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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