- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2002

It's a week of fiddle playing as four internationally renowned musicians take the stage at the Barns of Wolf Trap. Tonight, fiddler Eileen Ivers is joined by a seven-piece band that includes an Irish piper, a Latin percussionist and a South African bass player. On Wednesday, fiddlers extraordinaire Kevin Burke, Johnny Cunningham and Christian LeMaitre play together and separately as the ever-popular Celtic Fiddle Festival .
Just don't expect it all to sound the same. These are four musicians who consider their Celtic roots both a grounding force and a point of departure.
Born in the Bronx, Eileen Ivers spent her summers with relatives in Ireland, honing her skills in fiddle championships until she finally won the coveted senior All-Ireland championship in 1984 at the age of 19.
Today, however, her sound owes as much to Jimi Hendrix as it does to legendary traditional fiddle player Martin Mulvihill, with whom she studied.
"Something clicked my ears open to music," she says. "I like to add influences to accent what's in there already. You know, African music feels the 'three beat' the same way Irish music does."
Her sound is in part formed by how widely she has cast her net. She toured with the pop duo Hall & Oates back in 1990. She had an extremely successful stint as the fiddle player for the popular musical revue "Riverdance," which pushed the limits of traditional fiddle playing. She also, however, has been a member of the Irish folk band Cherish the Ladies and has accompanied some of the best Irish-American musicians in the business, including Seamus Egan, a master of eight instruments. She even has played with the New York-based Celtic rap-rock band, Paddy a Go-Go.
Some of her evolving sensibility can be heard on her most recent album, "Crossing the Bridge," an exploration of musical kinship among countries such as Spain, Africa, the West Indies, Cuba and, of course, Ireland. A new CD is scheduled to be released this spring.
"I would never compromise the root," she says firmly. "A rock approach takes the soul out of music, but being able to play together with different musicians has been a revelation."
It is interesting to hear the interplay. A set of reels, "Paddy in Zululand," features a traditional Irish melody with a distinctly South African rhythm pulsating underneath. Meanwhile, the old standard "Darlin' Corey" shows off the Irish roots of bluegrass.

At the end of the week, the Celtic Fiddle Festival brings together fiddlers from the Irish, Scottish and Breton musical traditions.
It began back in 1993 after fiddlers Kevin Burke and Johnny Cunningham ran into each other in a bar.
"Johnny and I talked into the wee hours about doing something together," says Mr. Burke, an Irish fiddler, who has been a member of the Bothy Band, Patrick Street, and the world-music-tinged band Open House. "At first, people thought it was an odd idea, but we went and got Christian [LeMaitre], who's another kind of fiddle player, and the combination just caught people's imagination."
Mr. Cunningham, perhaps best-known in this country as a founding member of Silly Wizard, is a practically self-taught musician who honed his skills by listening to the artists around him rather than immersing himself in the classic Scottish fiddle tradition.
Christian LeMaitre brings a Gallic-tinged aesthetic to the trio. With a strong background in playing at the "festou-noz," the traditional evening barn dances that are held throughout Brittany, Mr. LeMaitre also reveals influences from Southern and Eastern Europe in his playing.
In concert, each of the three artists has a chance to perform a few pieces solo, showcasing a unique style of fiddle playing that reaches back to early roots.
After two live albums, the Celtic Fiddle Festival stepped into the studio for its third album, "Rendezvous," recorded with guitarist Ged Foley and cellist Christine Harrington. All the albums feature the same basic grounding: supreme musicianship and a certain infectious energy that comes from the facing off of individual styles and techniques.
"The three of us enjoy each other and respect each other," Mr. Burke says. "Plus, we've all got a robust sense of humor. You know what they say the more comfortable you are with each other, the more comfortable you are about insulting each other. There's a bit of national pride at stake here."
The Celtic Fiddle Festival also will stop by the Ram's Head Tavern in Annapolis on Tuesday and the NOAA Auditorium, 1305 East-West Highway in Silver Spring, on Thursday. Not bad for a group whose first performance was meant to be a one-time-only event.
"We've had great fortune," Mr. Burke says. "The only squabble we ever have is which of them polishes my shoes."

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide