensembles.  I haven’t been able to attend recent editions of BCMFest, so I am looking forward to seeing the new venues and enjoying the people who will be both performers and audience members.

Schedules, ticket information and other details about BCMFest are available here.

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Countdown to BCMFest 2018: Emerging Artist Showcase — Q&A with Natasha Sheehy

Another in a series of features about BCMFest 2018 that will be appearing in this blog right up until the festival (January 18-21), so as to better acquaint you with the events, activities and personalities that make up BCMFest, which is marking its 15th anniversary.

One of the new features of this edition of BCMFest will be our Emerging Artist Showcase concert, which will kick off the festival on January 18 at 7 p.m. in Club Passim. The phrase “emerging artist” has a couple of meanings here: Perhaps it’s a brand new act — even though some or all of its members may be familiar to BCMFest — or someone who’s recently started performing, or is a newcomer to the Boston music scene.

The Emerging Artists roster will include vocalist/fiddler Maggie MacPhail, who many of you may know as a member of everyone’s favorite youth fiddle ensemble, Scottish Fish (yes, they’re performing at the festival, too); Sailbow, the duo of Berklee College of Music students Emilie Rose (fiddle) and Casey Murray (cello), who compose and arrange fiddle tunes with an unmistakable Celtic flavor; and Natasha Sheehy, an Irish native whose accordion playing has enlivened the area’s session scene since she moved here about a year-and-a-half ago.

We caught up with Natasha recently to talk with her about her music, and what she thinks of Boston so far.

Natasha Sheehy

Q: Talk a little about your musical upbringing: Did your family have roots in the Irish tradition? When did you take up the music yourself? What were some of the important experiences, and who were some of the major influences, in your development?

NATASHA: I️ grew up in Abbeyfeale, West Limerick. My family didn’t have any distinct links to Traditional music but it was a very natural part of life in Abbeyfeale. We learned traditional music in primary school from the age of seven and it was a big part of school life up until we went to university. My parents started to pay more attention to traditional music when they took me to fleadhanna [music competitions], festivals and concerts, and I️ have three younger siblings that play a lot now too. It’s turned into a very musical household over the years and there’s always someone playing in the background when I️ call home now.

I️ was lucky to be part of a huge thriving Comhaltas branch in Limerick in Templeglantine. Tadgh Mulcahy is director of the branch there. He worked tirelessly, and still does, to make sure the branch always had excellent teachers and that we had as many opportunities as possible to hear great music and showcase our own. 

In my teens I️ learned my accordion music from Willie Larkin and Danny O Mahony. Danny in particular helped to refine my style. One thing he told me is that a person’s music should reflect their personality. I’m not a loud person by nature and at the time I️ was going through a very showy, cheesy phase in my playing, so he knocked that out of me gently but firmly 

My playing continues to change, and in the last year in Boston I’ve been playing with a higher standard of musicians than ever before in the likes of Joey Abarta, Nathan Gourley, Sean Clohessy and many others, so technically I’ve had to pull up my socks. I️ hope it continues!

Q: Do you think regional styles of Irish music — Limerick, Clare, Donegal, Sligo, etc. — are as sharply defined and prominent as they were in past generations, or does it seem as if there’s a kind of “homogenization” taking place?

NATASHA: I️ think there still is a distinction but it’s definitely more nuanced and subtle than it would have been before the era of recorded music. I️ think I️ myself have a very distinctive West Limerick sound. I️ was very fortunate to be surrounded by so much music that I️ could learn through hearing local musicians rather than solely relying on recordings. I️ love to play slides and polkas, but I think regional style goes beyond the obvious repertoire markers and extends to things like tone, swing and how you interpret tunes. It’s almost like it gives you a default approach to a piece of music.

I️ have found it easy to get stuck in a rut because of this, though. I’ve really enjoyed playing music with people of varying styles of Irish and Scottish music since I️ got to Boston. I’ve been soaking in as much as I️ can and playing more music than I️ ever have.

Q: When did you come to Boston, and what brought you here?

NATASHA: I️ came to Boston in May of 2016. I️ met my wife Kiley in 2013 at University College Cork where she was doing a semester abroad. After a few years over and back we decided it was time to make up our minds and pick a country so. We’re enjoying more than we thought we would so we’re here for the time being .

Q: You’re part of the Boston Comhaltas School faculty — what other musical activities have you gotten involved in since you’ve been in Boston?

NATASHA: The musicians of Boston welcomed me with open arms and I️ haven’t been short of musical excursions. I️ play regularly in the Burren and the Druid with all the regulars and I’ve done a few projects with Joey Abarta, Nathan Gourley and Eamon Sefton, all of whom will be at BCMFest this year. In fact, I’ll be accompanied by Nathan on guitar — he’ll provide both emotional and musical support as this is my first solo set.

There’s no shortage of sessions and concerts in Boston. I️ think we’re dead lucky to be living in a city that can makes it possible to make a living as a traditional musician. That’s rare and wonderful.

Q: What do you think are the most distinctive characteristics of Boston’s Irish music scene?

NATASHA: The Boston scene took a while to navigate. It’s quite stratified and at first I️ didn’t really know where I️ belonged. Once I️ found my place, though, I️ found a really lovely close-knit community, and have had somewhere to go for 4th of July, Thanksgiving, etc., always surrounded by musicians and pie. 

Ticket information and other details about BCMFest are available here.

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