Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Celtic Woman, from quintet to quartet

New York state. Warning.....this is very long. This post is a tour perspective about my latest experiences On the Celtic Woman tour. I'll break it down into categories and hope you'll get just a little flavor of what it is like to be on the road in support of Máiréad and the others, and about this new quartet version of SFTH. So, let's get to it shall we?

Firstly, the travel experience. I've been doing this now since 2007. I'm used to travel as I grew up with a dad who was a Navy pilot, and then I worked in the airlines for quite a few years. I've always had the travel bug. Typically, though, I tend to get very little sleep on these excursions into my never ending search for pixie dust. When I was in Ireland last summer for the Powerscourt and High Kings shows I had about 36 hours sleep total in eight days. Two nights I never slept at all as I needed to get reviews in for the folks back home and for the artists. It is part of my responsibility as is promoting and supporting Máiréad and I take it seriously. Same thing happened on my extended spring touring in 2009. This time I averaged about four hours per night sleep. I do this in short bursts. Imagine doing it for months on end as these artists do. I could do it but that doesn't mean it is healthy. I travel by air as it would be even more exhausting if I drove for all of this and it would also be dangerous on the short sleep I get. On this trip I used Southwest Airlines as I do the majority of the time. I flew into Buffalo on Thursday but re-routed myself away from inclement weather and possible lengthy delays or cancellations. Those flights earned me another free ticket, my second, for future travel next year. The return today was using a non-revenue, space available, buddy pass from my old airline buddy in Spokane. I had ample seats available but the routing was through Las Vegas. I literally flew over my house in Colorado on the way in this five hour flight. Southwest agents were extraordinary both directions and the level of customer service with this company is second to none in the industry domestically. When I travel I seldom if ever rent a car. I either stay close to the venue or am granted extraordinary kindness by forum members who transport me. On this trip I had your forum administrator, MrPeabody, carting me around. Thank you, Mike, for doing that and doing so safely just as you did on the spring 2009 tour. Hotels I usually get via bidding on Priceline but they were way too high this time and Mike kindly allowed me to room with him as did Rick in Liberty. When I tried to pay Mike today he designated my half of the hotel charges to Máiréad's charity. That is the sort of class act that typifies this place and you should all be very proud of his leadership.

The venues. Art Park in Lewiston is very nice. Rather like an auditorium with the back taken out of it. On a normal day it would have been pleasant but on Friday the warmth and humidity just sat in there and both artist and audience sweltered. Acoustics were fine and our seats good. Bethel aka Woodstock was amazing. It has become a huge facility on a vast acreage of land. The amphitheater itself is a stage with simply a roof over the audience. Again, under normal circumstances just fine, but not when a storm sends the rain in sideways! There is also a very long walk to parking and nothing like a shuttle to get you there. Most folks exited in the driving rain and wind for which they did not come prepared. Hmmmm kinda sounds like.......Woodstock! Auditorium theater in Rochester is an older facility but with fine acoustics. It was the only indoor venue on this stretch of the tour. There had been some concern about no air conditioning but that had been remedied and all was fine. SPAC in Saratoga is another amphitheater and the acoustics were great. Loved the vibrating floor in the pit when the woofers were barking loudly!! Perfect night and a venue much like Wolf Trap. All in all great venues.

The forum experience is next up. I met several folks I had not prior to this trip. That included forum members Btimerson (Brad), Apollomoon (Dave), Scuilly (Kelly), needleworklady (Annie), Connye (Ralph's sister Connie), and also some spouses along with renewing meeting up with those met previously. In my time with forum members which began on the spring 2008 tour I have yet to meet anyone who isn't an incredible fan in support of Celtic Woman. Each has an artist special to them. Each has a story to tell and in many cases they are incredibly moving. So many times I fight tears listening to these very moving accounts. We have shared incredible memories during this time. This tour swing was no different. From the smothering humidity in Lewsiton, to the hallowed Woodstock and the events of that day and night, to the awesome show in Rochester, to the perfect weather and another meeting with Máiréad in Saratoga this trip had memories aplenty. Some inside jokes always come from these things. Let me tell you, there is nothing like sharing these shows and meetings with your forum friends even if you aren't seated together. We talked last night and it is clear to me, as it has always been, that this place is an amazing family. Celtic Woman talks about how close they have become and that it is a family. So too has that happened with their supporters. To a person I saw our family promoting Máiréad and the others at every chance. Celtic Woman may not quite understand the incredible partnership that exists between their ensemble and ours. But it is real, it is productive, and it is free to them offered up by grateful hearts and incredibly talented people in one way or another. The items created for this tour swing alone by forum folks were marvelous. Alexa created a beautiful graphic at my request that depicted Máiréad on stage with Hendrix at Woodstock. Mike created really funny signs that Máiréad just loved last night. Dave created a massive book that had every review this forum has done thus far with SFTH including my initial review from Ireland. I wrote a poem about the PS22 experience for the ensemble and the school. Rick has his amazing Pixieland site. Scuilly brought gift bags. Mike brought more Cadbury's. I mean the list goes on and Máiréad and the others received all of that in one form or another. Let me tell you that these folks appreciate such tokens but much prefer those creative things from your heart over anything from a store, though they gratefully accept the latter. But the best treat for the artists, and it has been referred to by more than one of them, is to see those familiar faces in the crowd who are there so often for them. That is both love and respect especially in the crummy economy this past couple years. So, again this swing the wonderful interaction between forum folks and between them and the artists is such a joy to behold. you should also be very proud of the conduct of the members who had ample opportunity to intrude into private space and time of the artists in New York and did not.

The artists. What can one say about the level of talent and the willingness to share their gifts and be away from the comforts of home and country for so long every year? Is thank you enough? Well it goes back to being there for them and reminding them when you can how much we appreciate it. The Aontas choir is incredible. I have been blessed at times to hear the current crop acoustically at times and they are the best. I have been in choirs a few times and it is not easy especially when you add complex choreography to the mix. On this tour we have been given a gift with the return of Lisa's sister Helen. Always a dynamic and a bit mischievous one on stage. You have the old timers in Niall and Andrew. Though they seldom if ever interact with the audience in any sort of selective way. Catherine too has been with them for quite awhile and along with Rosin, who is on the tour but not in it this time, forms a nice core group. Then you have my two personal favorites, Dermot and Sarah. Both are willing to interact with audience members and that holds them in great favor. Amy Rivard found that out as did Julian David Edwards when they were with the choir. It builds a core of support for the future. Dermot and Sarah are fun to watch and fun to interact with and both have great voices. The band has been solid from the start with Des, Eoghan, and the incomparable Ray. Nick has been with them much of the time too. Des and Eoghan as well as Brian at the piano are unsung heroes who you could not do without. While they may not interact with us they certainly do with each other on stage and it is fun to watch. Ray and Nick are simply the best. And they are genuinely nice people and willing at times to interact with specific audience members. I think they know who their best supporters are. Then we have the amazing Tommy on pipes and new addition Anthony. When the two of them join forces in Amazing Grace you simply can't breathe. Tommy's jam session at the end is a hoot too! Each of these folks are pieces to a puzzle that would not be complete without them.

Chloe Agnew. We have watched her grow up before our eyes and what an amazing woman and premier artist she is. Her role has increased with Alex's departure. She does both duets now in the coupled songs that make up Songs From The Heart. She has assumed Alex's role in At The Ceili and is absolutely comfortable in it. And she has added bits in other songs to fill the Alex void. That is in addition to her solo songs that are dynamite and perfect for her. She is constantly interacting with her friends on stage, with her audience, and with her songs. Both her solos are signature pieces in my book. Chloe is also delightful to meet and what you see on stage is what you get at a meet & greet. She has become the de facto spokesperson and has no trouble with it at all.

Lynn Hilary. When Lynn first appeared to take on Meav's role in the fall of 2007 no one out here knew what to expect. Well, David did and it has paid off handsomely. She has grown into her role superbly. Perhaps that DVD from Powerscourt cemented it in her own mind and this show has benefited greatly from it. She is connected to her songs, passionate in the delivery, and engaging. She will not give you lots of direct looks or frequent interactions but when she does you will know it. Her solo pieces on this tour swing were just nailed and her speeches from the stage delightfully delivered and very well received. She too has been given more material and has not skipped a beat in it. She now Joins Lisa to make a duet out of Alex's My Heart Was Home Again. Those are enormous shoes to fill when it was her signature song. She is still a bit more reserved than the others at a meet & greet but still delightful.

Lisa Kelly. Veteran in so many ways and a core element. Lisa again this tour is a focal point for so many people. She has made The Moon's a Harsh Mistress a signature song. However, for the vast majority, it will never replace The Voice. That is a song synonymous with Lisa. She owns it and always will. But with Moon she conveys the pain within the lyrics effectively. I certainly feel it. She too has an added role as the other in the duet of the former Alex song. Lisa is engaging and interactive from the stage and will not hesitate making you part of the show. She draws you in. Lisa excels at meet & greet. I know my two experiences with her this tour were wonderful. She knows the role of making those personal connections and does so very well.

Máiréad Nesbitt. Where to start. Where to end for that matter!! The incomparable Máiréad Nesbitt is like no other on the planet at her craft and as a person. No video can truly do her justice nor can any audio. You only scratch the surface of her energy and ability on a video. On audio only you can certainly feel her emotion flow through the music. But you miss out on the priceless expressions on her face and in her body language. You simply must experience the entire package to know Máiréad's gift adequately. Once you do you will not be able to resist. She's like a bag of crisps. You just have to have the entire bag! As I have said elsewhere, she is like human champagne that will fizz all over you and tickle every sense. When she spots that familiar face be ready because you are about to be buried in pixie dust. She did on this tour swing as she has done without exception and that is bathe myself and others in a never ending shower of notes, looks, movements, and smiles. And when she lights up, and she does often, the sun goes into eclipse. The soul inside that diminutive and lovely form is the definition of beauty in all its many forms. At a meet & greet be prepared for that firm grip, ready smile, engaging eyes, and a voice that could melt the most frozen of hearts. There are none better at what she does the way she does it. I can't imagine there ever will be. She is simply, and wonderfully, Máiréad.

The show. Some subtle changes and some dramatic ones as a result of Alex's departure. It does not affect the Chloe, Lisa, Lynn, or Máiréad solos. None of those have changed yet each has a nuance each night. Folks have asked me on this trip if the show is the same each night. I tell them the song set is the same but each night is different. Attend a few shows in a row as I do and you discover that quickly. The Alex departure has not been felt in a major way in Nil Se'n La, Non Ce Piu, Danny Boy, Mo Ghile Mear, Amazing Grace, The Call, Isle Of Hope Isle Of Tears, Orinoco Flow, or You Raise Me Up. The other artists have taken up the parts and done so very well. Some of the choreography has changed. Danny Boy now includes Máiréad. Gee, that is hard to take. Orinoco flow has an amazing new vocal twist to it that I cannot describe but it will give you goose bumps. It is fantastic. YRMU now has the choir doing what PS22 did and it sounds lovely. Alex's role in At The Ceili has been filled very well by Chloe. The show is now one song shorter as You'll Be In My Heart has been dropped and not replaced. But where you will note the biggest change, or at least where I do, is in Alex's signature piece My Heart Was Home Again, and in her duet in Walking The Night. The Lynn Lisa combo in MHWHA is lovely. If you had never heard Alex do this song you would be impressed and love it. It is done very well now but for the core group of supporters and frequent concert attendees it will take awhile for this to grow on us again. Alex lived that song and her stage experience sold the song right into your soul. It was incredible when we first heard it in Roanoke and shows since. As I said in my other reviews, Lisa had not connected with that song. She sang it just fine but she did not convey its essence. In Rochester that changed. Again I was moved to tears. Lynn feels this song and you can see it in her eyes. As long as Lisa continues to then all will be fine in time. In Walking The Night the pairing of Lynn and Alex was brilliant. The Lynn Chloe pairing was awesome in Pie Jesu. For me though the complimentary nature of the two voices doesn't quite reach the level it did with Alex. Again, it is because of Alex's stage experience that she was able to connect with the message in the lyrics. It may also be a function of age. It is not a matter of talent which Chloe has in abundance but simply a different sound and different emotion that can be best conveyed by one who has lived that pain. Again, it will be fine and if one had never heard the Alex and Lynn duet in this you'd never know and it would stand on its own as beautiful. It is. Yet it is not what it was. The only other major change in the show is the song Goodnight My Angel which now operates as a duet and not a trio. Lynn's gentle presence is needed in my opinion. She has the gift for a lullaby. It has to be hard to dial it back and not use the incredible power that Chloe has. But the song demands a softness that only Lynn has. Lisa, of course fits right in. I mean after all she's a mom!! Again, this is no slam on Chloe. I mean none of the others up there could do equal justice to L'Assenza or When You Believe! For those of us attending these shows though it just seemed like a more appropriate duet for Lynn and Lisa. So, while the show differs in many ways, it is still the magnificent creation of David Downes and the artists on stage. It is worth seeing again and again. If you have the chance to see this show in person and up close you will be rewarded with every moment of it.

So, there you have another moscapoet novel. Saratoga was my 49 th show and I think Mike's 73rd. So, you have the top two show attendees at these events. I hope the others who attended these four shows will add their own opinions, and that is exactly what this is, to the mix here. Thank you Mike, Celtic Woman, Rachel,Dave, and most especially Máiréad for four delightful nights. Oh and one more note of change. Kelly Martin had taken Rachel's role at the meet & greets on the spring tour. I for one thought that a good move to take a bit off of Rachel's plate. But Rachel is back and no wicked witch in sight. She now sports a Glenda the good witch mood and was absolutely delightful. In fact it was as much fun chatting with her as the others at times. She has been most accommodating in the past but not always in a public contact frame of mind. But in these four shows anyway, she was amazing. Very nice indeed. On the other hand, Mitch from Madstone was a bit of a grump pretty much every night. Maybe he needs a dose of whatever Rachel has been ingesting! Actually, no maybe about it.

Until September, Scott

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