Even more than most holidays, St. Patrick’s Day comes with whopping doses of clichés, so when you think of SPDs past, you’re likely to remember loud people in loud outfits with shamrock necklaces drinking green beer or leprechauns hawking furniture sales on TV. Before last night I’m not even sure I could have told you what a meaningful, soulful St. Pat’s Day would have been like. But now I know. You’d get together a huge barn full of music lovers and let Maura O’Connell sing for them and have Shannon Quinn fiddle. That’s what we did on the season closing episode of Music City Roots, and judging by the keyed up crowd, it went over well. Irish eyes were smiling, if I may hurl a cliché of my own.
We kept the theme thing loose, opening with the bluegrass of The Chapmans, and while bluegrass certainly draws on Celtic traditions, this family band doesn’t show it as openly as other, like Cherryholmes for example. No, these guys build on a classic ‘grass sound with rangy song choices and really striking 3-part brotherly harmony. They nailed it on the old standard “Small Exception of Me” and showed their instrumental flair on “El Cumbanchero” which they start like a smoldering Russian dance and then rev up to full speed. They were extremely nice guys too, which must be one secret to their 20-year longevity.
It was nice to finally hear Aly Sutton step out of her Vietti Chili role and sing her own stuff. We hardly recognized her in a black dress, green sash and red hair, and she did a great job fronting a four piece band. Then it was time for our first dose of deep Irish tissue massage. Shannon Quinn is a college-age rising star of the Nova Scotia Celtic music scene, and when she and her guitar-playing dad joined forces on stage, that wonderful communal feeling that accompanies great Irish music settled over the room. She was both a very fine instrumentalist and singer, and we were so grateful that she came so far to play. She left many hearts astir.
One semi-hidden theme of the night was a focus on Nashville’s Compass Records, which has done so much to find and market the finest Celtic music. Owners Alison Brown and Garry West have become friends of the show, and it felt right to have one of their newest acts (The Chapmans) as well as Alison’s fusion band on the same night. Garry plays bass behind Alison’s banjo, along with John R. Burr on piano and Larry Atamanuik on drums, plus last night’s special guest, fiddler extraordinaire Casey Driessen. The tunes were airy and free, with plenty of musical conversation among the front-line instruments. Alison and Garry’s daughter Hannah made a nice appearance to sing and buck dance.
To round out that eclectic lineup, we took it on home with the traditional yet modern touch of Maura O’Connell. She grabbed the situation completely with a song familiar to anyone who’s listened to even a little Celtic artistry, “Down In The Sally Garden.” She invited the great Jerry Douglas up on stage, not to play dobro but to sing with her in Gallic as he had on her new a cappella CD. And no, we didn’t understand a word, but it was cool. When Maura sang a Holly Near song totally alone, it was the quietest the barn has gotten since the show began. And then she wrapped with the wonderful “Blessing” and a Loveless Jam on Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love.”
Imagine: a cliché-free St. Patrick’s Day and a second season wrapped with class and heart. Crazy. Loved it.