Burns' Night celebration set for Saturday at Centennial Hall

Posted: Thursday, January 26, 2006

Burns' Suppers, or Burns' Nights, have been held on or around Jan. 25 ever since the legendary Scottish poet Robert Burns (born Jan. 25, 1759) died at 37 in 1796.

In Scotland, it's a national holiday. In Russia, they've televised Burns' Nights from the Kremlin.

In Juneau, a biennial celebration has been held for more than 30 years. This year's, 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28, at Centennial Hall, includes bagpipe band Stroller White Pipes & Drums, Celtic rock band Fire on McGinnis, the Scottish Highland Dancers, the ceilidh band Blessing in Disguise, a haggis dinner and a whisky tasting.

Advance tickets are $30 for adults, $20 for kids and are available at Hearthside Books. After dinner, tickets are $8.

"On St. Patrick's Day, they say everyone's Irish," said bagpiper and guitarist Mike Barnhill. "On Burns Night, everyone is Scottish."

Burns is most well-known for his poem, "Auld Lang Syne." But in Scotland, he's considered the national poet, admired for his language as well as his social and political critiques.

The whisky tasting, along the lines of a wine tasting, will be sponsored by Alaska Distributors. The company has the largest line of single-malt whiskys in Alaska, and will also be serving Scottish ales. Burns wrote a classic poem called "Scotch Drink."

"They're going to be bringing out a 17-year-old single-malt scotch," Burnhill said. "I don't know if you can buy that in Juneau. The chance to be in a place where you can try a whole bunch of single-malts at the same time is a pretty cool opportunity. And it does seem like there are a lot of single-malt fans here."

Heather Sinsic is temporarily taking over the kitchen duties from longtime cook Rai Behnert. The group will begin preparing its traditional haggis - a sheep's stomach filled with heart, liver, tongue, kidneys, oatmeal, onions, hamburger - the night before the event. For those who lack an inquisitive stomach, roast beef will also be served.

During the performance, the haggis will be paraded around the room on a platter, toasted with whisky, before it ends up on the speaker's platform. Longtime drummer Ted McIntire will serenade the dish with a reading of the Burns poem, "Ode to Haggis," and dinner will begin. Atholbrose, a traditional Scottish drink of whisky, honey and oat cream will be served.

The seven-piece Fire on McGinnis formed about a year ago with bagpipes, guitar and drums. Now it includes Doug and Lauri Gardner on bagpipe, Mike Barnhill on guitar, Dave Sheakley on drums, Martha DeFreest on fiddle, James Bibb on bass and Dayna Robinson on vocals.

The group plays Celtic rock and has appeared at the Imperial, as well as several open mikes at the Alaskan Hotel & Bar.

"When you play in bagpipes bands and drum corps you're usually playing in military style and you're playing in unison," said Barnhill, a bagpiper in Stroller White. "It's a very precise kind of music, and I was looking for something else with bagpipes, something where you could let your hair out.

"There are a number of Celtic rock bands around the country and in Scotland, and between the seven of us, we probably have a fairly large amount of Celtic albums," he said. "We get a lot of ideas from what other folks are doing, and a lot of we do is just made up. Sometimes we take the music that the Stroller White band is playing and we just rev it up a little bit."

Stroller White now includes about 12 pipers and seven drummers. The Scottish Highland Dancers have about 10 girls.

Blessing in Disguise includes guitarist Liz Saya, fiddler Leif Saya and pennywhistler Beth Liebowitz.

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