27 July 2015

Festival concert arrangements - and more

The BIB editor writes:

A few times recently I've been taken aback by hearing friends say 'there will be no concerts at the Omagh festival (4-6 Sept.) this year.' I jumped to the wrong conclusion and imagined the Folk Park closing at sundown - though the festival web page clearly states that the headlining, award-winning Claire Lynch Band (USA), the Demolition String Band (USA), Bill Faster (SK), and the CC Smugglers (GB) will be playing on Friday and Saturday from 7.00 p.m. till 'late'.

These performances, however, are not separately ticketed - they count as part of the 'Party in the Park' each day - and the seating will probably be around tables, as on Friday night last year, instead of in rows. On Sunday 'Bluegrass in the Park' will last from 1.00 p.m. to 7.30 p.m.; no separate gospel concert is mentioned. So high-grade bluegrass music (and there's talent by the ton in this year's lineup) will be performed on stage at Omagh up to (probably) the times at which concerts have ended in the past; but the word 'concert' is not being used, and the ticketing and seat arrangement are different.

[Update 28 July: friends have pointed out that the change away from formal concerts at Omagh has been reflected in lower ticket prices. On the other hand, it may be advisable to follow the example of bluegrass festival-goers in the US and bring a folding chair to make sure of a seat...]

These changes make an interesting comparison with those at other festivals on the Irish bluegrass calendar. The 8th Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival (12-14 June) held two of its major concerts in Holy Trinity church and the new Town Hall Theatre, instead of (as in previous years) in a hotel ballroom with tables and bar. The results were overwhelmingly positive: in both concerts all attention focused on the music, and audience response was uniformly enthusiastic.

At the 25th Athy Bluegrass Festival (10-12 June), evening concerts were in the GAA Club main hall with seats in rows accommodating a larger audience, with the separate barroom for anyone who wanted to talk over a drink. The 'Absent friends' concert on Saturday afternoon was in the Athy Community Arts Centre, a converted methodist church with very good natural acoustics, the original pews for the audience, and no bar in the auditorium - again, results were excellent.

At the 8th Ardara Bluegrass Festival (16-19 July) the evening concert venue this year was the main room of the Heritage Centre with seats in rows, instead of the main room of the hotel with a similar capacity and tables. In spite of no bar, no tables, and a wretchedly wet evening, there was a full house and a very enthusiastic audience. And at the 21st International Guinness Bluegrass Festival in Dunmore East, Co. Waterford, a month from now (27-30 Aug.), the Claire Lynch Band (USA) will be playing in concert in a ticketed venue - a new departure for the Dunmore East festival.
Another new departure for Dunmore East will be instrument workshops, given by the US duo Whiskey Deaf (left). Annie Staninec will be teaching fiddle - an opportunity no aspiring bluegrass fiddler in Ireland should miss. The videos on her website show her as a constantly inventive, propulsive, and exciting player in classic bluegrass, cajun, gypsy swing, and old-time music, not to mention original instrumentals. A four-page interview of her by Paul Shelasky, including notation for her playing of 'North Carolina breakdown', appeared in the spring 2015 issue of Fiddler magazine. John Kael (playing guitar in the photo) will be giving mandolin and banjo workshops.

Whiskey Deaf, from the vigorous scene in Portland, OR, will be playing their mix of traditional bluegrass, old-time, and early country music at Omagh as well as Dunmore East, and the BIB hopes to publish details of their other gigs while in Ireland (25 Aug.-14 Sept.). For bookings and more information, John can be contacted by e-mail.

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