Friday July 30, 2010

BENNINGTON -- Music born on 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 Irish performers launch the first annual Bennington Irish Music Festival.

Reels, jigs, Irish ballads and rock and roll music will keep toes tappin’ and hands clappin’ on Sept. 4 and 5 at Colgate Park [1545 West Road] on Route 9. Performances begin at 11 a.m. and continue until 9 p.m. both days.

"We’re very excited about bringing this wonderful festival to Southern Vermont," co-organizer Laura Moore said. "We’re thrilled to be able to bring top performers to the area and we expect a sell out crowd."

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

Top O’ The Line Talent 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 release. Shana Morrison blends Irish with blues, rock, country, rhythm and blues and jazz to deliver a powerful sound all her own. 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 - explodes with declarations of gnashing street poetry punctuated with wailing uilleann pipes, Joe Strummer-style chord chops and Bourbon Street sax sojourns."

Vocalist Maura O’Connell is a native of County Clare, Ireland. She 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. Growing up in a culture with a rich social tradition of unaccompanied singing further freed her, and the vast Irish repertoire is well represented on her lastest album Naked With Friends.

Shana Morrison’s musical style has been called pop with a side of blues and a side of rock. She has also been known to blend in other ingredients, like contemporary Irish melodies, country, R&B, and jazz into the mix. 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. 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 music jumps 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. Seamus Connolly, native of Killaloe, County Clare, 0-time Irish National Fiddle Champion and an endowed Chair at Boston College has been featured on the NBC network’s "Today" morning show. He was profiled on Boston’s WCVB-TV5 "Chronicle" program and has performed at music festivals including the National Folk Festival and American Roots Fourth of July Celebration at the Washington Monument. Seamus Connolly 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. Music, Dance and More Music Jerry O’Sullivan, Laurel Martin Trio, Hair of the Dog, Kevin McKrell, St. James Gate, Rakish Paddy, the Highland Rovers and Irish dancer Kieran Jordan are also among the lineup as are pipe bands and dance troupes from throughout New England.

Jerry O’Sullivan is renowned as America’s premier uillean piper. His musical resume includes performances with Don Henley, Dolly Parton, the Boston Pops orchestra, and many other musicians. He performed at the 2009 William Kennedy Music Festival in Armagh and recently returned from participating at the 2010 Annual Willy Clancy Summer School in Miltown-Malbay, Ireland.

Laurel Martin’s musical journey began in Massachusetts as a young adult when she first heard Irish traditional music played by local fiddle player Joe Gerhard. Laurel was immediately drawn to the music, being fascinated by its rhythmic and ornamental subtleties, and what she refers to as its "undercurrent of sorrow." She then set about learning to play the fiddle in the traditional style of the old masters. Laurel taught fiddle playing at Boston College.

Boston based Kieran Jordan, is an internationally recognized performer, teacher and choreographer of Irish dance. With more than 25 years of dance experience, her unique approach to the dance marries deep-rooted traditions with contemporary innovations. Winner of an Artist Fellowship from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, Kieran is a dedicated artist and entrepreneurial spirit with boundless enthusiasm for Irish dance. She holds a BA in English and Irish Studies from Boston College, a Master’s Degree in Contemporary Dance Performance from the University of Limerick, and the TCRG certificate for teaching Irish dance. She brings intelligence, creativity, and a warm spirit to her dance projects in Boston and beyond. In addition to her main stage performance, Kieran will be conducting a free dance workshop both days.

Together since 1993, Hair Of The Dog has entertained countless fans of all ages with their unique blend of Celtic folk/rock. Their high energy sound, intricate vocal harmonies and tight instrumental attack has made them one of the top Irish acts in the world.

Hair Of The Dog has shared the stage on numerous occasions with many legendary Celtic groups such as The Clancy Brothers, The Wolfe Tones, Cherish The Ladies, Donal Lunny’s Coolfin, Eileen Ivers and Immigrant Soul, Black 47, Gaelic Storm, Solas, Seven Nations, The Prodigals, Off Kilter, Glengarry Bhoys and the Late Tommy Makem.

Kevin McKrell has been working national and international music scene for about 30 years. He has been a member of Donnybrook Fair, The Fabulous Newports, Hard Times, and The McKrells. His songs have been recorded and or performed by The Kingston Trio, The Fureys Brothers and Davey Arthur,North Sea Gas, Woods Tea Company, Hair of The Dog, Pat McKernan, Seamus Kennedy.

Drawing from the diverse New York Metro music scene, the Highland Rovers Band fuses popular rock percussive rhythms, bagpipes, and vocal harmonies to create an intricate and fresh sound. HRB’s multi-layered, upbeat, and danceable music showcases their universal, appeal to both mainstream modern rock lovers and culturally diverse audiences searching for a distinct celtic flavor. Over the years, the band paid its dues playing Irish pubs throughout the New York Metropolitan area and along the eastern seaboard.

Today, the HRB’s resume includes performances across the United States at venues ranging from well-known Irish pubs to larger arenas such as Shea Stadium. The band has performed with top Irish artists including the Saw Doctors, the Young Dubliners, and The Prodigals.

HRB has also performed numerous shows with their longtime friends and mentors, the Marshall Tucker Band. And a Wee Somethin’ For the Kiddies, Mam and Pap Families with children will find a full slate of festival fun with activities including a dedicated Celtic Kids Zone featuring storytelling, games, and other cultural venues. Irish step dancers, pipe bands, instrumental workshops, face painting and little Irish magic are included in the festival’s roster. Specialty vendors will provide food and beverages. Irish and Celtic crafts, jewelry, art and garments will be available for purchase. And of course there’ll be plenty of Guiness and other imported Irish and domestic beers and wines on tap.

A portion of the proceeds will support the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, the Center for Communication in Medicine, and Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales School.

To purchase ticket or for more information, visit the festival Website at, where you can also enter a weekly ticket giveaway by downloading free MP3s. Admission for children ages 12 and under is free.