Irish Music and Dance, Easton Massachusetts
fall 2000, (an annual festival)
by Ryan Thomson
I'll admit that my view of the Stone Hill Irish Festival was pretty much limited to the dance
tent. I occasionally ventured out to hear little snatches of heavily amplified Irish and other
international tunes and songs fortified by powerful drums and driving electric bass. One
such excursion was to locate a band playing cajun tunes, although I didn't catch their
My attention would quickly return to traditional Irish dance music however when I heard
wonderful sets of jigs, reels, hornpipes, and polkas played by the Comhaltas Ceoltóirí
Eireann and the Ceol Tradisiúnta na hÉireann ceili bands. I've been playing regularly at the
monthly dances in the Boston area by both Comhaltas and Ceol Tradisiúnta na hÉireann,
and when I got an official invitation to come to Stonehill and play for set dancing I jumped
at the opportunity.
Ceol Tradisiúnta na hÉireann was scheduled to start at 2pm at the dance tent. When I
arrived, things were running late, and the Angel Band was still finishing up their set. I'm not
sure why they were scheduled for the dance tent, as they specialize in non-dance
"listening" tunes. I noticed a few days earlier at another festival that they were also
mistakenly advertised as an "Irish dance band." Their forte is presenting the harp music of
O'Carolan and they have developed the biggest performance repertoire of his music of any
band that I know of. Leading them was the accomplished Irish harpist, Mary Paul, from
Greenland, New Hampshire.
As they finished their act at 2:30 pm, the dance floor quickly crowded over and the Ceol
Tradisiúnta na hÉireann ceili band took the stage. A wall of accordions faced the dance
floor and I sat behind the accordions at my portable piano along with drummer Paul
Mangion, who is also a percussionist with the Crawdad Wranglers. My pleasure at playing hot
sets of jigs, reels, and polkas was periodically interrupted however, when an overloaded
generator would cause voltage fluctuations to shut off my piano amplifier. We played high
energy tunes for 3 hours straight, though, until it was time for for the Comhaltas band to
take the stage.
I took a break at this time to visit some of the vendors tents and ran into Charlie Clarke of
Ossian USA who was in good spirits at his booth, and enjoying the festival. I returned to the
dance tent to listen to the Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann ceili band. The musicians were led
by Mike Reynolds on accordion, and included a fiddle section, whistle and flute section,
other miscellaneous instruments, and piano back up by Brendan Dolan, my piano teacher.
After a while I joined the band with my fiddle and sat close to Brendan to pick up tips on
his fine accompaniment.
I stayed at the dance tent until close to 9 pm, as the weather got so cool as to require
every extra layer of clothing that we had brought along. Cool weather is perfect for dancers
however, and it was great fun to watch them as we played. I overheard one of the male
dancers mention that he was a marathon runner, and the majority of dancers that I
observed also ably managed to enjoy hour after hour of high speed sets for one of the most
fun types of aerobic exercise imaginable!
Written by Ryan Thomson, 1997