Updated February 10, 2023
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 name.
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 keyboard and fiddle 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 2 pm 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 2000
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