BCMFest 2018: The Countdown Begins

Hi everyone-

Yeah, we’re closing in on a new year, so that means it’s time to start thinking about BCMFest, which will take place January 18-21 — about seven weeks from now, believe it or not.

You can get all kinds of festival information at the BCMFest website, of course, and make sure you check out our Facebook page and group , too. Meanwhile, this space will offer up additional tidbits about the festival — we’ll introduce you to some of the performers, tell you about some of the events that will be happening during the four days, and give you an update or two as and when necessary.

There is quite a bit going on with BCMFest 2018 — for starters, it will mark 15 years for the festival. That’s right, 15, One-Five, one decade plus half of another. And you’ll see some important changes in format and programming, too.

But let’s save that for another day. We just wanted to serve notice that The BCMFest Blog is up and running again, and hope you’ll keep an eye out for us in the weeks to come.

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BCMFest 2017 Preview: The Nightcap Concert — Q&A with Rachel Reeds and Shannon Heaton

Last in a series of semi-regular posts in the coming weeks to acquaint you with the people, events and happenings at BCMFest 2017 (January 13 and 14). For more information, and to purchase tickets, see the BCMFest website.

Well, when the previews are over, it must mean the actual thing is about to start. And so it is — this Friday, BCMFest 2017 will be off and running. But although the festival is almost ready to begin, let’s tell you a little about how it will end: with the BCMFest Nightcap concert on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in First Church, Cambridge.

The BCMFest Nightcap essentially pulls together the various threads of BCMFest, presenting a theme that’s animated all the events and activities of the weekend. This year, BCMFest celebrates the special, mutually nourishing relationship between Celtic music and its host community, and the BCMFest Nightcap co-producers Rachel Reeds and Shannon Heaton have come up with an imaginative, two-part exploration of this special bond.

First, Rachel and a cohort of friends that includes Katie McNally, Maggie MacPhail, Cliff McGann, Harvey Tolman, Gordon Aucoin, Jake Brillhart, Neil Pearlman and Roger Treat will throw a “house party”-style presentation of Cape Breton music and dance.  After the break, BCMFest co-founder Shannon will bring her “Irish Music Stories” podcast to the stage, with short pre-recorded clips from the podcast and a series of performances that include duets with her husband Matt, along with appearances by local artists George Keith, Laura Cortese, Susan Gedutis Lindsay, Maggie Holtzberg and Kieran Jordan.

Here are Rachel and Shannon to talk about what’s provided the inspiration for their respective portions of the BCMFest Nightcap:

Rachel Reeds

Rachel Reeds

Q: Rachel, you’re not a native Cape Bretoner — so how did you get so interested in this kind of music?

Rachel: I really lucked out in that my first fiddle teachers played a lot of Cape Breton tunes, so that got me started. Then Hanneke Cassel taught a class, through the Passim School of Music, that I took for several years and it was always the Cape Breton tunes that were my favorite. Emerald Rae hosted a session for a while and she knows so many Cape Breton tunes that I always had someone to play them with, which was really encouraging for learning tunes.  And then there’s this great community at the Canadian American Club in Watertown where they host dances and gatherings — at some point, Gordon Aucoin asked if I would join him to play for a square dance here or there and really helped me learn how to do that.

Having had all this great support over the years, last year I decided to make an album of Cape Breton music. I recorded it last November — Hanneke was the producer, and I had contributions from friends like Andrea Beaton, Katie McNally, Yann Falquet and Natalie Haas.

Q: As you’ve learned about the music, have you also had a chance to get some impression of Cape Breton itself — the land, the people, the history? What are the things that stand out to you?

Rachel: I’ve been able to make several trips to Cape Breton, especially recently, and it’s a wonderful place. All the musicians I’ve met there are so willing to share the music. I was astonished by how prevalent the music tradition is, how much it remains tied to the dance, and how much of an appreciation there is for the culture and history.

Q: Like other kinds of Celtic music, Cape Breton has hit the “world stage,” with performers like Natalie MacMaster doing concerts around the globe, and the Celtic Colours festival having a huge following. But the music still has a close-knit, social dynamic, doesn’t it?

Rachel: It absolutely does. Many world-class musicians, when not touring, will still play dances at home, spend an evening playing at the Red Shoe Pub or The Normaway Inn, teach at the Gaelic College or the Buddy MacMaster Fiddle Camp, etc. So when I’ve gone to Cape Breton, I’ve had the chance to hear great fiddlers and pianists in all these informal places. And so much music happens at house parties too! I’ve played so many tunes with like-minded friends around Boston and New England,  just sharing tunes and stories in kitchens and living rooms — even barns — whenever there’s an opportunity.

Q: So give us an idea as to what we’ll see and hear at the Nightcap concert?

Rachel: Well, we’re going to throw a little house party of our own! I’ve asked some great musicians that I know through the Canadian American Club to join me and share a few tunes. We’ll “pass the fiddle” to showcase each player’s individual style and then, like any party, we’ll see what happens! We may be inspired to share a song or story or two, start up a square set, show off some step-dancing, or just play tunes until the wee hours.

Shannon Heaton

Shannon Heaton

Q: Shannon, how does this year’s BCMFest theme resound with you?

Shannon: So this year it’s about tradition and renewal — about looking back and moving forward. As I interview musicians and dancers around the country and Ireland, I hear all sorts of ideas on why Irish music is meaningful to people personally, and in the wider collective sense. And we talk about where Irish music and dance have been — and where it all might be going in the highly connected 21st century. Through live performance and short pre-recorded clips from the “Irish Music Stories” podcast, I’ll invite audience members to see and hear a few different angles on the tradition.

Q: Talk about the format for the “Irish Music Stories” portion of the concert — how do you connect it to the “community” theme?

Shannon: Tradition is something that is passed on, that is shared, that is bigger and older than any one player. The “trad” community grows and expands every time we sing, dance and play together, and we aim to show that with this concert. Of course, we’ll perform music and dance. And we’ll also read about the history of Irish music in America. We’ll do a 1950’s “dance hall” number, with music from the period. We’ll play a pre-recorded piece from the podcast on innovation and tradition.

Q: What’s it been like working on “Irish Music Stories”? Do you feel it’s helped to enrich your sense of, and approach to, music?

Shannon: “Irish Music Stories,” like Irish music itself, has proved to be a rabbit hole. There are so many routes to consider. There are so many stories to incorporate, interpret, share. It’s enriching for me to listen more. It’s fun to hear more about the background and the viewpoints of peers and mentors whom I’ve known for years, but never thought to ask more. I’m so lucky to do this. There’s so much work left to do!

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BCMFest 2017 Preview: Sweet Sounds in the Sanctuary — Q&A with Laura Cortese

Part of a series of semi-regular posts in the coming weeks to acquaint you with the people, events and happenings at BCMFest 2017 (January 13 and 14). For more information, and to purchase tickets, see the BCMFest website.

The Sanctuary Stage — located in First Church, Cambridge — is BCMFest’s Big Room. For one thing, well, it’s big. And that makes the Sanctuary an ideal setting for the BCMFest Nightcap concert, which closes out the festival on Saturday night (more about that to come). But the Sanctuary also is a venue during DayFest on Saturday, a spacious place that often showcases big ideas, music-wise: For instance, check out this performance at last year’s festival by the Bywater Band, joined by Highland Dance Boston.

This year, the Sanctuary Stage’s DayFest schedule features Alex Cumming, a fine accordionist and singer who came to Boston from the UK a couple of years ago (for which we’re all very glad), joined by Dan Foster and Eric McDonald; fiddler Galen Fraser, who’s played with perennial crowd-pleaser Soulsha and recently released the album “Mischief Managed,” featuring his distinctively original tunes and songs; and “All in Always,” a special performance by Laura Cortese and friends.

Laura Cortese.

Laura Cortese.

Laura, as many know, co-founded BCMFest and continues to be one of its strongest guiding spirits. She’s what might be described as relentlessly creative — always looking for ways to stretch her skills and interests as a fiddler, vocalist and songwriter. At Friday night’s Boston Urban Ceilidh, for example, Laura and her BUC band will be supplying music for the Scottish ceilidh portion of the evening. “All in Always,” however, will present a different aspect of Laura’s music. Here’s what she had to say about it:

Q: Give us an idea of what your set at BCMFest will be like.

Laura: This will be the CD release and first-ever live performance of my new instrumental album “All in Always,” which I recorded in Spain, Sweden and Quebec with traditional musicians from those countries. These are some of the players who make me want to play tunes all night. The compositions on the album were inspired by tunes from their traditions, and the desire to play another and another until the sun comes up.

Q: Is there any significance to the phrase “All In Always”?

Laura: “Just Do It” — it’s the Nike “Swoosh” of trad music. It’s intended as a bit of a challenge to myself and my peers to create more, be less precious, to write more tunes and share them as they are. My favorite musical moments are rough around the edges but infused with a vibrancy that makes you lean in. It is hard to capture that in the studio. We start to listen back and judge ourselves and our performances, trying take after take until what is left is correct, safe and a bit lifeless. For this album we recorded all together, live in the same room and didn’t edit the full takes.

Q: You have ranged far and wide in your musical projects, including pop/rock-type songwriting, doing covers of hit songs (“Just Like Heaven”), playing in the band of Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, and so on. But you have such a strong Celtic background — so how do you keep the connection?

Laura: Playing the fiddle is about connecting with others. If I’m in a room full of Scottish players I want to be able to sit next to them and rally around common tunes and a common groove. The same is true of my relationship to songs and other traditional styles. So whether I’m at Scottish fiddle camp or in Edinburgh for a concert with my band, I’ll find myself in a session playing the old favorites and picking up a few new ones.

Q: You have a very special perspective on BCMFest, as one of its co-founders. Almost 15 years later, what are the things that impress you the most about the festival and how it’s developed?

Laura: The sheer volume of new music that is created every year. No two festival lineups has been the same. There are always new collaborations and new performers coming out of the woodwork. Sometimes I think we must know everyone playing this music by now — and then there will be three inspiring new acts that we didn’t know before.

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BCMFest 2017 Preview: We Can Workshop It Out

Part of a series of semi-regular posts in the coming weeks to acquaint you with the people, events and happenings at BCMFest 2017 (January 13 and 14). For more information, and to purchase tickets, see the BCMFest website.

Over the years, BCMFest has sought to provide opportunities to learn a little something from festival performers about the music traditions from Ireland, Scotland, Cape Breton and other Celtic-related traditions. Accordingly (accordioningly? Sorry…) BCMFest 2017 will hold two workshops on the morning of DayFest — Saturday, January 14 — at the Passim School of Music:

•At 10 a.m. is “Visiting Our Celtic Neighbors: A Scandinavian Tune Workshop” with Mariel Vandersteel. Mariel plays fiddle in a range of styles, but one of her most foundational experiences was studying the hardingfele (hardanger fiddle) in Norway, which opened up for her a whole new universe of musical possibilities — which she’s explored playing with, among others, Blue Moose and the Unbuttoned Zippers, Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards, Annalivia, as well as on her own (you should check out her solo album “Hickory” sometime). And Mariel will be delighted to share some of her Norwegian and Swedish repertoire with you. Tunes will be taught by ear. Please bring along a recording device to record the tunes. Click here to register.

Mariel Vandersteel.

Mariel Vandersteel.

Here’s a clip of Mariel in action.

•At 11 a.m., Maine-based fiddler Gus La Casse will teach tunes from the hard-driving Acadian tradition found in the Canadian Maritimes (Nova Scotia, Brunswick, Prince Edward Island). Gus is a classically trained and inspired violinist, but has developed a real passion for traditional music; he cites influences that span Acadian fiddler Pascal Miousse; classical violinists Niccolò Paganini, Jascha Heifetz and Maxim Vengerov; and legendary jazz manouche violinist Stephane Grappelli. Register here.

Gus La Casse

Gus La Casse

Here’s Gus (when he was a little younger) in concert.

 

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BCMFest 2017 Preview: The Younger Crowd — Q&A with the Rockport Celtic Duo

Part of a series of semi-regular posts in the coming weeks to acquaint you with the people, events and happenings at BCMFest 2017 (January 13 and 14). For more information, and to purchase tickets, see the BCMFest website.

BCMFest is an all-ages affair — up on stage as well as in the audience. The festival has always held a place on its schedule, and in its heart, for performers who are under the voting age. And over the years, BCMFest has been happy to see many of these young musicians, dancers and singers, as they pass into adulthood, continue to uphold the traditions on which the festival is built; in fact, some have become teachers and mentors in their own right.

Among the 2017 performers will be Scottish Fish, who are practically grizzled vets by now (here’s a Q&A we did with them a couple of years ago); the Keltic Kids, part of the extensive Greater Boston Irish music community and a fine testimonial for the Comhaltas Ceoltóiri Éireann Music School; and the Rockport Celtic Duo, which is sisters Elizabeth and Mary Kozachek, who seem to have done a little of everything.

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The Rockport Celtic Duo: Mary and Elizabeth Kozachek

Here are a few thoughts from Elizabeth and Mary:

Q: You’ve both been involved in not only traditional music but also dance — which of these interests came first, and how? And how did one lead to the other?

Elizabeth: We starting dance first — with Emerald Rae then Jackie O’Riley, about eight years ago. Fiddle came next. I started learning from my mother. When I was nine I started lessons with George Keith. After three years of fiddling, I added concertina lessons with Florence Fahy. All the while, I continued dancing with my sister. I don’t think of music and dance as entirely separate activities.

Q: You two also had some memorable experiences through the CCE School, what with qualifying for the All-Ireland Fleadh, and being involved in the Trad Youth Exchange. Looking back, what did these kinds of experiences do for you, personally as well as musically?

Elizabeth: We’ve had a chance to perform and travel, and we’ve made good friends through music.

Q: As much as you’ve been active in the Irish music scene, you’re also going great guns with Cape Breton and Scottish music. What are the things about these individual traditions you like most?

Elizabeth: Having traveled to Cape Breton several times, I’ve really fallen in love with the culture. The music is exciting — there is so much power and expression in everything — the bowing, ornamentation, phrasing.I enjoy how much the music is connected with the dance. That is something all these traditions share. I’m trying to become fluent in several styles, and it is a fun challenge to work on Scottish and Irish fiddle at the same time. George hears Cape Breton in my Irish fiddling; Emerald hears Irish in my Scottish fiddling. Of the Irish traditions, I particularly like playing the Clare and Donegal tunes — very different, of course. I like to experiment with ornamentation and find ways to be creative. I’m happy to be helping to keep these traditions going, and someday I’d like pass on the things I’m learning now.

In addition to playing traditional tunes, I like playing the tunes that Mary composes — she is a prolific tune writer.

Q: We hear how important it is to pass traditional music/dance from one generation to another. From your experiences, what things need to happen to get young people interested in trying to play music or learn dancing — and stay with it? 

Mary: My own feeling on getting kids interested in trad music/dance is that you simply need to expose them to it and not pressure them at all. Forcing things on them will do nothing but make them lose interest. I would say taking them to see inspirational trad performers is a good way to expose them. Motivation is something that they have to find on their own. As for keeping them interested, encouragement is always a good tool, as long as you don’t annoy them. Fresh inspiration once in a while is great.

You can catch the Rockport Celtic Duo, along with Scottish Fish and the Keltic Kids, at BCMFest during DayFest — they’ll each play a set in the morning, and then share a slot at 3:30 p.m. in The Parlor. Check the BCMFest website for further details.

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BCMFest 2017 Preview: Boston Urban Ceilidh Goes Breton

Part of a series of semi-regular posts in the coming weeks to acquaint you with the people, events and happenings at BCMFest 2017 (January 13 and 14). For more information, and to purchase tickets, see the BCMFest website.

The Boston Urban Ceilidh actually pre-dates BCMFest, and at times has been a free-standing event. But it’s almost impossible to imagine BCMFest without the Boston Urban Ceilidh, which always take place on opening night of the festival. If you’ve never experienced the “BUC” before, well, picture a room full of people taking part in various kinds of traditional social dances: an Irish set dance like “Siege of Ennis,” a Cape Breton set, or a classic Scottish ceilidh dance such as “Strip the Willow” — all done to live music. And if you don’t know any of those dances, no problem — they’re all taught beforehand, and there are plenty of veteran dancers around to help you through the rough spots.

This year’s BUC will feature dances from Cape Breton and Scotland, as well as the Breton tradition from France, with music for the latter portion provided by Bagad New York. A  “bagad” is an orchestra consisting principally of three instruments: the Scottish bagpipe, the Breton bombarde, and percussion.  This type of ensemble, which started developing in Brittany just after World War II, plays traditional music from Brittany, but draws on many influences — from other Celtic nations’ music, to rock, jazz, and other ethnic traditions.

Bagad NY

Bagad NY

[Here’s a little YouTube introduction to Bagad NY, filmed at NEFFA here in Massachusetts.]

We asked Bagad NY members to talk a little about Breton music and dance:

Q: When most people hear the word “Celtic,” they’re likely to think of Irish, Scottish, Cape Breton. How does Breton music fit in under the Celtic umbrella? How is it similar to/different from the other Celtic music forms?

Bagad NY: Well, Bretons are a Celtic people who emigrated from southwestern Great Britain and Cornwall to the peninsula of Armorica in current-day France between the third and ninth centuries. Though Breton music isn’t — for the most part — from the same canon as more predominant Celtic nations (jigs, reels, airs, strathspeys, etc.), it is still Celtic through its progeny. The ways Breton music is similar to other Celtic traditions are mostly the instrumentation (bagpipes, fiddle, harp, accordions), and that Breton music, like other Celtic traditions, is played often for group dancing. The music is largely call and response, and listeners familiar with the waulking songs of the Hebrides are bound to hear similarities.

Q: Irish, Scottish and Cape Breton music all have become quite popular in recent decades. How about Breton music? Who are some of its key figures? 

Bagad NY: Breton music has certainly seen its periods of decline and rebirth; Throughout its history, Breton music has always been looked down upon by the majority of French society as being of the peasantry — and further, the “music of the devil.”  Generally, this dynamic, among other factors, has made it difficult for Breton music to catch on outside Brittany’s borders. However, Breton music has experienced a steady rise in popularity over roughly the past five decades, anchored initially by its association with the greater folk music trend. Musicians such as Glenmor brought Breton music into the public eye (ear?) by singing about, and sympathizing with, the Breton secessionist sentiment. Later, musicians like Dan Ar Braz and Alan Stivell continued this momentum. Instrumentally, there were great strides in this time, too, modernizing Breton ensembles to make them more approachable.
Q: Although you have “New York” in your name, we understand that Bagad NY apparently has some significant connections with the Boston area? 

Bagad NY: It’s important to note that prior to Bagad New York’s founding in 2009, one of our charter members, Mike MacNintch, had been playing Breton music around the Eastern US and New England for almost 30 years. He’s played in many Breton dancing events in the Boston area with the likes of Tom Pixton, Brian McCandless, and Susie Petrov. Bagad New York has been lucky to have been supported by many individuals, organizations, and events in the greater Boston area including Tom, Brian and Susie, the Folk Arts Center of New England, and NEFFA. Some of us even currently live in the Boston area.
Q: Give us a sense as to what people can expect during your segment of the Boston Urban Ceilidh: What is Breton social dance like? What do people seem to enjoy the most about it?

Bagad NY: First and foremost, we are a big, loud, acoustic band, with bagpipes, bombardes and drums!  We’ll guide you through the several dances we’ll play — they’re all very accessible — and let you all take them to the floor.  People love the rhythmic dance steps which mesh with our big sound, as well as the maze that you all will find yourselves in at the end of a set.  We’re all immensely looking forward to it!

The Boston Urban Ceilidh will take place on Friday, January 13, at 8 p.m. in The Atrium, 50 Church Street in Harvard Square. This event often sells out — consider getting your tickets ahead of time. 

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BCMFest 2017: Roots & Branches Concert – Q&A with Jordan Tirrell-Wysocki

Part of a series of semi-regular posts in the coming weeks to acquaint you with the people, events and happenings at BCMFest 2017 (January 13 and 14). For more information, and to purchase tickets, see the BCMFest website.

Contra dancing has been a New England tradition for generations, and is as popular ever nowadays, as those who venture out to the Concord Scout House or attend the regular Boston Intergenerational Dance Advocates gatherings can testify. In the past couple of decades, contra dance music — which draws on Irish, Scottish, Canadian and American sources — has undergone a transformation, with fresh, innovative styles and approaches via bands such as Nightingale and Wild Asparagus, among others. This trend has brought contra dance music an audience that is as inclined to listen (perhaps more so) as it is to dance.

Contra dance was a big influence on New Hampshire native Jordan Tirrell-Wysocki, who will bring his trio to the stage at BCMFest’s opening-night Roots & Branches Concert (the event also features Heather Cole-Mullen and Yann Falquet). Jordan began playing fiddle for dances at a very early age, then began to take a particular interest in Celtic music, as well as rock and contemporary music. And even though he performs in a variety of musical formats and settings, you can still find him at the dance hall every now and then, laying down a contra dance groove.

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Jordan Tirell-Wysocki

Here are some thoughts from Jordan about the contra-Celtic connection, and other matters.

Q: We all know there are many ways to experience Celtic music, depending on which type you play. But it seems like “New England” could also be a subset of Celtic, combining the different offshoots, especially through contra dance music. Is that how you see/hear it?

Jordan: Interesting thought, and to a certain extent I think you’re right. I don’t think the New England purists would consider themselves to be a subset of Celtic, but I think you’re right about many of the “Celtic” fiddlers here. I wouldn’t presume to speak for all of them, of course. But for my part, coming from the contra dance world which draws from lots of traditions including the Celtic ones, my move toward Celtic music was simply a matter of choosing the tunes that most appealed to me. These happened to be primarily Irish, Scottish and Cape Breton. I didn’t decide to dive wholly into one tradition but instead built my repertoire around what I most enjoyed playing, which was a combination of traditions. My CD collection included The Battlefield Band (from the John McCusker era), Martin Hayes, Matt Cranitch, Natalie MacMaster, Alasdair Fraser, music from all over the Celtic map. I tried to take what I liked most about each of these great fiddlers and use it to improve upon my New England roots, so I suppose you could accurately describe what I do as “New England Celtic.”

[Here’s a video of the Jordan Tirrell-Wysocki Trio in concert.]

Q: You started playing music at a pretty young age — why traditional music, and why fiddle?

Jordan: When I was 7, legendary dance callers Dudley and Jacqueline Laufman came to my school and called a contra dance, and something about the spirit of the fiddle music caught hold of me and didn’t let go. I started lessons with Jacqueline soon after. I was (and still am) a bit of a history nerd, so I particularly enjoyed the fact that the traditions were so old that George Washington had danced some of the same dances to some of the same tunes. I played for dances for several years, all the while finding myself drawn more and more toward the Celtic side of the repertoire. Eventually I found that I was doing more Celtic concerts than contra dances, but over 20 years later as a full-time musician I still try to keep both on my schedule.

Q: What have been some of your most important formative experiences as a musician?

Jordan: Playing for dances as a kid was huge. Everyone was so welcoming and encouraging, giving positive feedback long before I deserved it! Getting to actually participate in a tradition like contra dancing so soon after picking up the instrument made a big difference in my motivation. I wasn’t practicing just for the sake of it, I was learning tunes to perform with my mentors at next week’s dance.

The months I spent wandering and fiddling in Ireland also had a huge impact on my approach to music. I was blown away by the welcome I received at sessions and gigs across the country. I learned some great tunes and specific trad techniques, but more importantly I saw how open-minded the Irish people are to variations and new approaches to their music. The folks I played with were proud of their tradition and happy to share it, but they were also excited to play around with it a little bit. The idea that the tunes have to be played exactly the same way all the time seems far more prevalent among Americans playing Irish music than among the Irish themselves. The tradition is alive, breathing and evolving, not stuck or locked to what it was at some point in the past.

Seeing this, I felt somewhat vindicated in my belief that there is room for reinterpretation and creativity even in ancient music, as long as it is done with the utmost respect and love for the tradition itself.

Q: Talk about your bandmates and what they contribute to the JTW Band sound.

Jordan: I am very lucky to have two such talented and guys to make music with: Matthew Jensen on guitar and Chris Noyes on bass. They’ve been playing together since high school and both went to school for music, so their understanding of theory far exceeds my own. This manifests itself in fun and interesting ways as we develop arrangements, particularly when it comes to working out vocal harmonies, or finding that elusive chord to really bring out some new subtleties in a melody. Neither of them had played much trad music before I got my hands on them and turned them to the dark side about five years ago, but they dove in head first and have worked hard to master the concept of trad accompaniment while bringing their own creativity and musical backgrounds into the mix. This is a big part of what makes our sound unique.

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