Guitar Wizard Jim Hurst to appear in Harrisburg November 2nd

Two-time International Bluegrass Music Association “Guitarist of the Year” award winner Jim Hurst brings his impeccable, intricate guitar stylings to Harrisburg for a Saturday, November 2, 2013, Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert at 7:30 p.m. at the Fort Hunter Centennial Barn, 5300 N. Front Street, Harrisburg. The concert will be preceded by a free 6 p.m. potluck dinner. Information and tickets:

I caught up with guitar wizard Jim Hurst recently and had a chat with him about his guitar technique, his new CD and the decision to embark on a solo career.

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Folk Mama: I’ve e really not paid enough attention to what a guitarist does with their right hand.  I noticed in your bio that you use a combination of finger picks and a flat pick. I’m curious how you decide which picking style to use.

Hurst: Well I try to incorporate the techniques with my right hand that give me value behind the song–the lyrics, and the melodies. Essentially, I pay attention to the grove or the gentile nature of the song. There are times in my shows where I do a medley of sorts where I flatpick and sometimes where I finger style. And when I do flatpick I go through all the heroes like Toney Rice, Doc Watson, Clarence White or Mother Maybelle Carter. On the fingerstyle side it’s mostly Merle Travis, Chet Akins, Jerry Reid and folks like that. So I do a combination of different things. And sometimes I go natural so there are no picks anywhere. I use the technique that best enhances the song.

Folk Mama: I understand that you do a lot of teaching and have taught guitar at several camps. Where have you taught and what kinds of classes do you usually teach?

Hurst: I’ve gotten to teach at a lot of camps. This year for the first time I taught at Swannanoa Gathering out in North Carolina. I’ve taught at the Puget Sound Guitar Workshop out near Seattle, Washington and different camps teaching bluegrass style. I’ve been a guitar instructor for flat picking as well as fingerstyle. I’ve been a vocal instructor for bluegrass harmony vocals and I’ve also done some band coaching.

Folk Mama: So I see that you have played with Claire Lynch and with Missy Raines. Can you give us a little background?

Hurst: I’ve worked mostly with women in my career. My first job since I moved to Nashville was with Holly Dunn and I also worked with Trisha Yearwood and Sara Evans. I worked for Claire Lynch for 15 years as part of two of her bands—the Front Porch String Band with her husband and then later with the Claire Lynch Band. Missy Raines joined the band in May of 1995 and Missy and I played together in Claire’s band. After the Front Porch String Band split up  and before we started in the Claire Lynch Band, Missy and I started playing as a duet, which we continued doing for quite a few years.

Folk Mama: So now you are working solo. How did that come about?

Hurst: Well the solo thing is probably not the first thing that people in the bluegrass community would expect. I’ve always been a music lover and bluegrass is one of my loves but I grew up near Detroit, so Motown, rock and roll, the Beatles and Elvis—all these people were influences on me too.

Being in ensembles—especially as a hired sideman– you are doing the reckoning and the artwork of someone else’s desires and creation. Then as time goes on the musician inside of you, the creative person inside is never, truly fulfilled. So for me I was working in all these great bands, but the kind of thing that I wanted to do didn’t fit the environments that I was in. So in 2009 I felt the need to challenge myself to do my own kind of music, at the ripe young age of 56. And I feel like a young upstart because no one knows who I am for the most part because I’ve always been part of a group.

So it’s been a wonderful opportunity for me to kind of develop the art that I hear. My most recent CD “Intrepid” came on February of last year and it’s gotten a lot of support with on independent, internet and satellite radio. Last year at IBMAs [International Bluegrass Music Association] bluegrass convention in Nashville I think I was the first solo act to ever get an official showcase.

I was also nominated again for the “Guitar Play of the Year” Award, which was the first time that I was selected as a finalist since doing the solo thing. And that’s not an easy thing, because the bluegrass community loves a bluegrass band with a banjo and a fiddle and a mandolin, and for me to get nominated with just my guitar and a voice and be recognized by my bluegrass peers is a huge thing for me.

Folkmama: I’m curious about the title of your new CD “Intrepid”.  It doesn’t take its name from any of the songs on the CD. Does the title refer to the leap of faith that you’ve had to make going solo?

Hurst: I like to title my albums so that the name conveys something about the album.  “Open Window” my first CD from 1998 was a look into the music of who I am, and then “Second Son” because I am the second of three brothers, and “Box of Chocolates” had a lot of variety in it, and I’m a big chocolate fan.

I looked around to try to find a good title for this and I came up with the idea of “Intrepid” and I asked some friends and they thought it was perfect because it takes a lot of courage, especially in the bluegrass community to go off on your own because you are taking a chance on hurting yourself financially and creatively and maybe going places where people don’t expect you to go.

Folkmama:  Anything I missed?

Hurst: There is a lot of music that I do that is bluegrass friendly, but when I do it solo, it’s more like a songer-songwriter version. I also choose my set list based on who I think is in the audience.

I think there are some “bluegrassers” who don’t want to hear folk, and some “folkers” who don’t want to hear bluegrass, but I think I’m bridging the gap.

I would encourage anyone who has never seen me live to come and hear my music and to come out and support the Susquehanna Folk Music Society series. It’s a wonderful series and I really appreciate being part of it!


Celtic Fiddle Festival to perform October 18, 2013 in Harrisburg, PA

  1. Celtic Fiddle Festival
  2. The group Celtic Fiddle Festival, who has performed together for 20 years, is not really a “festival” in its traditional sense, but rather a coming together of three suburb fiddlers from distinct Celtic traditions to celebrate the violin in all its glob trotting variations.

The group features world-renowned Irish fiddler Kevin Burke, Quebec’s André Brunet, Breton fiddler Christian Lemaître and guitarist Nicolas Quemener.

They will appear October 18, 2013 in a concert sponsored by the Susquehanna Folk Music Society at 7:30 p.m. at the Appalachian Brewing Company, 50 N. Cameron Street, Harrisburg. Tickets and information at

Kevin Burke, one of the most accomplished Irish fiddlers in the world today, has a résumé that includes stints with iconic Irish groups The Bothy Band and Patrick Street. He plays the fluid, highly-ornamented style of County Sligo. Now living in the United States, Burke is a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Award, the highest honor awarded to a traditional musician in the United States. . Christian Lemaître honed his skills on the hypnotic Breton melodies at festou-noz (night dances) throughout Brittany, France’s Celtic region. He is a founding member of Kornog.  André Brunet is a young French-Canadian fiddler who plays the infectiously rhythmic tunes of Quebec. He is a member of De Temps Antan and was featured in the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. Nicolas Quemener is a master open-tuning guitarist who grew up in Angers, France, and studied percussion in the National School of Music. He has been part of many superb Celtic bands, including Arcady and Kornog.


This interview with Kevin Burke was conducted and edited for Susquehanna Folk Music Society by Lesley Ham on October 5, 2013.

SFMS: We last saw you here three years ago. What’s new with the Celtic Fiddle Festival?

Kevin: Our new guitar player, Nicholas Quémener, a great Breton guitarist. He used to live in Ireland and played with a band called Arcady. He’s got a great fix on the Irish music and since he lives in Brittany, he has a great feel for the Breton music as well. And through lots of coaching and playing with André, he’s learning a lot about Quebec music too, like we all are.

SFMS: How are you doing with that Quebec music?

It’s great. It doesn’t take long to see the similarities with Irish and Scottish music, while there is an obvious French connection. But it is different enough that you have to pay attention. After a while it becomes natural. I’ve been playing with André for several years now.

SFMS: What about those crooked tunes? (Popular in Quebec, crooked tunes deviate from a standard number of beats.)

Kevin: That’s what I mean by paying attention. They catch you on the hop if you’re not ready for them, but if you know what’s coming, it’s easy to be prepared.

SFMS: How does the Breton music fit in?

Kevin: I’ve been listening to Breton music since the early ‘70s. The rhythms are quite tricky too, but I’ve been listening to that music for much longer. When I was living in Ireland I used to go to Brittany quite a lot with Micheál Ố Domhnnaill and the Bothy Band. I knew a lot of great Breton musicians, and they would come to Ireland. That’s when I met Christian, back then.

SFMS: Whose idea was it to put together Celtic Fiddle Festival?

Kevin: I can’t remember. Johnny (Cunningham) and I thought we should go on the road together. It was  suggested that a third fiddle with a different style would really flesh out this idea of having a Scottish fiddler and an Irish fiddler. It would have a much broader scope if we had a third fiddler playing yet a different style. We immediately thought of Breton music, because Johnny was a big fan as well, and the best fiddler I knew from there was Christian. We hit the road thinking it would last for a couple of weeks.

SFMS: Luckily that wasn’t the case!

Kevin: here we are with our 20th anniversary CD….That was a big blow loosing Johnny. (Johnny Cunningham died in December 15, 2003) Our first reaction was that this was the end of the group. We were talked into continuing. We thought it would be better to continue. Johnny wouldn’t have been comfortable knowing that his demise was the demise of the band too. So  we kept going, but we decided that having another Scottish fiddler would look and feel like a replacement, so we looked for something else. We came up with the idea of some Quebec music because of the French, Irish and Scottish connection. And one of the best fiddlers that we knew playing that kind of music was André.

SFMS: Had you played with André before?

Kevin: A little, yes. I knew him through his work with La Bottine Souriante. His happy demeanor and his upbeat energy were just what we needed because we were all feeling kind of low. Johnny died in December and our tour was in February.

SFMS: I was just listening to your new album; it’s a really great combination of Irish standards like The Maid behind the Bar, slow waltzes and original tunes.

Kevin: The Maid behind the Bar in some circles is called The Green Mountain, which in French is vert mont. We thought this was kind of funny. And it’s a well-known tune in Quebec as well. It was recorded live so we wanted to include a lot of standard tunes that the audience could recognize. There are a few originals, one of Nicolas’, and two slower tunes from André: Quand Scofflent Les Anges (When Angles Breath), and Valse du Chef de Gare (The Station Master’s Waltz).

SFMS: Do you still use the same format of playing individual sets and group sets as well?

Kevin: We’ve changed the balance slightly. We’ve made the individual sets shorter. We’ve been playing together for such a long time that we have a lot of strong repertoire now. We’ve changed it now so that the solo sets only cover the first half and the second half is all the group. There were so many group pieces that we enjoyed playing, we had to struggle with what we had to leave out. We thought that if we extend the group section that we don’t have to leave out so much.

SFMS: That’s good for us! What are the similarities between the different styles of music?

Kevin: That’s the point of the individual sets. You realize how different everyone’s approach is. At the same time, it doesn’t take too much to accommodate the other styles, though you do have to alter it slightly. If I play a typical Sligo styles on a Breton or Quebec tune it would probably sound awkward because the tunes are structured differently to accommodate each styles. You’d have that feeling of a square peg in a round hole. The music takes precedence. Whatever we feel is the better way to play that piece of music, that’s what we try to approach. We push our personal styles to one side.

SFMS: So with the group, do you try to play in the style of the origin of the tune?

Kevin: I try to get closer to it. In a Quebec piece I’m not trying to convince people that I’m a Quebec fiddler, but I am trying to show how the way I play can accommodate the music of Quebec, or of anywhere else.

SFMS: So you negotiate what to include?

Kevin: It’s pretty democratic. The whole point of the group is to show how we can all play each other’s music and make it sound acceptable. We try to get a balance. On the record, there are two Breton pieces, two Irish piece, and two Quebec pieces, and there’s one solo guitar piece. And we all do two solos each in our own style. The concert is much the same. We try to make sure that all the slow pieces don’t come from one area and all the fast pieces from another. We play Quebec reels and Irish reels and Breton polkas and slower tunes. We try to make sure everything get represented.

SFMS: I can see why you have a problem of what to leave out!

Kevin: We could simply play a night of all Irish, or all Quebec, or all Breton music, but the point is to show how they are all connected. We also make a point of playing something that belongs to none of us, for example a Venezuelan Waltz, Romanian music—André sometimes plays a bit of swing jazz. We like to leave a bit of room for a little surprise for the audience.

An Interview with modern day troubadours James Keelaghan and Jez Lowe, appearing in concert October 6th, 2013, Harrisburg, PA

James Keelaghan, hailed as Canada’s finest singer-songwriter and “poet laureate of the folk and roots music world,” and England’s Jez Lowe, one of the busiest performers on the acoustic/folk scene, join forces for a special evening of music in a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert on Sunday, October 6, at 7:30 p.m., at the Midtown Scholar, 1302 N. 3rd Street, Harrisburg.

Concert tickets are $21 General Admission, $17 for SFMS members, and $10 for students ages 3-22. 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

Called Canada’s finest singer-songwriter, James Keelaghan takes traditional folk music and brings it into the current century, telling stories that are designed to be passed from one generation to the next, just as folk songs have been carried on for centuries. His masterful story-telling has been part of the bedrock of his success, earning him a Juno (Canada’s Grammy), first prize in the Folk Category of the 8th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, and accolades from Australia to Scandinavia. He uses his background in history to write songs about social issues, such as his well-known songs Kiri’s Piano, about the internment of Japanese Canadians, and Cold Missouri Waters, about the Mann Gulch fire of 1949. My Blood, written with Jez Lowe, is one of many examples from Keelaghan’s career of his inviting collaboration into his creative process.

Accompanying himself on guitar, cittern, mandolin and harmonica, Jez Lowe has brought his “pointed, poignant and powerful” songs of life in his native northeast England to audiences worldwide. Raised in a coal mining family with Irish roots, he composes songs of social impact that directly address economic conditions, and issues of poverty and limited social opportunity in that region. Performing solo and with the Bad Pennies, he has played at some of the most prestigious venues in the world. Jez’s songs have also found their own way around the globe all on their own, borne by performers including Cherish the Ladies, the Tannahill Weavers, the Black Family, Fairport Convention, The Clancy’s, The Dubliners and literally hundreds more. BBC Radio 2 has called him “one of our finest songwriters,” echoing his 2008 nomination for “Folksinger of the Year” in the BBC Folk awards.

This interview was conducted and edited for the Susquehanna Folk Music Society by Lesley Ham. She caught up with them as they embarked on their road trip from Canada to the United States.

SFMS: How did you get together and start playing and touring together?

James: We were aware of each other from the folk scene in general and we shared stages at various folk festivals in various parts of the world. In Australia one year we did a couple of shows together at the National Folk Festival. It was a pretty good sound, so I thought maybe we should pursue this thing, because we write in very similar styles and about a lot of similar things. So at that National Folk Festival in Australia, we started working up common material. Then we toured together in the United States, Canada and the U.K.

SFMS: You’re both known for writing about historical and social issues. How do you collaborate with each other? Do you play on each other’s songs, or write songs together?

James: We have done some writing together; we’re trying to do more writing together. We also play together; we’re both on stage together for the whole time. We sing harmonies on each other’s songs and participate in each other’s music.

SFMS: Are you both from similar backgrounds?

James: We both tend to write about “every person,” about ordinary people and their lives. I think we have similar appreciation for what we write about.

SFMS: Some people have likened that to a kind of folklore. Do you think of yourself as a kind of folklorist or tradition bearer?

James: I think of myself as a troubadour. Once I was in a café in Turkey with a friend and a guy was in a corner doing a song, a kind of recitation, with all the men listening to him. I asked my friend what song he was singing. And it was the Odyssey. It was his job to sit there and recite the entirety of the Odyssey. In that way, Jez and I are bearers of stories. I’ve always thought that the best compliment of one of my songs would be that a couple hundred years from now someone gets up in a folk club somewhere and sings one of my songs and says, “This is a traditional folk song, we don’t know who wrote it.” That means that what I’ve done is created a song that’s good enough that I can completely disappear from it and the song stands on its own and has a life of its own.

Jez: I agree. One of my songs has already been absorbed into the British tradition. It’s quite a compliment.

SFMS: What’s it like collaborating with James?

Jez: It’s remarkable how similar our approach is. The music sounds quite different, but it’s amazing how alike our approach and our background is, and our standards and ideals. It’s amazing since we come from opposite sides of the world. A common heritage.

SFMS: James, because of your song Cold Missouri Waters were you paying attention to the fires in Colorado and Arizona recently?

James: Yes, my song got attached to the news coverage of that event. People on Facebook started spreading it around on the memorials to the firefighters that were killed in Arizona. And then I ended up on the front page of USA Today. It was humbling, to think of that song being used to memorialize those guys. That’s what Jez and I are talking about. It’s all about the power of the song. It’s all about touching people through music and telling stories that reflect people’s lives. If we wrote about princes and kings I don’t think people would care. If we write about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, I think people can relate to that. You write these things and put them out into the world and you never exactly know how they are going to affect people. One of my songs, McConville’s [about how pubmates help out the family of their dead friend] suddenly has become the story-song that everyone is talking about.

SFMS: So, you pick stories that affect you?

James: It has to touch me first; if I don’t care anything about the story, I can’t write about it. I’m sure it’s the same with Jez. (Jez: Yes!)

SMFS: What’s your writing process? Do you start with the story?

James: I hear a story, and then I mull it over for a long time until I find a point of view that I can tell the story from that resonates. To me, telling a story is all about the point of view. So do you agree with that, Mr. Lowe?

Jez: Yes, that’s one approach that I take. I also enjoy making up stories and characters to reflect a real situation, like a novel, like fiction.

SFMS: What can we expect Sunday?

James: You’ll be treated to an evening of extremely fine song, and witty, and entertaining guys (Jez: and handsome!), and a great story.

SFMS: Drive safely.

James:  I’m writing a story about the crash right now!252629-250