Sunday, March 15, 2009

In Review---Lunasa brings Galicia to Skagit

Concert Review image missing 

McIntyre Hall
Mount Vernon, Washington
March 13, 2009

Four days before Saint Patrick’s Day and the Skagit Valley audience was rearing to go as the Irish sensation Lunasa appeared on McIntyre Hall’s stage. Bassist Trevor Hutchinson anchored the band stage left while flutist and master of ceremony Kevin Crawford stood on the other end of the stage sending his bandmates off on alternating flights of fancy. Guitarist Paul Meehan, fiddler Sean Smyth and piper Cillian Vallely rounded out the quintet offering up their own share of delightful musical moments.

This concert marked Lunasa’s first appearance in Mount Vernon, a small city tucked half way between Seattle, Washington and Vancouver, British Columbia. But Celtic music is no stranger to Skagit Valley residents. The annual Highland Games draws folks from near and far. And the occasional Celtic music performer has been known to grace the stage of Lincoln Theatre and McIntyre Hall. Although McIntyre Hall is a relatively new venue, it has offered its stage to both local performing arts organizations as well as, touring international acts. The acoustics work well for opera, symphonies and acoustic musical acts such as Lunasa.

I had been looking forward to seeing this Irish quintet in concert. I recently interviewed Kevin Crawford for a local publication and had already given the band’s retrospective CD, the story so far several listens. I was reminding of the quintet’s uniqueness during the performance. For instance, the band’s rhythm section consists of guitar and bass, which is unusual for contemporary Irish bands. The fiddle also provides rhythm along with melodic lines while the Irish pipes provide drone, bass, treble melody and rhythm. Crawford’s flutes provided the bulk of the band’s lilting melodies and at times we as accompanied by Smyth and Vallely on whistles. In sound healing medicine, all the chakras were covered. And the musicians provided a gamut of moods, from partying to solemn.

Anyone who has seen Lunasa in concert or heard any of their numerous recordings, including the retrospective CD, has witnessed the tightness of this band and the musicians’ intense focus. At times, you could actually see this concentration in the form of furled brows. Crawford would joke with the audience and his fellow musicians, but this did not deter from the musicians’ focus as they traveled through musical twists and turns not uncommon in Celtic or even Scandinavian music. And when I say Celtic, I am using this word in the widest sense. Lunasa included music from Galicia, (the Celtic region of northern Spain), music from Cape Breton (Canada), and Brittany (France).

I could give you a play-by-play of every song performed and stories to go along with those songs, but I would rather provide an overall picture. However, the first set of Galician songs which appeared in the first set included a ballad, a march and a muiñeira (a Spanish jig), and I was delighted to hear these Galician songs. It felt like a homecoming for the Celts who to most folks only reside in the British Isles.

Of course, most of the repertoire was Irish Celtic music, familiar to the local audience. The musicians traveled down crooked musical roads, sometimes leaving me breathless while my feet just kept tapping out the odd rhythms. None of the musicians wore watches except for Hutchinson who kept time on his small double bass. Meanwhile, piper Vallely barely cracked a smile as he multi-tasked on his Uilleann Pipes. And Smyth had some tuning difficulties with his fiddle which caused him to leave the stage for a brief moment as he fellow musicians carried on through a lively set of songs.
I certainly hope Lunasa will return to Skagit and more of its musical brew. And the musicians do not need to wait for the eve of St. Patrick's Day to do so. They are always welcome in Skagit Valley.

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