23 January 2018

A work in progress

The Bluegrass Ireland Blog (BIB) keeps its calendar updated, publishes news received, and adds new features whenever they come to mind. Send in news or queries by e-mail, please; we can't send a direct reply to a comment on a post. The BIB does not do reviews.

Thinking of touring in Ireland? Look at the BIB's THINKING OF TOURING IN IRELAND? page. Click on the 'Welcome' label below for more about the BIB's background, purpose, and uses.

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19th Shannonside Winter Music Festival report

L-r: Blaine Sprouse, John Reischman, Mark Schatz, Greg Blake, Keith Reed, Sally Van Meter

Thanks to Des Butler for this report and photos on the last weekend's 19th Shannonside Winter Music Festival:

Well, what a musical extravaganza the 2018 Shannonside Winter Music Fest turned out to be. It must be said that in my opinion there were no mediocre or 'OK' bands playing here. The bands that I went to see and hear were all very good to excellent. My focus was on the bluegrass, country, Cajun, and blues genre bands playing at the festival. There were six other musical genres to be experienced at the festival, but it would be impossible to see them all with so much music going on all day every day and well into the small hours of the morning.

Topping the bill in the bluegrass sphere was the Greg Blake Band from the US. The musical pedigree of this band as with their playing is phenomenal.The band members here are some of the most highly regarded bluegrass musicians in the US today. With John Reischman on mandolin and Blaine Sprouse on fiddle combined with the great voice and playing of Greg Blake himself ensured the audience eighty minutes of sheer bluegrass musical enjoyment with tight harmonies and some great solo playing from all the band members. I just wanted their concert to not end and for the music to continue ad infinitum.

Our own Woodbine, always enjoyable to hear, kept the homefront bluegrass flag flying giving two performances at two venues on Sunday. Woodbine, always a treat to listen to perform, gave us some of the best of traditional and contemporary Bluegrass.

Jimmy Bozeman and the Lazy Pigs

The country music slot was amply filled by Jimmy Bozeman and the Lazy Pigs (US/CZ) with their interpretation of some country classics mixed in with some excellent honky-tonk, Americana, and country blues.

Sarah Savoy and the Francadians

For Cajun fans we had excellent performances from Sarah Savoy and her band who hail from down in the Bayou Country of Louisiana, US, and also from our very own Two Time Polka from Cork, viva Musique Acadienne.

DD and the Delta Boys

Blues fans were not disappointed with an excellent performance from DD & the Delta Boys from Donegal with their interpretation of some Chicago and Delta blues classics. This band exudes energy and I for one would love to see more of them; hopefully the will be engaged for the next Winter Fest.

I am afraid I cannot comment on a lot of the other bands' performances, as it would be impossible to see them all over three days.

Pat Kelleher and John Nyhan (centre foreground)

My enjoyment of the festival was complete with the bluegrass jam sessions that went on way into the early hours every night. These sessions were ably led by the great talents of John Nyhan, Pat Kelleher, and Bill Forster, to name but a few, with Greg Blake joining in on the Sunday jam finale (see attached photos).

Greg Blake and Bill Forster (second and third from left)

All kudos and thanks for the organisation of this great festival go to Brendan Walsh and his team, and the Sixmilebridge Folk Club, also the inexhaustible John Nyhan who works tirelessly organising the bands and providing first-class sound at many of the performances.

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JigJam spread the Tullamore spirit

No doubt about it: Bluegrass Today is the place to get up-to-the-minute news of exciting developments by Irish bluegrass bands. Yesterday BT posted news of JigJam from Tullamore, Co. Offaly. JigJam (Jamie McKeogh, guitar; Daithí Melia, banjo; Cathal Guinan, fiddle; Gavin Strappe, mandolin) tour a lot in the USA and have now released a new video celebrating another widely travelled product of their home town - Tullamore Dew whiskey.

You can see the video on Bluegrass Today and also on their Facebook. We may yet hear US artists trying their best to sing bluegrass in Offaly accents.

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22 January 2018

Getting together - the old-time way

Bluegrass Today announced on Friday that the first Floyd County Old Time Music Get-Together will be held on 15-18 March in the small town of Floyd, VA.

As it happens, this will be exactly a month after the First Annual Irish Old Time Appalachian Music Gathering is held (16-18 February) in the Roadside Tavern, Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare. Floyd, VA, is a town with a long association with traditional American music. The BIB hopes Lisdoonvarna will come to have just as strong an association. If you haven't done so already, register now, book accommodation, and keep up with the latest developments of the Gathering on its Facebook page.

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21 January 2018

The Cabin Session, Dundrum, 25 Jan. 2018

Gerry Fitzpatrick, organiser of the Cabin Sessions series, 'Acoustic Music at its Finest', announces the first Session this year:

Hey Y'all,

Hope you all survived the holiday season and are ready for 2018!

We're back on Thursday 25th with special guests Aine Holland and also Aine Furey performing with the great NC Lawlor. Of course we will have the Cabin Crew as usual. Look forward to seeing you all in 2018.

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The Sessions are held on the last Thursday of every month at Uncle Tom's Cabin in Dundrum, south Dublin (not far from Dundrum Luas station, in the city direction). Shows run from 9.30 to 11.30 p.m. and admission is FREE. If you or someone you know would like to perform at the Cabin Sessions, let Gerry know by e-mail. The Sessions are particularly interested in featuring local musicians and singers.

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20 January 2018

The Handsome Ladies

Thanks to Kelly Kessler and the IBMA's new monthly e-newsletter service for the news that a new body, The Handsome Ladies, has been set up to promote and support women in bluegrass at all levels. Originating in San Francisco, it has so far spread up the west coast of the USA to Seattle and Portland, and across the continent to Nashville, with programmes of activity in each of the chapter cities. Membership is free.

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19 January 2018

Chris Jones & the Night Drivers (USA) at the Pavilion, Dun Laoghaire, 8 Mar. 2018

Thanks to Nigel Martyn and his Old Flattop agency in Belfast for organising the forthcoming tour in this island by Chris Jones & the Night Drivers (USA) - and for this poster image for the band's appearance at the Pavilion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin. This show starts at 8.00 p.m. on Thursday 8 March. Tickets (€20/18) can be booked by 'phone (01-231-2929) or online at no extra charge.

The Pavilion was the scene of a triumphant show by the Special Consensus a year ago; as it happens, Chris Jones was guitarist/singer for the Special C. for a spell before becoming leader of his own band. More about the band appeared on the BIB on 3 Nov. 2017, 14 Dec. 2017, and 2 Jan. 2018. The complete tour, as shown on the band's online tour schedule, reads as follows:

Wed. 28th Feb.: Red Room, Cookstown, Co. Tyrone
Thurs. 1st Mar.: Matt Molloy's, Westport, Co. Mayo
Fri. 2nd: Market Place Theatre, Armagh city
Sat. 3rd: Seamus Ennis Arts Centre, Naul, Co. Dublin
Sun. 4th: Glen Theatre, Banteer, Co. Cork
Mon. 5th: Village Arts Centre, Kilworth, Co. Cork
Tues. 6th: Sixmilebridge Folk Club, Sixmilebridge, Co. Clare
Wed. 7th: Clayton Hotel, Belfast (part of Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival)
Thurs. 8th: Pavilion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin
Fri. 9th: Colfer's, Carrig-on-Bannow, Co. Wexford
Sat. 10th: Leap Castle, Co. Offaly (near Roscrea, Co. Tipperary)

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Brookfield Knights artists touring in 2018

Many past tours of Ireland have been made by artists on the roster of the UK agency Brookfield Knights. In their latest e-newsletter, the agency lists those who will be touring these islands in June-August 2018 and for whom some dates are still open in their schedules. The list includes TAARKA, Markus K, Hillfolk Noir, the Hot Seats, Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters (already booked as headliners of this year's Dunmore East festival), and 3Hattrio.

Also touring later in the year (from late September to the beginning of December) are Alice Bowe, Connla, Nathan Bell, the Way Down Wanderers, and Cam Penner & Jon Wood. Some of these are of more direct interest to the bluegrass or old-time fan than others might be. More details are on the e-newsletter, where links lead to the artists' websites and to video and audio examples of their work. Contact Brookfield Knights by e-mail if you are interested in booking them.

17 January 2018

News from the Mother Country (updates)

The Japanese band Bluegrass 45 was formed in 1967, toured the USA in 1971-2 (making a great impact at festivals), and celebrated fifty years' existence last autumn with their latest tour of the USA, still with all the original members. A comprehensive and detailed account of their career by Richard Thompson, with contributions by band members, appears on Bluegrass Today.

Their mandolinist Akira Otsuka moved to the USA in 1973, so since then the band has played in Japan only on his occasional visits. 'The total number of gigs we played in fifty years', he says, 'can be less than a professional bluegrass band plays in one year.' It would be interesting to compare their record with that of Cork's Lee Valley String Band (shown above in a recent configuration), who first formed at almost the same time as Bluegrass 45 and are still around, though regrettably not with the original lineup.
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Bluegrass Today and the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, in Bristol, VA/TN, report that a rare recording of the Stanley Brothers on a radio show has been listed by the Virginia Association of Museums among their Top Ten Endangered Artifacts. The original disc is literally coming apart and cannot be made playable, but modern technology allows the music on it to be rescued. The ten artifacts on the list are shown here, and the good news is that, at present, the Stanley Brothers disc is leading the field in votes received.

Update 18 Jan.: Our good friend Rienk Janssen, of Strictly Country in the Netherlands, also forwards this news, with the important addition: 'Voting opened today, January 15, and will remain open until January 24 at midnight. Anyone can vote once a day by visiting VAM online, selecting the artifact they want to vote for, and entering their email address. The top two artifacts will be announced on February 6, and all honorees will be recognized at the Virginia Museums Advocacy Day on February 21.'
Update 19 Jan.: The Stanley Brothers disc has been overtaken and is now in second place. Vote!
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The IBMA announces that bands wishing to take part in the official showcase programme at this year's World of Bluegrass should apply before 28 Feb. 2018. More details of the application process, and a link to making an application, can be found here; the band shown in the photo on that web page are the Railsplitters, who have already played in Ireland.

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16 January 2018

A video taste of Greg Blake

A highlight for BIB readers at the 19th Shannonside Winter Music Festival this weekend in Bunratty and Sixmilebridge, Co. Clare, will be the performances by the Greg Blake Bluegrass Band (see the programme schedule for details). Many will remember the dynamic shows by Jeff Scroggins & Colorado (USA), with Blake as lead singer and guitarist, in their tour two years ago, including the 17th Shannonside festival.

Thanks to award-winning US fiddler and music educator Annie Savage and her Savage Hearts band for a video that serves both as a reminder of the Scroggins/Colorado tour and an indication of the kind of power we can expect from the coming Greg Blake Band tour. The Savage Hearts' latest e-newsletter includes the video, showing a Colorado performance with Annie Savage playing fiddle and Greg Blake singing lead and playing ferocious guitar breaks on the classic 'Free born man'. Watch it on YouTube.

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15 January 2018

Bluegrass news from Europe in a new format

Supporting European Bluegrass and Bluegrass in Europe

As a result of feedback received from readers, the European Bluegrass Music Association (EBMA) has issued the first of its monthly e-newsletters for 2018 in a new format. From now on, the e-newsletter will contain article headlines, with links to the full articles (reviews, etc.) which are on the EBMA website. This reduces the amount readers have to plough through in the mail, allowing them to focus on items of prime interest.

This month's items include EBMA scholarships (BIB readers may remember that two years ago the first of these scholarships went to Evan Lyons from Co. Tipperary and Tabitha Agnew from Co. Armagh); an interview by Richard Thompson of US scholar and picker Lee Bidgood, whose book Czech bluegrass: notes from the heart of Europe was recently published by the University of Illinois Press; an appreciation by Tom Klingl of the dobros, resonator guitars, and other instruments made by Markus Koch in Germany; and an important article 'Do you play? So listen' by the Czech musician Ondra Kozák, which includes a list of recommended bluegrass recordings.

You can arrange to receive the newsletter by contacting the EBMA board, without having to be an EBMA member.

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14 January 2018

Bill Whelan on video

Bill Whelan (left), doyen of clawhammer banjo in this island, has his own YouTube channel. So far, it's modestly limited to five items, four of which Bill uploaded seven years ago. Even so, these include two fine videos of 1995 TV performances (RTE and UTV) by the Slightly Bewildered String Band (Bill, Sandi Miller, Mick Kinsella, Damian Gallagher); one of the Rough Deal String Band (Bill, Ben Keogh, Tim Rogers) at the 2003 Omagh festival; one filmed for TG4 at the Cobblestone in Dublin with Bill, Ben, Liam Kennedy, and Dermy Diamond; and one with Bill's exemplary solo playing on 'Pretty Polly'.

By the magic of algorithms, any of these videos will link to others of Bill and the varied ensembles in which he has played - not as much as there should be on video of Bill's playing, but enough to be grateful for.

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13 January 2018

'Heart & Home: a celebration of Old Times, Good Times & Bluegrass', Ballydehob, Co. Cork, 26-28 Jan.

Thanks to John Nyhan, who as promised in an earlier BIB post now sends details of the special event at Ballydehob, Co. Cork, 'Heart & Home: a celebration of Old Times, Good Times, & Bluegrass', taking place over the weekend 26-28 Jan., headlined by the Greg Blake Band (USA) with its astounding lineup, and also featuring two bands from the current crop of outstanding young pickers in these islands.

John says (and the BIB wholeheartedly agrees) 'With such a stellar lineup every bluegrass, old-time, country, and Americana fan should see the Greg Blake Bluegrass Band.' Its members have already individually made bluegrass history in their own right.

'Heart & Home: a celebration of Old Times, Good Times, & Bluegrass'
Ballydehob, Co. Cork
Friday 26th-Sunday 28th January 2018

Featuring
HEADLINE CONCERT
With
GREG BLAKE BLUEGRASS BAND (USA)
COMMUNITY HALL BALLYDEHOB
SATURDAY 27th JANUARY Doors 7.00 p.m.

Tickets / booking: tel.  086 837 0518 or 087 792 1771

Also appearing

PROPANE BROTHERS (UK)
HUBERT MURRAY BLUEGRASS BAND (IRL)

The Greg Blake Bluegrass Band consists of Greg Blake (lead vocals, guitar), John Reischman (mandolin), Mark Schatz (bass), Blaine Sprouse (fiddle), Sally Van Meter (dobro), and Keith Reed (banjo).
The Propane Brothers consist of Reuben Agnew (guitar, vocals), Benjamin Agnew (bass, vocals), Kieran Towers (fiddle), Joe Tozer (mandolin), and John Breese (banjo). 
The Hubert Murray Bluegrass Band features Hubert Murray (guitar, vocals), Paddy Kiernan (banjo, vocals), Richie Foley (mandolin), and Niall Hughes (bass, vocals).

Full schedule of shows

Fri. 26th: Levis's Corner House Bar: Propane Brothers 10.00 p.m.
Rosies Bar: Hubert Murray Bluegrass Band, 10.00 p.m.
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Sat. 27th: Levis's Corner House Bar: Hubert Murray Bluegrass Band, 10.00 p.m.
Rosie's Bar: Propane Brothers, 10.00 p.m.
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Community Hall: Headline concert with the Greg Blake Bluegrass Band (see above for details)
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Sun. 28th: Levis's Corner House Bar: Jam session (lunchtime)
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Please note that the Saturday night concert will be in the Community Hall at Ballydehob (not in the church, as previously announced). For further enquiries, tel. 086 837 0518 or e-mail.

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11 January 2018

Ferguson and Henry tour, July 2018 - more dates

Colin (left) and Gary on an earlier tour

Thanks to singer/songwriter Gary Ferguson (USA) for an update on his tour in Ireland this coming July with Belfast dobro maestro Colin Henry. This will be Gary's twelfth tour of Ireland, and Colin has been his musical partner on five previous tours. They will also have Colin's son James on 5-string banjo. More information, including photos and ample bio details, are here. Dates confirmed for the forthcoming tour are:

Thurs. 5th July: Sunflower Folk Club, Belfast
Fri. 6th: Moy River B&B house concert, Cloonacool, Co. Sligo
Sat. 7th: TBD
Sun. 8th: Tech Amergin Arts Centre, Waterville, Co. Kerry
Mon. 9th: TBD
Tues. 10th: TBD
Wed. 11th: Roots Room, Sligo
Thurs. 12th: Sessions in the House, Castledawson, Co. Londonderry
Fri. 13th: The Red Room, Cookstown, Co. Tyrone
Sat. 14th: 3rd Woodbine Bluegrass Jamboree, Athy, Co. Kildare

Three dates remain open at present, so Gary and Colin are looking for further gigs to fill out the schedule. For bookings and more information, contact Gary by e-mail.

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Red Wine on the move in early 2018

Bluegrass Today announces that our friends in Red Wine (I) will be playing six shows in the USA next month (9-17 Feb.), including the celebrated Joe Val Bluegrass Festival in Massachussetts; and three months later (9-19 May) they will be touring Europe with Peter Rowan (as shown in the photo), playing three shows in Germany, two in the Netherlands, one in France, one in Switzerland, and two in the Czech Republic - but none, unfortunately, in Ireland.

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09 January 2018

Celtgrass - the rising wave

We Banjo 3 are preparing for a six-week tour of the USA, beginning on 9 February and playing thirty-one shows extending over the west coast, New England, DC, the Mid West, and the Upper South. The band are offering two free tickets for every single concert on the tour to give away during January. All that's needed is to Like We Banjo 3 on Facebook, then share this post, stating which concert you'd like to attend, and 'tag two banjo-lovin' friends you'd like to bring!'

The band's appeal in the USA is well expressed by Leo Zimmerman's feature on them in Bluegrass Today. David Howley (lead vocals, guitar) is quoted as saying:

We loved the technical brilliance and subtle detail in bluegrass. Seeing players improvise and develop the music without harming its natural origins inspired us. We’re all Irish players by nature, but we knew we could learn a lot from bluegrass. [...] We never wanted to be Irish guys trying to play bluegrass. Rather we took the inspiration from bluegrass and teamed it with our own heritage to create something entirely new, which has now been dubbed as 'Celtgrass'.

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08 January 2018

Two Time Polka: January gigs

Thanks to Ray Barron of Two Time Polka for this news:

We got a late call up to play at the Sixmilebridge Winter Music Festival. The details of our gigs are as follows:

Shannonside Winter Music Festival
Fri. 19th: The Old House, Sixmilebridge, Co. Clare. Start 8.00 p.m. Adm. free.
Sat. 20th: McGregor's Bar, Sixmilebridge, Co. Clare. Start 10.00 p.m. Adm. free.
Sun. 21st: O'Gliasáin's Bar, Sixmilebridge, Co. Clare. Start 4.30 p.m. Adm. free.

Ballincollig Winter Music Festival
Sat. 27th: The Kasbah at the White Horse, Ballincollig, Co. Cork. Start 11.00 p.m. Adm. free. Tel. 021 4871388

Regards,
Ray & TTP

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Coming to Ireland just to see the Greg Blake Band

Thierry Schoysman
The BIB editor reports:

The 'Songs of heart & home' tour in Ireland - beginning less than two weeks from now - by Greg Blake and his band, composed of some of the most highly regarded bluegrass musicians in America today, was featured on Bluegrass Today last Friday. The indispensable John Nyhan, who has made this tour possible, recently remarked:

I am not so sure how many people realise the impact these musicians have made in bluegrass over the last thirty to forty years and still do today.

Well, the BIB has tried to show how lucky the bluegrass fan in Ireland is to be able to hear such an assemblage of talent. John Reischman, with his iconic 1924 Lloyd Loar Gibson mandolin (featured on Fretboard Journal), is a master both in adventurous modern material and the deepest traditional music. Mark Schatz - twice winner of IBMA awards on bass - is also expert in traditional dance and old-time banjo. Blaine Sprouse (fiddle) learned from the 'king of bluegrass fiddlers', Kenny Baker. Sally Van Meter on resonator guitar (like Reischman a member of the highly influential Good Ol' Persons band in California) was one of the first women recognised as an outstanding player of this music.

But one pretty concrete indication of the appeal of Greg Blake's band is that one of the pillars of bluegrass in Europe, Thierry Schoysman (photo above), is coming to Ireland specially to see the band when they play Mannion's in Balla, Co. Mayo, on Thursday 1 February. Thierry, a friend of the late Bill Keith, plays banjo with the premier Belgian band Rawhide, who were on the bill at Omagh a few years back. (Rawhide earned a special award from the European World of Bluegrass (EWOB) festival in the Netherlands for playing there every year for twenty years.) He also plays mandolin with the Sons of Navarone, who tour often in Britain; and he runs the Bluegrass in Belgium website and has been one of the most active members of the EBMA from the outset. And, like most European bluegrassers, he can make better jokes in English than I can.

So if Thierry considers it worthwhile to fly from Brussels to see and hear the Greg Blake Band, you can be sure that it's worth a trip within this island.

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06 January 2018

Quote of the month

[Referring to Bill Monroe, Charlie Waller, and John Duffey] That's what you don't hear nowadays. I mean, you hear a lot of cleverness now, but you don't hear what I call that 'heavy gravitas', that deep thing. Bluegrass is good as a tool to sing pop songs for some people, but you can go way much further in to what gives it the weight, the anchor to bluegrass. That's the only thing I see not getting explored now, unless it's a traditional band.

Peter Rowan, quoted in Derek Halsey's article 'Jam in the Trees Music Festival: the North Carolina mountain air inspires the tales of a legend' in Bluegrass Unlimited, Jan. 2018, p. 40

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Eighth Ireland Sacred Harp Convention, 2-4 Mar. 2018

Photo courtesy of Ewan Paterson

Thanks to the Sacred Harp Singers of Cork for the news that the Eighth Ireland Sacred Harp Convention will be held on the weekend 2-4 March 2018 at St Maries of the Isle N.S., Bishop St., Cork city - and for this press release on the Convention:

The Sacred Harp Singers of Cork have been gathering weekly to sing four-part harmony music in the American shape-note folk tradition since 2009. The shape-note system uses squares, triangles, circles, and diamonds to represent notes in the scale to make the music easy to sing for beginners and experienced alike. The influence of this tradition can be heard in the songs of Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Hank Williams, and the Stanley Brothers, all of whom came from shape-note singing backgrounds.

The Sacred Harp refers to the human voice and is also the name of the tunebook from which we sing, first published in 1844 in Georgia (USA), containing songs with roots in Irish and European folk traditions. Unlike conventional choral music, we sing with our full natural voices, for a more powerful and energetic sound. This is a living tradition with all-day singing conventions all over US, Europe, and Australia, including ours in Cork on the first weekend in March. This year’s convention is expected to draw 160-200 singers.

All voices are welcome and no experience is necessary; the shape-note system is designed to make it easy for beginners to learn to read music! This is a participatory tradition, so while listening is welcome, singing is encouraged.

Fri. 2nd: 7.00-9.00 p.m., singing school with Bridgett Hill Kennedy, a renowned US singer
Sat. 3rd-Sun. 4th, 10.00 a.m.-4.00 p.m., Convention singing

The Cork All-Day Sacred Harp Singing will also be held on 25 August 2018 (details TBA). The Sacred Harp Singers of Cork can be contacted by e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter.

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05 January 2018

25th 'Celtic Connections', 18 Jan.-4 Feb. 2018 (update)

The organising team of the 25th Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow announce that it will open less than two weeks from now. Tickets are now on sale, and a select list of highlights of the schedule can be seen on the latest e-newsletter.

The 'Americana' part of the programme. most likely to be of interest to BIB readers, can be seen here; the roster includes artists who have already appeared in Ireland and some we're still waiting to see.

Update 11 Jan.: the Celtic Connections team announce that more acts are still being added to the lineup, so - 'If you haven’t already, put your feet up, scroll through the website, and plan your festival'.

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04 January 2018

More for fiddlers

Thanks to the current issue of Bluegrass Unlimited for drawing attention to the publication of Chris Goertzen's book George P. Knauff's Virginia reels and the history of American fiddling by the University Press of Mississippi.

Knauff's Virginia reels, published in 1839, 'was the first collection of southern fiddle tunes and the only substantial one published in the nineteenth century'. Professor Goertzen (author of two previous books on fiddle traditions) puts Knauff's collection in its context as evidence for the emergence of southern fiddling, and examines how fiddle styles and practices developed up to the present. The book is 256 pages with 66 monochrome illustrations, six tables, appendices, bibliography, and index. In printed case-binding, it is $65.00.

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Michael J. Miles: '2018 Rising & Adios 2017'

In his latest e-newsletter, Michael J. Miles (USA) - the man who showed that Bach could be beautifully played on the clawhammer banjo - writes: '2017 leaves us a little shopworn. 2018 is rising with fires burning, frigid snowfall, a super moon, and hopes for a better world.'

Michael also looks back on his activities over the past year, including visits to Ireland, Spain, and Portugal (and favourable mentions of Tom Cussen and Clareen Banjos), and ahead to the 2018 schedule with, among other things, publication coming of a new banjo book co-written with Greg Cahill of the Special Consensus. Every newsletter from Michael includes free tablatures for banjo and guitar. Links and more details are here.

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BU, Jan. 2018

The January 2018 issue of Bluegrass Unlimited magazine is now out; it's the annual festival guide issue, so the articles are primarily on individual festivals, and ten pages are devoted to listing events throughout the USA and beyond.

The list depends on information sent in by festival organisers (see the BIB for 31 Oct.), so inevitably many events that will be held are not shown; but it's still good to see that outside North America, Ireland comes equal first with Australia, with three events listed: the 12th Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival (8-10 June), the 24th Dunmore East International Bluegrass Festival (23-6 Aug.), and the Bunratty Bluegrass Festival (19-21 Oct.).

The full text of Tom Netherland's article on the Bristol (TN) Rhythm & Roots Reunion (headlined last year by the Earls of Leicester) can be read on the BU website. The largest article, however, is Derek Halsey's on the Appalachian String Band Festival ('Clifftop', one of the most important annual events in old-time music), subtitled 'Appreciating the deep roots of bluegrass'. And the 'Highlight' review in BU's review section is of The Stuart Brothers, a DVD by Trevor and Travis Stuart, produced by the Old Time Tiki Parlour (which also has a great YouTube channel).

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03 January 2018

For fiddlers in particular

Bluegrass Today announces that Patrick McAvinue (left; photo by Jonathan Timmes Photography) has made a new year resolution to post a new fiddle tune video every day on his Facebook. The first, shown on Bluegrass Today, is 'Minnie put the kettle on', accompanied by the dancing of Mark Schatz, who will be touring in Ireland later this month and into February as bassist with the Greg Blake Band.

Patrick himself visited Ireland some years back as a teenage fiddler with Tom Mindte's Patuxent Partners; was subsequently fiddler with Audie Blaylock & Redline, who (alas) have not played here yet; and is now fiddler with Dailey & Vincent, headliners at the Omagh bluegrass festival in 2011. He is also a member of the Baltimore-based roots fusion group Charm City Junction.

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02 January 2018

Coming soon: high scorers in bluegrass top 30 for 2017

John Lawless posted yesterday the Bluegrass Today list of the top thirty bluegrass songs of the past year, based on the weekly BT radio airplay charts. Out of the thirty songs, three were recorded by Chris Jones & the Night Drivers (above: Chris Jones, guitar, lead vocals; Mark Stoffel, mandolin; Gina Clowes, banjo; Jon Weisberger, bass), who will be touring Ireland from 28 February till 10 March 2018.

Moreover, two of those three were written by Chris Jones and Jon Weisberger, and Weisberger was a co-writer on the third - backing up the BIB's comment on 3 Nov. that 'their command of traditional and contemporary bluegrass is underlined by the reputation they've earned for very strong original material.'

Also prominent among writers of songs on the 2017 top thirty list are the names of Milan Miller, who was last in Ireland in Oct. 2015, and Thomm Jutz, originally from Bühl in Germany, site of the annual International Bühl Bluegrass Festival.

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Gainsborough and Lisdoonvarna next month

The FOAOTMAD news blog announced yesterday that tickets for this year's Gainsborough old-time festival in England (9-11 Feb.) are now open for sale to non-members of FOAOTMAD. Weekend tickets are £50 for members, £70 for non-members, and day tickets are also available. Links for buying tickets are here.

The Gainsborough festival takes place a week before the First Annual Irish Old Time Appalachian* Music Gathering (16-18 Feb.), which will be held in Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare. Registration for the weekend costs €10 if booked before 15 Jan., and €15 after that date.

*'Appalachian' should not be narrowly interpreted: see the BIB for 10 Dec..

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31 December 2017

Martin Harley and Daniel Kimbro in Ireland, 27-8 Jan. 2018


Acoustic blues and slide guitar have clear links to bluegrass music, so BIB readers may welcome the news that slide-guitar maestro and singer/ songwriter Martin Harley (UK) and US bass maestro Daniel Kimbro (Jerry Douglas Band, Larkin Poe) will be in Ireland for two dates at the end of January, as part of an extended tour supporting their current album Static in the wires, which has received ecstatic reviews from the blues and folk media. There's an even stronger bluegrass connection, as Daniel Kimbro played in old-time and bluegrass bands before studying bass at East Tennessee State University; and Jerry Douglas is one of the guest musicians on the album.

You can hear a full album stream of Static in the wires via SoundCloud. Sample YouTube videos of the duo in performance are ‘Feet don’t fail me’ and ‘Mean old city - part 2’. Their 'Feet don't fail me' tour begins on Fri. 26 Jan. at the Glasgow Celtic Connections festival, after which they will be playing two dates in this island:

Sat. 27th: Island Arts Centre, Lisburn, Co. Antrim
Sun. 28th: The Printworks, Dublin Castle: 'Folk Gala' with Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer and I Draw Slow (part of Dublin Tradfest)

before returning to Britain for eight dates in February and a further eight in March. For further information and interview, session, or guest-list requests, contact Geraint or Deb Jones at
G Promo PR; phone +44 (0) 1584 873211; e-mail

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Transport for resonator guitar wanted (update)

The BIB has already mentioned that the coming Shannonside Winter Music Festival (18-22 Jan. 2018) will include Greg Blake (USA), already known over here as the powerful lead singer and guitarist with the dynamic band Jeff Scroggins & Colorado, and this time heading a special band - an elite collection of top-notch bluegrass musicians.

For instance, Sally Van Meter (photo) will be on resonator guitar - the first woman to be recognised as an outstanding player of the instrument. For the tour, she will be using a dobro lent by Colin Henry of Belfast, which has to reach her at Sixmilebridge, Co. Clare, on or before the early afternoon of Friday 19 January. Colin (who has a gig himself in Belfast that night) has posted the news on Facebook in the hope that someone from the North will be going down to Clare and could take it to her, but without response so far. Or would someone from Dublin be able to take it? Colin can be contacted by e-mail.

Update 3 Jan.: Thanks to Ronnie Norton in Dublin for undertaking to deliver the instrument.

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Fellow Pynins coming to Ireland in July-Aug. 2018

Thanks to Dani Aubert of the American folk duo Fellow Pynins (above) from Ashland, OR, for the news that they are planning a tour in Ireland this coming July and August 2018, and are looking for concert opportunities. Dani and Ian Van Ornum tour as a duo with clawhammer banjo, bouzouki, mandolin, and guitar, as well as in their six-piece folk orchestra Patchy Sanders. Dani adds:

We thrive on playing listening-oriented venues and we also love to play house concerts. You can get to know the band here.

Their press kit includes videos and audio cuts from their latest album, Hunter & the hunted. Plenty of their work can also be heard on YouTube, both as a duo and with Patchy Sanders. They have also given workshops in harmony singing and songwriting at many festivals and other events. Contact Fellow Pynins for bookings by e-mail.

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30 December 2017

'Country Cuts', Jan. 2018

Thanks to Roger Ryan of the Country Music Association of Ireland for the January 2018 issue of his 'Country Cuts' e-newsletter. It gives news of events up to the end of March 2018, including the First Irish Old-Time Appalachian Gathering (also on Facebook) in mid February. The newsletter can be read in full here.

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Woodbine in Tuohy's, Rathdowney, on New Year's Day

Tony O'Brien of Woodbine sends this news of the first gig of the new year:

Woodbine kick off 2018 with a gig in one of our favourite venues: Touhy's Bar, Rathdowney, Co. Laois, Mon. 1 Jan. at 9.30 p.m.

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29 December 2017

More seasonal greetings

Thanks to Richard Hurst and all the team at the Ulster American Folk Park at Castletown, Omagh, Co. Tyrone, for this evocative picture and their greetings for Christmas and a bright new year.

Artists sending Christmas greetings include April Verch (CAN), who sends her heartfelt thanks to all who helped to make 2017 'another wonderful year where I’ve been able to do what I love the most'. April sends a video - also on YouTube - of herself and Joe Newberry (USA) singing the John Hartford song 'On Christmas eve'. (April and Joe have both, at different times, performed at the Folk Park.)

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Ken Perlman (USA): news, winter 2017-18

Melodic clawhammer banjo and fingerstyle guitar master Ken Perlman (also on Facebook) sends his latest e-newsletter for the first quarter of 2018, with news of some major events later in the year.

Ken's new solo banjo CD Frails & frolics, with forty-five tunes (mainly ones he collected on Prince Edward Island) on seventeen tracks, is just out on his Redbud Recordings label, with an eight-page booklet of notes. Ken is accompanied by Jim Prendergast (guitar) and Janine Randall (piano). His performance of the three movements of 'Concerto for banjo and orchestra' by Harold Schiffman with the North/South Chamber Orchestra (cond. Max Lifchitz) in Manhattan is available as the first three tracks on the CD Vintage soundscapes & more (N/S #1064). Copies can be obtained through North/South Music or Ken's website.

The legacy of the late Alan Jabbour, Ken's longtime music collaborator, will be celebrated at the Library of Congress, 101 Independence Ave. SE, Washington DC, on Thurs. 18 Jan. (6.00-9.30 p.m.) with a reception, presentations, and a jam session led by Ken and devoted to well-known old-time tunes collected from Henry Reed and other Appalachian fiddlers. Admission is free and all are welcome.

More details, including news of Ken's banjo camp schedule, publications, and recordings, are on his website.

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