'Happy chaos' planned for Celtic Music Festival

Posted: Thursday, January 27, 2011

It’s an off year for Burns Night, the biennial local observance of the poet Robert Burns’ birthday and all things Scottish. But that doesn’t mean you won’t have an opportunity to sport your kilt this year. A Celtic Music Festival, sharing many of the elements of Burns Night, is planned for Saturday, and while Burns isn’t explicitly the focus of the event, he won’t be neglected either.

Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

Like Burns Night, the festival will garner much of its energy from the music of that culture; like musicians everywhere, Juneau’s Celtic groups welcome the chance share their joy in exploring this high-spirited musical tradition. First held two years ago to honor Burns’ 250 birthday, the Celtic Music Festival has been organized by local bagpipe group Stroller White. It starts at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center. Tickets are $10, with all proceeds going to the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council.

The event, emceed by Jim Grammel, will mark the first performance of the Stroller White band under their new name, the City of Juneau Pipe Band (see sidebar at right).

The City of Juneau Pipe Band is a traditional bagpipes and drums group that has been playing locally for more than 15 years. The group has also spawned a more raucous offshoot, Fire on McGinnis, that plays original and traditional music in an amped-up rock style not unlike that of the Boston band Dropkick Murphys and Los Angeles-based Celtic punk band Flogging Molly.

Mike Barnhill, who plays with both groups and is one of the festival’s organizers, said after many years of playing with Stroller White, he was ready to break out a bit with some new songs or old songs done in a new way.

“McGrunge I call it, though I’m not sure the band would entirely agree,” he said. “I wanted to explore different ways of playing the pipes.”

Among other tunes, Fire on McGinnis will offer the crowd a revved-up version of ‘Auld Lang Syne,’ a song with lyrics by none other than Burns himself. Barnhill said many people don’t realize the extent of the 18th century poet’s reach, even into modern times.

“Nobody can sing a Shakespeare sonnet, but everybody can sing ‘Auld Lang Syne,’ Barnhill said. “They might not know what it means, but they can sing it!”

Musicians will also include the Alaska Youth Choir, and Full Circle Music’s Mary DeSmet and Greg Burger, as well as the Kari Groven Band. Barnhill said Groven, who often sings with local band Brave Monkey as well as the Wristrockets, performed as a walk on during the open mic part of the evening a couple years back and made an impact with her rendition of a traditional Gaelic tune.

“She just stunned the crowd,” he said.

The New family will also take the stage, featuring dad Michael New on pipes with his three kids — Carraig on pipes, Padraig on drums, and Scottish Highland dancer daughter Maire, who Barnhill said is one of the most accomplished dancers of that style in the region.

Dancing will also be highlighted with the Scottish Highland Dancers, a group that spans a wide range of ages and is led by Stroller White’s Laurie Gardner.

In the spoken word category, Chuck Tripp will tell a story in Gaelic, a language he recently taught himself to speak.

An open mic, called a Celtic Jam session, will also be available during the evening, to accommodate any stray fiddlers, pipers, or poets.

Though there’s no haggis planned for this festival, no one will go hungry. Food will be provided by Chef Steph (Stephanie Marnon) and Abby’s Kitchen. A selection of Scottish beverages, including single malt whiskey, will be provided by the Hangar and Odom Distributors.

And bringing back a popular activity from last year’s celebration, Nail Jazz will be on hand to offer a variety of Celtic-themed airbrush tattoos.

Organizers are hoping to create a festival atmosphere with a bustling marketplace, the smells of delicious food, and plenty of high-spirited music.

“I’m hoping for happy chaos,” Barnhill said.

For more information, call Barnhill at 790-4943.

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