Irish Examiner USA
July 27, 2010
Southern Vermont To Host 1st Annual Irish Music Festival

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Tuesday July 27, 2010

Southern Vermont To Host 1st Annual Irish Music Festival

Music born from the Emerald Isle will send sweet sounds soaring over Bennington Vermont's lush Green Mountains this Labor Day weekend as an impressive list of top international Irish performers launch the first annual Bennington Irish Music Festival. Jigs, reels, Irish ballads and rock and roll music will keep toes tappin' and hands clappin' on September 4th and 5th at Colgate Park [1545 West Road] on Route 9. Festival hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. both days. A Mass and ceremonial pipe band procession will kick off Sunday's schedule.

Families with children will find a full slate of festival fun with activities including a dedicated Celtic Kids Zone featuring storytelling, games, and activities. Irish step dancers, pipe bands, instrumental and dance workshops, face painting and a bit o' Irish magic are included in the festival's roster. Specialty vendors will sell food and beverages, Irish and Celtic crafts, jewelry, art and garments. And of course there'll be plenty of Guinness flowing as well as other imported Irish and domestic beers and wines.

Among the internationally renowned headlining performers are New York's own Irish rock band Black 47, Shana Morrison (daughter of the legendary Van Morrison), vocalist Maura O'Connell, the Young Dubliners, Belfast natives McPeake, and 10-time Irish National Fiddle Champion Seamus Connolly.

Black 47 found their gritty, rock sound while playing Manhattan pubs. During their 20-year history, the band has released several albums, with "Bankers and Gangsters" being the most recent. A review in Rolling Stone describes the band as "Usually most comfortable playing loud and live with upraised fists and chunky guitar riffs in local hangouts - [the album] explodes with declarations of gnashing street poetry punctuated with wailing uilleann pipes, Joe Strummer-style chord chops and Bourbon Street sax sojourns."

Native of County Clare, vocalist Maura O'Connell was the third of four singing sisters who grew up listening to their singing mother's collection of light opera, opera, and parlor song records. "I'm sure that those [years] have something to do with how I approach singing," O'Connell says now. "I was aware of singing as an art form in itself." Unaccompanied singing has been a part of O'Connell's music since her earliest days of performing in the folk clubs of her native Ireland. "When I first started, I had minimal skills on the guitar -- I still do, really," she says, laughing. "So I'd throw in an unaccompanied song. That's when I started singing Joan Armatrading's 'The Weakness In Me.'" Even before she began performing formally, singing was a simple joy for O'Connell, an elemental pleasure that didn't require instrumental accompaniment. "It was just the most natural thing in the world," she reflects.

Shana Morrison blends Irish with blues, rock, country, rhythm and blues and jazz to deliver a powerful sound all her own. Her material seems to be ever-changing and hard to pin down categorically. What always remains the same is Shana's unique and wide-ranging voice. Shana has shared billing with the likes of Bonnie Raitt, John Lee Hooker, and Dr. John. She has also played for festival audiences on the main stage both at the Guinness Fleadh in New York in 1997, and in San Francisco in 1999.

For generations of folk music enthusiasts the name of the McPeake Family of Belfast has stood for one of the most distinctive sounds in Irish music. Francis McPeake IV, the fourth generation of this world-famous musical dynasty and one of the few authentic uilleann pipers in the world today, has put together a revived band, 'McPeake', which is unique in the world of music with its fusion of original Celtic compositions and contemporary rhythms and styles.

Seamlessly blending their rock and Celtic influences into a high energy, anthemic and lyrically poignant mix, the Young Dubliners jump energetically from ballad to barn burner, documenting as they go the vibrant yet chaotic world they find themselves in.

From edgy political tunes to the travails of life in an internationally touring band, their latest album, Saints and Sinners, chronicles and tackles it all with joy, wit, enthusiasm and a profound belief that things can get better.

Native of Killaloe, County Clare, Seamus Connolly, 10-time Irish National Fiddle Champion and an endowed Chair at Boston College is one of the world's most respected master Irish traditional musicians and teachers. He was also the winner of the internationally acclaimed "Fiddler of Dooney" Competition. Seamus directed the highly acclaimed Gaelic Roots Summer School and Festival at Boston College from 1993 - 2003. He now coordinates a Gaelic Roots Series of free concerts and lectures by visiting artists throughout the academic year.

Other performers include Jerry O'Sullivan, Laurel Martin Trio, Irish dancer Kieran Jordan, Hair of the Dog, Kevin McKrell, St. James Gate, The Fighting 86's, Rakish Paddy and the Highland Rovers.

"The idea for this festival started as a simple conversation between three friends over dinner in late 2009," says co-producer and owner of Colgate Park, Jamie Jerome. "The three of us were talking about what we've done with our lives and the things we'd still like to do. The idea of hosting a summer music festival series came up and we decided to put one on the map. Next year, we intend to add two more festivals to the mix, one in July and one in August."

For co-producer Laura Moore, "what began as a night out with some great friends, became a dream come true." One of eleven children raised by devout Irish Catholic parents, Moore describers her father as having been "Irish-to-the-core." Laughing, Moore recalls, "I don't think he went a day in his life without wearing green and talking about our Irish heritage. In many ways, this festival is a dedication to the spirit of my parents as they had a profound influence on my life, my love of music and of all things Irish. They were always singing, whistling or humming a tune when I was growing up.

And if they weren't singing to us, they were engaging us in sing-a-longs of old classics that, to this day, are being sung by my siblings, our children and grandchildren."

Nestled in the Green Mountains of Vermont in what is known as the west end of Bennington, and built as a venue for special events, Colgate Park boasts an unobstructed view of the Bennington Battle Monument and panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.

Co-producer Jamie Jerome, a direct descendant of James Colby Colgate, developed Colgate Park with the main objective of bringing an old Vermont farm property back to life and offering a special venue for destination events. "This is a place that offers everything Vermont is famous for," states Jerome, "history, natural beauty and charm, all within easy driving distance from all of the Northeast's major hubs."

"And special it is," commented a recent client who rented the entire property for a 3-day corporate event. "My colleagues and I arrived here early on a Friday and by Sunday afternoon none of us wanted to leave. Rather than feel like we worked all weekend, it was like we were on vacation."

Geographically and historically, Bennington is a special place in and of itself. Surrounded by the lush forested beauty of the Green and Taconic mountain ranges, Bennington borders the 350,000-acre Green Mountain National Forest, yet is only a short drive from Albany, N.Y. and the Berkshires of Massachusetts. Chartered in 1749, Bennington offers unsurpassed natural beauty, three historic districts, great architecture and wonderful opportunities to explore the treasures of scenic Southern Vermont.

To purchase tickets or for more information, visit the festival website at BenningtonIrishMusicFestival.com where you can also enter a weekly ticket giveaway by downloading free MP3s. You may also call Brown Paper Tickets at (800) 838-3006. Admission for children ages 12 and under is free. There is limited capacity in The Hubbell Homestead/Exclusive VIP Area. Seats are $120 per person. To reserve seats/tables in The Hubbell Homestead only, call (802) 447-3900 and leave a message.
The festival will include two dedicated VIP areas, one available to the general public as an upgrade the weekend of the event and another "exclusive" area available for corporations and individuals. Both will offer shaded seating and access to wait staff.

The exclusive VIP area will offer access to the site's historic 1768 Hubbell Homestead and Carriage Barn, catered food, beverages and private bathrooms. Originally built in 1768 for Aaron and Lucinda Hubbell, the meticulously restored and luxuriously appointed Hubbell Homestead is among the oldest wood frame structures in Vermont and played a part in the American Revolutionary War.

"We're very excited about bringing this wonderful festival to Southern Vermont," says Laura Moore, "and I'm really looking forward to meeting all kinds of folks as passionate about all things Irish as I am."

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