Music : Islanders captivated by Irish trio
The first truly grey day after Labor Day was a familiar Irish backdrop to the traditional Celtic music that drew a capacity crowd to the Katharine Cornell Theatre Saturday night. Kevin Crawford, Cillian Vallely, and Paul Meehan, all members of the world-famous group, Lunasa, were the latest performers brought to the Island by KCT Concerts, a nonprofit venture run by Mary Wolverton and Gregg Harcourt that is dedicated to bringing traditional, mostly Celtic, musicians to the Island.
Photos by Ralph Stewart
The first thing was context. Hardly a song was played without an introduction by the informal Mr. Crawford, who would be the first to tell you that the group is from Ireland, "where 'Boshton' is spelled with an 'h.'" The relaxed and jovial atmosphere so quickly created by Mr. Crawford's storytelling made it easy for the crowd to forget that it was in the presence of three of Ireland's most renowned traditional instrumentalists.
That is, of course, until they started playing.
Mr. Crawford closed his eyes and pursed his lips, sending out clear pure notes from his flute and whistle. Mr. Vallely played the uilleann pipes, a complex bellow-powered bagpipe, which creates underlying harmonics (that cast almost an electronic hum) while specific notes are sounding. Mr. Meehan's guitar work was subtle and flawless, and as the group played he seemed to be the only one to open his eyes, if only to watch his fellow musicians play.
Photos by Ralph Stewart
Mr. Crawford and Mr. Vallely have been in a group together for 11 years, a fact that is vividly apparent when they play the whistle together. Their hands move at identical rates and their lips are pursed with such tenacity that one finds themselves checking their own breath as the guitar of Mr. Meehan coalesces.
Between songs, Mr. Crawford acted as a liaison to the audience, his lighthearted banter setting a uniquely Irish tone. The songs were introduced as if they were friends, each coming with stories and many hailing from specific parts of Ireland. As Mr. Vallely pointed out, the song "Dark, Slender Boy" was about a type of Guinness.
The intimacy of the setting was just as advertised; the words "powerful" and "amazing" were frequently repeated during intermission. When the wind slammed a door shut in the rear of the theatre halfway through a number, a few members of the audience were startled and turned their heads back, while the rest of the audience found themselves unable to turn away.
It is quite an accomplishment that Ms. Wolverton and Mr. Harcourt have developed so hospitable an environment for Celtic music here on the Island, both for musicians and audience. The next show in the KCT Concerts series will feature bluegrass artist Shannon Whitworth on Oct. 11 at the Katharine Cornell Theatre.
Ben Williams is a 2008 regional high school graduate who regularly contributes to The Times.