Irish Music Night was a success on many levels. First, this latest offering from OnStage! Concert Series at the Chevalier Theatre in Medford, Massachusetts was sold out. Second, each of the three acts were very strong. Finally, the variety of Irish and Celtic music offered was richly rangy. As usual, this kind of music, when played by the right musicians, can stir something deep inside of a listener.
Opening musician, fiddler-vocalist Laura Cortese, began the evening with her own composition “Dyslexic Undresser Coffee Drunk.” Her light bowing created a mist of notes, a gossamer texture, which, when it turned uptempo, transformed into a motion driven work with impressive technique behind it. Cortese’s “Village Green” found her injecting much tenderness into her piece with her sweet vocal approach, proving she’s capable of delivering the emotive substance of her lyrics. Picking her fiddle strings instead of bowing added another layer of tenderness as those individual notes rang out with forlorn purity.
Cortese’s composition “Cape Breton” illustrated a point she had made prior to playing it about being one degree of separation from Irish music. Her approach offered another kind of smoothness, almost as if the fiddle was whistling. Going uptempo, Cortese got her audience to join in on the fun with some foot stomping, hand clapping action. Another Cortese original, “Women Of The Ages,” brought her back to her ever so nimble finger picking technique and her soft whispery timbre, captivating her audience. Her picked notes spoke on one layer of emotion with their brittle beauty while her tender timbre sailed over like a lofty cloud. The contrast was striking and gripping.
Cortese got her audience rocking with “Heel To Toe,” a bouncy, fun sing along during which her bowing technique rocked things up a bit. Moving into her mournfully beautiful “Mangatskrinna,” Cortese played a melody that reflected something that’s existed through the ages, keeping her audience amazed with her technique while intriguing them with the depth of her melody line.
Next up, Matt And Shannon Heaton, a pair that can be found performing at local Irish pubs as well as on large stages too, began their set playing Irish whistle and mandolin. Shannon’s high, joyous voice made great trade offs with her whistle, and the opening tune reflected the centuries of refinement that influenced their tune.
Switching to Shannon’s flute and Matt’s acoustic guitar, the pair created a traveling melody that was comprised of a circular intervals of especially sweet notes. Their take on “The Lover’s Lament” found Matt Shannon playing a mighty, tuneful strum and Shannon Heaton’s pretty Irish whistle melody forming a feeling of timeless sorrow. They also went into the Irish murder ballad “The Banks Of The Sweet Dundee,” with Shannon Heaton’s silky, sweet voice contrasting with the high body count seriousness of the lyrics.
The pair’s briskly paced “900 Miles” allowed them to whip up the toe tapping support, especially with Matt Heaton’s action paced guitar work. Their harmonies were beautifully full when they both tackled the line “lonesome whistle blow.”
Then, it was time for the engaging melodies of Fodhla, a trio of Boston-based and Portland, Maine-based Celtic players, to carry the crowd off to another time and place. Fiddler Ellery Klein, flutist Nicole Rabata, and guitarist Bethany Waickman ushered in their set with lilting melodic aplomb on opener “Henhouse Beryl Charlie Harris.” Their second number, “Drinagh Killavel Boys Town” was even more joyous due to its infusion of jig and reel energy. The trio soon made their way into “Marie’s Cabin Doherty’s Mazurkas,” an 1840’s couple’s dance tune. Their tunes offered so many pretty melodies at once that it wove a tapestry of history, emotion, and a lot of other fine qualities.
Liz Carol’s “The Isle Of Woods” found the three ladies conjuring a haunting melody, a sense of a far away place and time, a place where the greensward runs on forever. Bouncy, barn dance music emanated from their instruments on “Napoleon’s Charge Duffy” and the trio showed that this music’s best moments come when dazzling, uptempo melodies get an audience hand clapping and foot stomping. “Valse Marique Bouree” featured lush flute notes, swaying fiddle melody, all coming together to form an impression of young ladies in Ireland of the 1800s dancing slowly as they hung their heads on the shoulders of their handsome young dance partners. So much emotion could be felt coming from each instrument, making one long to jump back into that time period.
Irish Music Night had a lot of fine talent and much merriment to offer, and it’s likely that OnStage! co-founder Laura Brereton will feature it again next year. Fodhla is a gem in the Irish music scene while Matt and Shannon Heaton are standouts wherever they play. Look for big things to come from Laura Cortese, a burgeoning force in the international Celtic music scene. The evening’s sound quality was balanced and well maintained by sound man Jack Oliva of Showtime Sound And Lighting, a blessing, since the Irish and Celtic music performed had to sound just right for it to be appreciated.