A December Celtic Tradition

IMT Holiday Concert with Robin Bullock and FriendsIf it is early December, you can count on “Celtic Guitar God” Robin Bullock heading up a holiday concert for the Institute of Musical Traditions. So tonight, Candice and I joined about 150 other traditional music fans for the 2012 edition of the IMT Celtic holiday concert.

Bullock was joined this year by Scottish champion fiddler Elke Baker and hammered dulcimer player Ken Kolodner. The evening was filled with traditional Christmas carols as well as Scottish and Irish old time music, all played with great enthusiasm and musiciaenship.

Baker and Kolodner played several beautiful duets, including two of my favorite holiday tunes:  the haunting In the Bleak Midwinter and the French carol Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella.  All three joined together for extended sets of Cape Breton, French Canadian, and Celtic fiddle tunes.

However, my favorite parts of this concert each year focus around Bullock’s solo guitar work. Tonight he had beautiful arrangements of The Wexford Carol and a great mash-up of classical carols as played in the style of Mississippi John Hurt. But one of the most moving arrangements was of It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, where Bullock quoted the seldom-used fifth verse and opined that while it was perhaps seen as harsh, it still fit in these times:

Yet with the woes of sin and strife, the world has suffered long; Beneath the angel-strain have rolled two-thousand years of wrong; And man, at war with man, hears not the love-song which they bring; O hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing.

A wonderful night of great music. Enjoy the video below of Robin Bullock playing the Irish tune Lord Inchiquin at last year’s IMT Celtic holiday concert.

More to come…


Robin  Bullock

A Celtic Yule

On a blustery, cold evening in suburban Washington, a full crowd was warmed by the 11th annual Celtic Yule concert of Robin Bullock and Amy White & Al Petteway.  Hosted by the Institute of Musical Traditions (or IMT), this annual concert is like much of the holiday musical scene – familiar yet welcome.

Bullock has a wonderful tone coming out of his Taylor guitar and sounds better with age.  The second half opened with his haunting In the Bleak Midwinter/The First Noel/It Came Upon a Midnight Clear medley.   His solo mandolin pieces exploring the Bach unaccompanied violin and cello suites are a new (for me) part of his show, and they demonstrate his impressive chops.  The Cello Suite #4 is technically demanding (the E-Flat major transposes into B-Flat major on the mandolin), but Bullock made it sing on his beautiful Gibson A-style mandolin from the 1920s.  Check out the video below of Bullock playing solo guitar, and then imagine that it sounds twice as good live.

Al Petteway and Amy White played holiday tunes (including a beautiful The Holly and the Ivy) but also promoted their new album High in the Blue Ridge. They opened with The Drovers’ Road, an evocative piece celebrating the switchback roads of the North Carolina mountains.

All in all, a satisfying and enjoyable holiday evening.

More to come…


Terrific Roots Music Coming to Washington This Fall

Del McCoury BandWe’re into fall here in the Washington region and that means that the acoustic music scene is busy pointing toward those holiday concerts.  But before December arrives, there are a few highlights for lovers of bluegrass, Americana, and roots music in the District of Columbia.

This Monday, the Blue Moon Cowgirls and flatpicking champion Orrin Star are featured at the Institute of Musical Traditions concert in Rockville.  I’ve heard Star before, and he’s a treat for those who like the old flat top.

Country singer extraordinaire Patty Loveless will be at the Birchmere on November 1st.  She’ll no doubt be featuring tunes from  her new album, Mountain Soul II. The original Mountain Soul was a terrific album, and the follow-up begins with a great version of that old country classic, Busted. (Well the bills are all due and the babies need shoes, we’re busted…) Sure to be a great show.

For those who don’t mind a bit of a drive, folksinger John Gorka is playing on November 20th at the historic Avalon Theatre in beautiful Easton Maryland.  Gorka has one of the most distinctive voices in folk music and I believe I could listen to him sing the phone book.  (There’s also a nice Historic Hotel of America – the Tidewater Inn –  in Easton for those who would like to make a weekend of it.)

The next evening,  Saturday November 21st, the Del McCoury Band – just about the best traditional bluegrass band on the circuit today – will be at the Birchmere.   They also have a new album, entitled Family Circle, out later this month.  Del and the boys never disappoint.

As I wrote earlier, Irish harper Grainne Hambly will be at the National Geographic Society on Friday, December 4th, with the Irish band Teada.  They will be performing as part of their Irish Christmas in America tour.

Finally, Monday, December 7th, will pose a real dilemma, as both IMT and the Birchmere have top-notch Christmas shows.  I’ve attended the IMT Celtic Christmas show featuring guitarist Robin Bullock and husband/wife duo Al Petteway and Amy White for a number of years.  With Bullock and Petteway, you have two terrific guitarists and this show is always a treat.  But the same night, the Birchmere has booked my long-time favorite Jerry Douglas along with Irish singer and song interpreter Maura O’Connell for their own “Very Jerry Christmas.”  Few people can interpret a song the way O’Connell can and her newest CD is a collection of acappella duets entitled Naked With Friends. (Click on the link and read the great review at Fiddlefreak.) The friends include Dolly Parton, Alison Krauss, Mary Black, Kate Rusby and more.  I love hearing O’Connell live, so I expect I’ll be at the Birchmere on the 7th for that show.

To give you a hint of what you might hear on the 7th, I’ve included a video of Maura O’Connell in a duet with Nanci Griffith and with Jerry Douglas on Dobro playing the Griffith tune Trouble in the Field. Simply sublime.

More to come…


Great Acoustic Guitar in Washington

There are few things in life I like better than the sound of an acoustic guitar.  So I’m looking forward to two upcoming concerts in the Washington, DC area by three terrific players.

On Monday night, one of the best guitar flatpickers on the planet will be playing at the Institute of Musical Traditions series at Saint Mark’s Presbyterian Church in Rockville.  David Grier is well-known to flatpicking aficionados and along with a busy session schedule handles the guitar duties in the supergroup Psychograss.  Watch the video below of Grier and Wyatt Rice – younger brother of guitar superstar Tony Rice – and you’ll see why we flatpicker wanna-be’s will be in attendance on Monday, flatpicks clutched in our right hand taking in every lick.

For those of you who prefer your acoustic guitar fingerstyle (which I also love), you only have to wait two weeks to December 8th for the IMT concert featuring Al Petteway, Amy White, and Robin Bullock.  Petteway and Bullock both have inventive minds and beautiful tones.  Their holiday-flavored concert, which features the silver-throated White on a variety of instruments, is always a favorite.  Make your plans now. 

I bought some new strings today in anticipation of the playing to come after I’m inspired by these terrific musicians.  Join me in supporting live music and your local music store! 

More to come…


IMT Concerts Begin Fall Season

I have found one of the best acoustic music/folk concert series in the Washington area is hosted on Monday evenings during the school year by the Institute of Musical Traditions.  IMT is headquartered at Takoma Park’s House of Musical Traditions, but the concerts are held at St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church on Old Georgetown Road in Rockville.  Click on the link to find this fall’s schedule. 

This is a very friendly venue, where IMT sells homemade cookies and other treats in addition to CDs of the featured artist.  Over the course of several years, I’ve heard some tremendous musicians (including the great guitarist John Jorgenson and west coast bluegrass fiddler Laurie Lewis among many others) and have run into good friends and music lovers like Max and Mary van Balgooy and Tom Dews (a well-respected regional singer-songerwriter in his own right).  For this fall, several acts caught my eye, including the great Irish fiddler Kevin Burke on September 29th and the band Nightingale on October 6th.   I was introduced to the latter by my Staunton friends Jim and Constance Harrington & Oakley and Margaret Pearson.  Nightingale plays a mix of music from Newfoundland, Ireland, and France (plus they have a terrific accordion player!).

Finally, Candice and I have made it something of a tradition to attend IMT’s Celtic Christmas Celebration, held this year on December 8th.  Al Petteway and Amy White, along with guitarist Robin Bullock, always have a beautiful set featuring some wonderful acoustic guitar work.

If you live near Washington and enjoy good acoustic and folk music, check out the IMT concerts.

More to come…