A Look Ahead to the Tønder Festival 2008

With a Review of the 2007 Festival

The program for the 2008 Tønder Festival has just been released and it promises another wonderful weekend of the best in Celtic music coming to Denmark. Looking over the program brings to mind the memories of the great music of last summer’s festival. And, though the summer has just begun, I’m already looking forward to the last weekend of August and this year’s festival.

The 2007 Tønder festival opened with the Thursday night show of folk-rock featuring Seth Lakeman and Runrig. Seth is an English singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist and is one of the new stars on the European folk circuit. It was my first chance to see him live and it was immediately obvious what the buzz was about. His songs were well written with a contemporary edge and his band was top notch. A consumate artist and entertainer, Seth’s charisma and energy had the crowd with him for his entire set. The Scottish band Runrig, who are long time Danish favorites, followed Seth and they ensured that we were on our way to another great weekend.

A recurring theme throughout the 2007 festival was the blending of Irish and Americana music, from Cork to Cajun and contemporary Appalachian. I stopped by the Visemøllen stage on Friday night just in time to see Liz Carroll and John Doyle trading licks with Nashville’s Tim O’Brien. It was a tasty appetizer and a hint of things to come. It was time for a quick hop over to Tønder Hall to catch Eleanor Shanley and Solas. Eleanor still exudes all the charm from her DeDannan days and she sang a good selection of country flavored Irish and American songs. She was perfectly complemented by her band mates, the slightly mischievous guitarist Frankie Lane and the always good humored fiddler Paul Kelly. Solas has only played infrequently in Denmark, but hopefully that will change with all the fans they gained after their great set that closed out the evening. There is a power and directness to their music which reflects their New York and Philadelphia roots. The special treat was their original singer, Karan Casey, joining them for a few songs.
Karan performed early Saturday evening with her own band. Her interpretation of Black is the Colour, with richly a textured accompaniment by Caoimhin Vallely on piano, was particularly memorable. Cellist Kate Ellis added a lovely melancholic touch to the set.

I spent the rest of Saturday night at the Visemøllen where Scottish groups Lau and Session A9 were both in fine form. Being at a Lau concert is like taking a trip into a world of inspired madness. The trio has Aidan O’Rourke’s virtuoso fiddle playing, egged on by Martin Green’s frenetic avant-garde piano accordion adventures on one side and calmed by Orcadian guitarist Kris Drever’s more relaxed demeanor on the other. Put this band on your ‘must see live’ list. The evening finished with Session A9, one of Scotland’s premier festival show bands. It was an intimate venue for a power lineup of 7 musicians that includes fiddlers Kevin Henderson, Adam Sutherland and box player Tim Edey. They raised the roof of the mill by more than a few inches. Unfortunately the band founder, Charlie McKerron, wasn’t able to join in on fiddle for the weekend, but he was cheering on from the sidelines and helped to keep the festival mood cooking.

Sunday night’s grand finale was a very special show called Crossing the Atlantic. Rather than the usual closing night tradition with two or three top bands, the show featured most all of the festival performers to show how the music evolved as it crossed back and forth from Ireland to America and back again. The Dubliner’s John Sheahan and Alan Klitgaard hosted the show and musicians as diverse as Liam Clancy and Taj Mahal as well as all the other American, Irish and Scottish acts performed in various combinations, often guesting with each other. The music was excellent, the hosts did a fantastic job of narrating and keeping the show flowing, and the stage crew was magnificent in helping over 50 musicians sound good over the course of the evening. It was reminiscent of a live version of Mick Moloney’s famous TV program Bringing It All Back Home. It was also a great chance to revisit some of my favorite new acs, including Julie Fowlis, Crooked Still, and The Mammals. Having been to more than a few Sunday night concerts over hte years, I’d have to say this one was probably of the most inspiring.

The 2008 festival program looks just as exciting. Seth Lakeman is making a return visit, as are some great acts from previous years. The returning Irish artists at this year’s festival are Altan, Mary Black and Grada. This will be Grada’s first trip to Tønder since adding fiddler Colin Farrel. Colin has a exciting chemistry with Alan Doherty that makes their performances special. From Scotland, returning stars include the Anna Massie Band, Emily Smith, Shooglenifty, with their great new album Troots, and Eddi Reader. I missed Eddi’s concert on her last visit and my friends who went told that it was a sublime concert, so she is a ‘must see’ for this August.

There are a number of artist’s I’m looking forward to seeing for the first time. On the top of that list is Madison Violet (formerly Mad Violet) is the singer-songwriter duo of Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac. They both have strong connections to Cape Breton, which gives an interesting angle to their country-roots music. Two other musicians I’ve been wanting to see live are Ashley MacIssac with Phamie Gow. Ashley is one of the more colorful Cape Breton fiddlers and Phamie, who will be making a guest appearance with him, is an adventurous Scottish harpist, pianist and composer. In addition to their virtuoso trad oriented performances they can also use contemporary electronica elements in their music. They had collaborated on the Broadway show Tapeire this past autumn and it’ll be a treat to see them in Denmark.

Ross Ainslie and Jarlath Henderson will also be making their Tønder debut. They play Scottish border pipes and Uillean pipes respectively. It’s an unusual instrument combination for a duo and the sounds blend beautifully. Their recently released their frst CD, Partners in Crime, is full of fun and energy and quickly joined top 25 playlist in my iPod. Another newcomer is the young Scottish band Breabach. They are a new trad oriented quartet that features two Highland pipers. And festival veterans Kris Drever and John McCusker are joining forces with indie-rock singer Roddy Woomble in a new act that looks intriguing.

So there are lots of good reasons for you to make the trip to Tønder Festival this coming August. Be sure check out the program and ticket information on the festival website and get a year’s worth of celtic music in 4 days.

Author: Michael G. Rose

Michael G. Rose is a pianist from Boston and is now based in Copenhagen, Denmark. Michael is working in a new quartet with Scottish flutist Calum Stewart, Swedish saxaphonist Daniel Carlsson and Danish percussionist Louise Petersen. He has been one half of the duo Fromseier Rose, together  with violinist Ditte Fromseier Mortensen and he has also worked with Scottish harper, Rachel Hair and Irish fiddler Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh. You can read more about Michael's  projects and listen to his music at http://www.michaelgrose.net and http://www.myspace.com/michaelgrose.

Seth Lakeman opens the festival
A Cajun - Irish session
Tim O'Brien joins Liz Carroll and John Doyle
Karan Casey with her band
Lau heats up the Visemøllen
Session A9 follows with another hot show
Duncan Chisholm admiring a John Sheehan waltz
Leonard Podolak (Duhks) and Anna try a Tønder hangover cure (pickled eggs with Tabasco and a shot of schnappes)