Robinella Headlines September 28, 2013 During Day of Music Near York, PA

It doesn’t get any better than an early fall picnic in a beautiful location with exciting musical entertainment all day long. in association with the Susquehanna Folk Music Society invites you to a family-friendly event featuring an open mic, post-concert jamming, and performances by Beggar’s Ride, 3 Dollar Suit, Kevin Neidig and Friends, and Robinella. It all happens on Saturday, September 28, at Elicker’s Grove Park at 511 Roth Church Road, near Spring Grove, PA.

Gates open at 11 a.m. with the Open Mic at Noon, Beggar’s Ride at 2 p.m., 3 Dollar Suit at 3 p.m., Kevin Neidig at 4 p.m., headliner Robinella at 5 p.m., and post-concert jamming until 6:30 p.m. It is a rain or shine event. Tickets are $18 General Admission and $16 for SFMS members. Children age 16 and under are free. Advance tickets and information is available through

Headlining the event, from Knoxville, Tennessee, is singer-songwriter and recording artist Robinella.

She will appear with her trio, including Mike Seal on guitar and Clint Mullican on bass. She has previously performed three times at the Wagon Shed (New Freedom) and at the Whitaker Center with guitarist Frank Vignola.

Art Wachter, of says that on stage Robinella is very high energy and very fun loving. “Her strong southern roots really come through,” he says. “She’s very at ease on the stage. You feel that you are in a living room instead of a concert. Her voice is so natural…when she sings it seems effortless.”

I had a chance to speak to Robinella last week about her past influences, her songwriting and her plans for the future.

FOLKMAMA: Tell us a little bit about your musical history. The kinds of things that you’ve done and the things that you want people to know.

ROBINELLA: I’m from East Tennessee and grew up on a farm where we grew tobacco and my dad is one of ten and the whole family is all musical. They all sing. And my grandfather played the Jew’s harp and my dad started at an early age with a bunch of his other brothers playing and singing and farming.

We would sing in church with my dad. I grew up going to a Baptist church. It was a really rural church. So I started like that and then I went to college and got kind of caught up with some other folks playing music and I got really interested in starting to learn to play guitar and I met a guy (Cruz Contreras ) and married this guy and we started our first musical group together called Robinella and the CCstringband.

And so for a few years Cruz and I, we really worked hard on our music, and I started to develop my own style but really initially I was just playing catch up to all the styles and stuff I kind of missed out on growing up like I did—you know jazz and some more pop things from earlier decades and rock and roll and the blues and I really got into bluegrass there for awhile.

There’s a lot of bluegrass here where I was from, but my dad never thought of himself as a bluegrass player. He just thought of himself as country. But there are a lot of places around here like Buttermilk Grove and Rocky Branch–where people would just get together and pick. And that’s really where I picked up a lot of music—having to just be able to jump in and play with whoever is playing and I realized that my background came in handy, especially if they were playing gospel songs. They’ll be playing and I’d say, “Hey, I know this song!”

So we spent a lot of time diversifying and playing as Robinella and the CCstringband, which we started pretty soon after we met. I was a singer and played guitar and Cruz was the mandolin and we did some pretty extensive touring and got a record deal (with Columbia Records). I continued to write more songs, and eventually, I feel I really developed my own style.

FOLKMAMA: So when the band was together, you called yourself a string band. So in those early years, was your music rooted in bluegrass and country? Was that the sound you were after?

ROBINELLA: It probably was. In the rural county where I grew up, that was a lot of what was around us. Cruz is from Nashville and his brother is a very accomplished violinist. He had made his start in bluegrass and Cruz had accompanied Billy on guitar so he had learned all that bluegrass stuff too.

FOLKMAMA: So when the band together was together, did you write songs then, or is it more sing you’ve gone solo that you’ve gotten into songwriting?

ROBINELLA: No, I wrote songs all along. I wrote the song for our first video which is called “Man Over” (  Uploaded in2009, over 85,000 views) and on our first Columbia album there was “Man Over”, “Mornin’ Dove”, “Honey, Honey Bee”and“Dress Me Down”– a song I wrote about being from East Tennessee and having a good family.

FOLKMAMA: Is Ode to Love your latest CD?

ROBINELLA: Yes, it’s my third solo album.

FOLKMAMA: And you composed most of the songs?

ROBINELLA: There are two not written by me; there is “Stardust” and “Over the Rainbow”.

FOLKMAMA: So, this really features your songwriting. Is this the first CD that you’ve made of mostly your own compositions?

ROBINELLA: No, I guess my first featured songwriting album was “Solace for the Lonely” (2006 Duotone Records). It came out after my Columbia record. I wrote all but one on that record. And followed by it was “Fly Away Bird” where  and I wrote most of the songs too.

FOLKMAMA: So when you come to us on September 28th, what musicians are you going to bring with you?

ROBINELLA: I’m going to bring Mike Seal who will impress everyone at the festival and people will say that he’s the best guitarist that they have ever heard in their whole life. And also a very accomplished bass play, Clint Mullican.

FOLKMAMA: And are your musicians acoustic or electric?


FOLKMAMA: So I know that you have your own style, but what can you say to describe the style that you will be playing?

ROBINELLA: It will sound a lot like what you hear on my CD “Ode to Love”. I write love songs, and I’ll play songs off that album. And I’ve got some country songs. But I probably don’t have as many country songs as you would think that a girl with my background would have, I don’t know why. I guess with all the stringy, earthy bands that are coming out of everywhere now– I guess I feel I was doing that 13, 15 years ago.  Now I want to discover some other kinds of songs, things that are new that I might want to explore and find out what they are about and mix that kind of material with my country, Baptist roots.

FOLKMAMA: And some jazz too.

ROBINELLA: I like jazz because I have a little more freedom with the melody and it’s good to do that. Although anymore I seem to be satisfied with singing a simple line. I guess I just had to show everyone that I could fancier stuff!

FOLKMAMA: Where do you think you want to head next?

ROBINELLA: Well playing for a folk festival like this is a really big deal for me. You know I haven’t seen your audience, but I have a feeling that they are going to be my kind of crowd!  Robinella3394-photo Art Wachter

Irish music with CILLIAN and NIALL VALLELY along with ALAN MURRAY , Sept 15, Harrisburg, PA

niall and cillian hiresThree of the greatest names in traditional Irish music today, all acclaimed soloists in their own right, are coming together this fall for a unique U.S. concert tour, and Harrisburg will be one of their early stops. Brothers CILLIAN and NIALL VALLELY along with ALAN MURRAY will appear in a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert on Sunday, September 15, at 7:30 p.m. at the Appalachian Brewing Company, 50 N. Cameron Street, Harrisburg.

Known worldwide for their work with the Irish acts Lúnasa, Nomos, and Karan Casey, the Vallely brothers hail from Armagh City in the north of Ireland. They are being joined by Scottish guitarist and singer Alan Murray.

Cillian Vallely is the uilleann pipes and low-whistle player with Lúnasa, praised by Irish Voice as the “hottest Celtic band on the planet. Niall Vallaly has been recognized throughout the world as one of Ireland’s greatest concertina players. Alan Murray is a highly respected guitarist and singer who has toured extensively across Ireland, Britain, Australia, and the U.S.

Concert tickets are $22 General Admission, $18 for SFMS members. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets at (800) 838-3006 or online at For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society web site at

The interview below with Cillian Vallely was conducted and edited for Susquehanna Folk Music Society by Lesley Ham, Sept 2, 2013


Lesley: First of all, we’re looking forward to you coming here; we’re excited to hear you.

Cillian: Yes, I was there about seven years ago with Lunasa. We had a nice time, it’s good to be going back there now.

Lesley: Usually, we’re used to seeing you with Lunasa, but this is the first time I’ll be seeing you with your brother.

Cillian: Yes, we grew up playing together. We both started when we were very young. We started playing formal concerts and tours about 2001-2002. We decided to record an album together, Callan Bridge. We put together tunes to record and went on the road.

Lesley: Callan Bridge is the only one you’ve done together, right?

Cillian: Yes, it’s about 10 or 11 years old now; maybe we should get cracking on another one.

Lesley: Yes, you should. It seems surprising that you haven’t.

Cillian: In the last year and a half we started playing a bit more together, we’ve got some new stuff.

Lesley: That’s great. It’s also surprising that it took so long to put an album together since you’ve been playing together since you were kids.

Cillian: Niall left Armagh when he was 18 to go to Cork (Niall got his Bachelors of Music degree from University College Cork) and two years later when I was 18 I went to England and then from England to America, so I wasn’t really around much for 10 years after that. We’d meet up at Christmas or whenever. We’d only play with our parents, we never played formally. We didn’t have set tunes or a program that we could do. That only came about for the album. We had barely played as adults until that point.

Lesley: Your parents started the Armagh Pipers Club over 40 years ago. That must have been fun growing up in such a musical family.

Cillian: Yes, it was always there; I don’t know anything else. That was just the reality of growing up. My parents ran a club of about 100 kids, we just went to the classes with everybody else. There was always music and concerts. We even did a few tours as a family when I was 10 or 11 years old. I remember we went to Switzerland and France. So I had an early feeling for going on tour and going on stage.

Lesley: That’s quite young!

Cillian: I only have one upbringing, so I don’t know how to compare not having that music.

Lesley: So, when it came time for you and Niall to put together your album, how did you choose what to put on it?

Cillian: There are few different elements. We got a few sets of things we’d always played, things we learned from our parents, standard tunes; and then both of us had a lot of tunes we knew that nobody else played, old, traditional tunes, so we did a bit of research and found tunes that suited the instruments; and then Niall also composes tunes, so he had 5 or 6 tunes that he hadn’t recorded with anyone else that suited the pipes. So a mixture of new stuff and very old stuff from manuscripts; a varied program.

Lesley: Do you also compose tunes?

Cillian: Yes, recently I’ve written quite a few tunes that Lunasa did on the last album. Some of them I wrote 10 to 15 years ago, but only recently got the confidence to let them loose.

Lesley: I’m glad you got brave enough to let us listen to them!

Cillian: I don’t do it a lot, but sometimes you find yourself doodling and then develop a melody. It’s always a bit nervy playing for someone else; it can be a humbling experience.

Lesley: Do you still have that session in New York?

Cillian: No, but there are always sessions most days of the week in Manhattan I can sit in.  But when I’m back home I play. Most of my friends play; it’s as much as a sociable evening out as a musical one. When I’m home for a while I like to get out and see everybody and have a few drinks with them.

Lesley: Your parents’ philosophy is that listening is just as important as learning how to play the instrument.

Cillian: At the Piper’s Club, they were very against the competition angle of music for children, in favor of putting together groups and doing concerts and arrangements. They’ve always been keen to stress that element of music, listening to each other; fiddle players play with pipers and flute players. Everybody is taught as a group. The focus is on the music itself and the ensemble and social aspect of it. Pipers tend to be all around musicians instead of solo pipers. I think that’s a healthy way to teach young people. People can play with all instruments and all styles. You get a balanced musical education at the Pipers Club.

Lesley: You have an album with Kevin (Crawford from Lunasa, On Common Ground). How did that come about?

Cillian: We’re always playing a certain style with Lunasa so we decided to do something different, a little less arranged, with lower instruments called flat pipes, that give a mellow sound. It’s a relaxed album. I enjoyed doing that; it’s a different style of music than I play with Lunasa or Niall. For a few years we did a lot of concerts, just myself and Kevin, or myself, Kevin and a guitarist.

Lesley: That sounds nice. We’ll have to bring you back with that ensemble! I notice that Karan Casey is your sister-in-law. Your family holidays must be fun.

Cillian: It’s more social; we all get together and our children play together while we chat. I often play with Niall and Caoimhin (his younger brother, who plays the piano, tin whistle, and fiddle) and Karan. Karan often sings with Lunasa, so I end up doing quite a few gigs a year with Karan, but we don’t do a lot of casual playing. It’s the nature of when it’s your profession. We’re usually playing formally, so it’s nice when we have a casual night.

Lesley: Do your daughters play?

Cillian: Not yet. One is three and one just turned six. I want them to play forever, so I’m not going to force them yet; let them run around the park. When they’re ready for an instrument hopefully they’ll take it serious.

Lesley: Thank you. We look forward to seeing you in a few weeks.

Cillian: See you around.