Scottish & Irish folk songs combined with Lord of the Rings music and Celtic music fun at Renaissance Faires

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North Georgia Celtic Festival

What an awesome trip! We're still recovering from the sixteen hour drive to and from Gainesville, Georgia where the North Georgia Celtic Festival was held last weekend.

The weekend began at 6am when Andrew arrived, and we started the drive to Georgia heading up I-35 and then along I-20 for many, many hours. Trips with Andrew are always a lot of fun. We burned a few MP3 CDs and listened to The Dubliners, Solas, 3 Pints Gone, Cluan, as well as Andrew's mix of 80s MP3s.

But what really made the time fly was when we popped in the History of the Middle Ages, a fun and interesting audio book that tells the history its name portrays. Great book. Informative, fun, and witty. We put it in about halfway to Georgia, and were spellbound until we arrived in Gainesville around eleven that night.

Next morning, we woke up and I was wiped. Took most of the day to really recover, but that just means I was hiding a bit more in the music throughout the day as we found a few places to sit and play music under the trees of the Georgia Mountain Center where the festival was held.

We got there around eleven am, and it was a joy to see our old friends, Emerald Rose. These guys are the greatest. Not only do they play some really stellar Celtic folk rock music that gets your feet dancing, but they're just great guys.

I believe this was their third year of the festival, and they seemed to have it down to an art. They were all running around getting their various tasks done. So we only got to chat with Logan long enough for him to tell us that our picture was plastered on the front page of the local weekend events newspaper. That was a pleasant start to the weekend.

On the downside, we found out there was a small scheduling error. Namely, our two shows on Saturday were back to back. It all worked out for the best though since we finished one and then rushed off to the next, while I fixed broken strings and tuned.

Early on we stopped off and got to chat with Michael Liebman. Michael runs Southern Fried Filk, an online CD store that features a number of Celtic artists including us. We've been working with him since our first year at DragonCon. He's a great person to talk to, and I was saddened to hear that he won't be at DragonCon this year. The attendance was so insanely good last year that it was too difficult for him to setup shop in the filk room. He just has too many CDs. I'm almost surprised he doesn't have his own offline storefront!

Oh! And he's also one of the last places where you can pick up copies of Clandestine CDs. They were such an amazing band!

Backstage turned into another great opportunity to meet old friends online. In particular, I finally got to meet Brendan Carey Block, an amazing Scottish/American fiddler and his dad Richard, who plays guitar with Brendan. I met Richard online during the heyday. I finally saw their show and found out why Brendan has been winning contests since he was sixteen. He's an amazing fiddler, and put on a great show.

MAD (aka Mickle-A-Do) is another fav from many years ago. Sounds like they've truly established themselves in the Georgia Renaissance Festival scene too. And they sound amazingly better. I ended up getting a copy of their CD, "Dear Friends and Gentle Hearts" which I'm looking forward to hearing. The band is just a lot o'fun. Very danceable music.

Also during the days, I featured another band in my Celtic MP3s Music Magazine, The Border Collies.

The original The BorderCollies are a contemporary Celtic music group who do a great job blending traditional Celtic and folk music. Quite interestingly, they also recorded a CD, Laird of the Rings. Yes, it's another album inspired by Tolkien's masterpiece. The one problem... they can't sell it!

Let me back up a moment. The CD is fantastic! Michael gave me a copy of it and we listened to it on the way back. This is by far the first time I've heard traditional Celtic music combined with a Lord of the Rings theme. The music is all original, but here's the reason they can't sell it... the lyrics are all from the books. And the Tolkien Estate has reigned down on anyone's ability to use Tolkien's lyrics. So sadly, The BorderCollies are not allowed to sell this CD at all.

That is a major loss too, because the band did a brilliant job at making making the music and lyrics flow together. I've only tried that with one Tolkien song, and I don't think it was half as good. "The Road Goes Ever On" is belongs on a soundtrack. And "Tom Bombadill" blends perfectly. And again, all with a traditional Celtic sound. A big huzzah to this band!

Of course, a perpetual favorite of mine since I first heard them at DragonCon a couple years ago is The Lost Boys. This is the original rock and roll, circa 1599. Dressed in turquoise plaid kilts and doing Renaissance parodies of popular 80s songs (1580s??), the band puts on a brilliant show. Four-part harmonies, guitar and rockin fiddle, the band had a packed performance when I saw them on the indoor stage on Saturday.

Our shows hit the Celtic funny bone on Saturday as we pulled out a lot of great Celtic song favs, and audience members held up "We Love The Bards" signs. Yes, we had a string of self-proclaimed stalkers, who were a ton o'fun.

By the end of the day, I was collapsed on my hotel bed, vegging as Andrew went to prepare for the Ceili that evening.

For those who don't know, a ceili is like a big party with music and dancing and more. Most Celtic festivals have Irish sessions through the night, but I relished in this because it was also there for the singers too. So I sang a couple o'songs and heard some great folk songs by Susan Hickey who not only has a beautiful voice, but was adding a fifth dimension as she performed with Emerald Rose over the weekend.

The Ceili was also when I first got to see pieces of the Shanveen puzzle come together. Shanveen is a Irish family band performing popular ballads and tunes. Their young pennywhistler was anxious to just play music. I overheard from Larry of Emerald Rose how she's been coming out to the festival for the past couple years and has improved by leaps and bounds each year. Sunday, I got to see their show which was a major toe tapper.

After about an hour, I had to leave and get some sleep. Andrew I think stayed a couple more hours. He was raving about it the next morning.

North Georgia Celtic Festival on Sunday
Next morning, I was well-recovered from the trip. I had a great night's sleep. We even got out to the site way early. Early enough in fact that Logan and I made a run out to the Little Coffee Shop of Horrors and grabbed some coffee while looking for copies of the weekend newspaper that our picture on it. No luck then, though we did finally get a copy.

Despite the threat of rain, it was another beautiful day at the festival. A bit warmer than the day before, and a few more of our DragonCon friends made it out. It's seems almost odd how I miss many of these people who I barely know. Guess that just shows what kind of impression some people make on you.

Any case, I finally caught a wee bit o' Emerald Rose's show outside, but I tell ye, it was tough seeing them perform with the throng around the outdoor stage. When I was ready to cool down, I headed in and caught a little bit of Kathleen Donahoe & Debra Peterson's show. They had folks singing along to some great Irish songs.

The big downside is that I missed out on shows by Ru Ra, Danny Ray Cole, Kelly Stewart, and Olta, though I did catch a wee bit o'the later in passing. Sounds great.

But by far, the highlight musically of the weekend was Neil Anderson. I first heard him at the end of the day on Saturday. Neil was one of the founding members of Seven Nations and after hearing him perform, I think he was the reason I even started listening to the band.

I first heard some intense bagpipes, like a storm coming from the auditorium. I went in there, and Neil was there with a couple friends which made me understand why he's been called, "the Jimi Hendryx of bagpipers." It was amazing! At the end of that opening tune, he said, "well, I can't do any better, so thank you all for coming!" But that was the beginning of what was to come.

With bright charismatic smile on his face, he chatted with this huge audience like we were all old friends. And performed more great tunes. And he also played the song that got me hooked on Seven Nations, "The Pound-a-Week Rise." This is a powerful true story about some coal miners' fight for fair wages. It was a mighty experience. I should've picked up his CD, Rathkeltair Live, but like a fool I didn't.

Any case, if you get a chance to see Neil Anderson perform, don't miss it!

Well, by the end of the day Sunday, I wasn't ready for it to be all over. But it was. So we said our goodbyes, over and over again. I really can't wait till next year when I won't have to rush back to a day job. I keep hearing some wonderful things about Clyde of Emerald Rose's land up against the mountains North of Gainesville. Mayhaps next year, we get up there and stay for a few days.

We crashed early that night and we're up at 4am, our time, to make the sixteen hour trek back to Austin. Wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it was, but then we had some great new music to listen to along the way, as well as some wonderful memories.

--posted by Marc Gunn of the Brobdingnagian Bards, Celtic Folk Music
  Wednesday, August 04, 2004


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