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The University of Hartford

Notes from Celtic Airs
With your host Steve Dieterich July August 2002

It's been ten years now since I started my days as a volunteer DJ at WWUH. For the past nine of those years I've had the pleasure of being the producer and host of Celtic Airs, Tuesday mornings 6:00-9:00 AM. I feel very fortunate that WWUH has provided me the outlet and opportunity to present the traditional Celtic music I love to an appreciative and ever growing audience. Though the Riverdance frenzy and the craze for all things Irish has diminished over the recent years, I still find that I have a dedicated, highly supportive and knowledgeable group of listeners "at the other end of my microphone." I truly appreciate your encouragement and loyalty. Your words of praise make me feel humble yet proud of what I've accomplished.
In August 1994, with encouragement and instruction from Ed McKeon (the father of the Folk Next Door) and the late Bill Domler and with the blessing of station manager John Ramsey and the WWUH executive board, the Celtic Concert series was born. After eight years and sixty-five concerts, the series has taken on a life of it's own. We now have a mailing list of 1500+ households who support the series. With this wonderful resource and a dedicated core group of listeners/fans who never miss a live performance, we manage to sell-out almost all our shows. Our audience has become renowned among the traditional Celtic musicians of the world as one of the most supportive, attentive and appreciative anywhere. Those who have been here have a good time and always want to know when we can have them back. Others who have yet to grace our stages call on the strength of our reputation and ask if we can fit them into our schedule on their next US tour.
The bands performing for us this summer are in the former group; they've been here before and are happy to return to the "fair venues and fans" at the University of Hartford.
Dervish, in my opinion the number one Irish traditional band in the world today, will return to perform two shows, July 16th and 17th in the Wilde auditorium. Though they've performed for massive audiences of many thousands in locales as far flung as Rio, Edmonton, Denmark and Japan, they're still willing to return to Hartford to play in the intimate venue that seats only 200! Apparently they have a special place in their hearts for us as I do for them! I think, in part, this stems from the fact that in 1994 Celtic Airs /WWUH was the first radio station in America to play their debut album Harmony Hill. Our concert series also provided them one of the most successful stops on their maiden tour of the US.
A "dervish" is a spiritual person, enraptured by music…and apt description for this talented and dedicated group of musicians who came together as an instrumental quintet in 1989. Through 10+ years of worldwide touring, they have not compromised their authentic traditional style. Their third album At The End of The Day (1996) won the Hot Press Trad/Folk album of the year award. In 1997, they were named Best Trad/Folk band of the year in the Irish Music Magazine annual reader's poll. Their 1999 album Midsummer's Night was voted Best Traditional Album by the Irish Times.
Sligo natives Liam Kelly (flute/whistle) and Shane Mitchell (button accordion) have been playing together since they were 9 and 7 years old respectively. This long-standing relationship has produced the remarkably tight and intuitive interplay that's at the core of the Dervish sound. During their high school years, these two formed a highly acclaimed traditional band called Poitin. In college they joined with another Sligo native, Michael Holmes (guitar/ bouzouki) in rock band called Who Says What? They never abandoned their traditional roots however and could often be found playing in seisuns in the pubs of Sligo.
It was at one of these seisuns where they first encountered Brian McDonagh (mandola/mandolin), already a celebrity on the Irish traditional music scene. At the age of 16 he was a founding member of Oisin, one of the leading bands in the late 70's /early 80's Irish folk revival.
Kelly and Holmes moved to London for a time, while Mitchell and McDonagh remained in Sligo. The "wayward pair" returned in 1989 and by 1991 had added All-Ireland fiddle champ Shane McAleer and Roscommon born singer/ percussionist Cathy Jordan to what became a formal band, eventually releasing their first album Harmony Hill in 1993. This sextet remained together til 1998 when McAleer was replaced by another All-Ireland fiddle champ, Co. Leitrim's Tom Morrow and the band expanded to a septet with the addition of Sheamie O'Dowd (guitar/fiddle/vocals), another Sligo native who had been playing with the band members at the informal seisuns for a number of years. This line-up recorded Midsummer's Night in 1999 and remains together to the present all the more amazing and impressive (if that's even possible!) after three more years of steady touring.
Our August guests will be Lunasa (pronounced LOO-nuh-suh), returning on 8/23/02 to the Millard Auditorium. Their most recent CD The Merry Sisters of Fate was the 2001 Indie Award winner for Celtic recording of the year. On the heels of it's release, the Boston Herald proclaimed them "The New Celtic Royalty."
Lunasa is and old pagan, pre-Christian festival in honor of the god Lugh, Celtic god of light and the patron saint of the arts. Founder member Sean Smyth MD (!), ALL-Ireland champion on fiddle and tin whistle, asked Donogh Hennessy (guitar) and Trevor Hutchinson (double bass), two members of the Sharon Shannon band at the time, to join him for a brief Scandinavian tour. They enjoyed themselves so much that on their return to Ireland they added Michael McGoldrick (flute, now with Capercaillie) and John McSherry (uillean pipes, now with Donal Lunny's Coolfin) for a 1997 Irish tour that was preserved as the live recording "Lunasa," the first time they used the name. Later in 1997, current flutist Kevin Crawford (also adept on whistle and bodhran as well as a witty master of ceremonies) replaced McGoldrick though both featured on the bands' second album Otherworld (1999). By 2000, Cillian Vallely from the well-known Armagh musical family, had replaced McSherry on uillean pipes and low whistle and it was this quintet, still together today, who recorded 'The Merry Sisters of Fate".
The excitement Lunasa generates counters the common assumption that Irish traditional bands that lack a vocalist will never ascend to mass popularity. In fact, their popularity has far outstripped the loyal Irish-American fan base they initially courted. "We're comfortable with our current approach" says Crawford "though we certainly have no shortage of demo tapes from singers believe me!"
Perhaps two of the New York City Irish press corps. sum up the Lunasa phenomenon best. "They have the best one-two rhythm punch in Irish traditional music today with a melody frontline second to none" says Earle Hitchner of the Irish Echo. "The most distinctive aspect of Lunasa's music is their uncanny ability to create new and highly effective arrangements of Irish traditional tunes," quips Don Meade of the Irish Voice. "In a few short years, they have reached the top of the heap with a talent and vision that opens new and exciting vistas in Irish traditional music." (The Chicago Tribune)
Dervish and Lunasa, two of todays best examples of the vitality and power of Irish folk music. Don't miss your chance to see them both live, an experience that's light years beyond that you get from a CD! Upcoming concerts in the Celtic Airs series include: Danu 9/20, Chulrua 10/4, Aniar 11/15, Jez Lowe and the Bad Pennies 11/21 and Susan McKeown/Johnny Cunningham/Aidan Brennan 12/12. Tickets for our shows go on sale 2 months before the performance date and are available through the University Box Office, 1-800-274-8587 or 1-860-768-4228.

Copyright©WWUH: July/AugustProgram Guide, 2002

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