Crossroads Ceili returning to ring in the new year with Celtic flair
This year, one of the guest acts also has a local connection. The featured trad-Irish group Bua includes one member, Sean Gavin, who's a Detroit-area native and has performed at the Ceili many times. He’s the son of Mick Gavin, the venerable Detroit-area fiddler who is also the event’s organizer and host.
“I think I first played at the Ceili when I was 12 or 13,” says Sean Gavin, now 25.
The Ceili shows are Thursday and Friday, and this year the Ceili celebrates its 15th year at The Ark.
Bua is based in Chicago, where Sean Gavin has lived for the last three years after moving there from the Detroit area. (He grew up in Redford.) But a couple of the members live in other cities, like Portland and St. Paul.
Bua will join the usual Crossroads Ceili crew of Mick Gavin, Michael and Colleen Gavin (fiddle / banjo and flute / Irish whistle), Kelsey Lutz (fiddle), Siobhan McKinney (harp), The Dollowy Family (fiddle, banjo, step dancing, songs), Terence and Siobhan McKinney (uilleann pipes / harp), Lance Wagner (fiddle and piano), and other set and step dancers.
And the other guest artist is the acclaimed step dancer Nic Gareiss of Mt. Pleasant, who has also performed at the Ceili several times over the years.Bua was named Top Traditional Group at the 2009 Irish Music Awards, and the group just released a new album in October, “Down the Green Fields,” that is even more rooted in trad-Irish music than their previous releases.
Bua has undergone some lineup changes over the years. The current band is Sean Gavin on flute, Irish whistle and uilleann pipes; Brian Hart on vocals and concertina; Devin Shepherd on fiddle; and Brian Miller on guitar and bouzouki.
All four members of Bua, as well as Gareiss, will conduct music and dance workshops at The Ark on Friday at 3 p.m. The fee for a three-hour session is $30 per person. The workshops will focus on repertoire and technique and are suitable for beginners as well as intermediate and advanced players. Workshop participants are encouraged to bring a recording device. For more information about the workshops, or to register, write to Siobhansh@aol.com or go online to crossroadsceili.weebly.com/contact.html.
Sean Gavin and Shepherd have been roommates for a couple of years, “and we’ve been making music together for a long time, so when he joined the band (Shepherd is the newest member), it was a really natural fit,” says Gavin by phone from Chicago.
“We’ve both been drawn to more traditional music the last few years, and have listened to a lot of old wax cylinders and 78s and reel-to-reels—basically, private recordings—so we could draw on that massive body of older trad music that is often not tapped into these days.”
The music on Bua’s previous recordings was comparable to that of bands like Solas and Lunasa, whose music, while rooted in trad-Irish styles, also draws on other elements, like American folk music, world-music, bluegrass, etc. Bua had previously also drawn on Scottish and Cape Breton styles. When discussing Bua’s influences, Gavin cites the 1920s-‘30s-era 78 rpm recordings of the Irish fiddle masters from County Sligo—Michael Coleman, Paddy Killoran and James Morrison. “Those players were the biggest influences, really, on all of the important trad-Irish groups of the last 30-odd years”—like Planxty, De Dannan, the Bothy Band, Altan, etc. Those ‘20s and ‘30s fiddlers were also a big influence on Sean’s dad, Mick, an Ireland native. That's key, “because I learned most of my music from my dad,” says Gavin.
Gavin looks at growing up in such a musical family as “a real gift. I started playing fiddle when I was 5 or 6, before later switching to flute and pipes, and we spent a lot of time with my dad when he was playing in the house, or at parties, or at the Gaelic League, or The Ark, or at other ceilis,” says Gavin.
“It’s actually something I took for granted until I reached that age where you start doing some self-analysis,” says Gavin, with a laugh. “That’s when I realized that growing up surrounded by that much culture is not commonplace, and now I’m really thankful that I grew up in that kind of environment.”
One challenge for a group that plays in a traditional style—whether it’s Irish music, blues, country, bluegrass, Cajun, etc.—is to stay true to the tradition while also sounding spontaneous and creative. That is, to bring something of yourself to the music, instead of treating it like a museum artifact.
“For me, my love for the traditional style drives me, and fuels me, and when I get really immersed in it, that’s when the creativity just comes out,” says Gavin. “And you really do have to be immersed in it to fully understand the expression of the music.”
Kevin Ransom, a free-lance writer who covers music for AnnArbor.com, has written about the Crossroads Ceili for the Ann Arbor News / AnnArbor.com every year since 2001. He can be reached at KevinRansom10@aol.com.