I love my summers - I like to travel, and I like doing the circuit of shows - some of which are new, where I meet new and interesting contacts - and some of which are old and venerable where I re-connect with old friends.
On the musical front - the summers are the best. As a singer of very traditional tastes I am pretty much on my own in Toronto –singing away alone in my room! But in the summer I get to go to Catskills Irish Arts Week - and hang out with lots of other aficionados. Many of the singers are not people you would ever have heard of – they just have a deep love for traditional songs and singers. Others are brilliant and well known performers. The song sessions were exceptionally good this year - hosted with care and aplomb by Robbie O'Connell (left) who has an en-erring sense of the heart needed for traditional singing. Too often these sessions settle into a circle - where the call goes relentlessly from one singer to the person sitting next to them without any sense of spontaneity. What is needed is lots of people with large repertoires - so that one song can remind another singer of a good follow-up and the flow can become magical. This is a rare gathering indeed! This year we had the great Con Fada O Drisceoil humorous songwriter extraordinaire (author of such classics as "The Spoons Murders") who definitely added to the ‘craic’ – an untranslatable Irish word that implies laughter, tears, magic and conviviality all rolled into one.
But there is more than song sessions to the Catskills! There is a small art faculty – but the largest proportion of teachers deal with the great instrumental traditions of Ireland: fiddle, pipes, concertina, flute, guitar, bodhran. There are 600 students and over 50 faculty so the music sessions everywhere are mighty! East Durham, NY
– the hamlet where this madness takes place is very small – but host to 7 organised sessions, and countless more spontaneous ones every evening. I teach enamelling during the day and then head over to the field to man my booth for the evening concert where the teachers can show off their expertise to their adoring students. Roxanne O’Connell mans the booth that sells the teachers CD’s and she and I work out harmony parts for each others favourite songs as we set up and take down. Then we head off to the song or other sessions that often go on all night. Check out Tim Raab's Photo essay with sound clips if you want to get a good flavour of the week. Just click on the pictures along the bottom and listen to the sound clips that go along with them.
Old Songs is another favorite show.
The artistic director Andie Spence always finds new and unusual voices to showcase. I have been doing the show for almost 20 yeas - and my customers have become my good friends. Sometimes it’s just the personal connections I make with people when I am at my booth. It has always been my goal to imbue my pieces with meaning – but each time someone comes along and makes an emotional connection with some idea or feeling that I have been trying to embody in a piece of enamelling, it moves me. It’s why I love doing shows – to have that real and personal connection.
I am on my way next week to Goderich, ON – home of the Celtic College and the Celtic Roots Festival. This week is not so intense for me as Catskills – for one thing I am only teaching half days.
enjoying a 10W-30 in "Ontario's Prettiest Town"
The biggest appeal is the chance to get together again with all my cronies in AnDroichead/The Bridge. We met at Goderich many years ago when the Festival first began and it has been a fruitful, enjoyable and inspiring alliance. Goderich is the only festival that I know that considers the visual artists as important a part of the festival as the music. Rather than opting for the hawkers of mass- produced claddagh rings and celtic crosses, it has fostered a sense of creative community and collaboration that is unprecedented.
So I will leave you there for now – on the itinerary for September is the Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival, and then I will get back to my movies!