Bluesman PHIL WIGGINS performs with the Dovetail Ensemble, Feb 23rd in York, PA

Phil Wiggins is considered by many to be one of our countries’ foremost blues harmonica virtuosos. For over 30 years he toured with celebrated blues musician John Cephas as Cephas and Wiggins. The duo performed all over the world on US State Department sponsored tours and at many famous festivals and concert halls. Since the death of his partner John Cephas, Phil has brought his exceptional playing to a variety of musical collaborations including the Dovetail Ensemble.

The Dovetail Ensemble brings together an array of musical styles for a performance that promises to be unique, fresh and surprising. Aside from Wiggins, the group features percussive dancer Nic Gareiss, classical cellist Jodi Beder, guitarist Owen Morrison, ballad singer and fiddler Daron Douglas, tap dancer Baakari Wilder and Swedish fiddler Andrea Hoag.

The Dovetail Ensemble performs Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 4 pm at Marketview Arts located at 37 W. Philadelphia Street in York.

The concert is preceded by a free Rhythm Workshop at 2:00 pm. Participants are invited to bring instruments, or just come ready to use their voice and dancing feet to explore simple and complex beats. All ages and experience levels welcome.

For more information visit www.sfmsfolk.org.

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Following is an interview with Phil Wiggins who speaks about his own experiences with the group and what audiences should expect from a Dovetail Ensemble concert.

FOLKMAMA: How did you first become involved with The Dovetail Ensemble?

WIGGINS: In my neighborhood here there is a recording studio, Airshow Mastering, that is owned by Charlie Pilzer who I’ve known for years because he used to do sound for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and the National Festival. He is really good friends with Andrea Hoag who is the leader of the Dovetail Ensemble. So he recommended me to her and she called me not long after my partner John Cephas had passed on.

At that point in my life I was just trying to figure out what was going to happen next.  I was just saying yes to whoever called me up!  But when Andrea told me what she was doing it sounded really fascinating.

So joined, and it’s been pretty amazing. Sometimes I feel that I’m way over my head and I’m out of my comfort zone, but I’m enjoying the challenges and I’m enjoying the new things that I’m discovering about common ground between cultures.

FOLKMAMA: Since the group is all about blending styles, playing with them must be very different for you. What has the musical experience been like?

WIGGINS: We have a fiddler and the Appalachian ballad singer in the group and I found that style really accessible to me and my way of playing. Nic Gareiss, he does clogging, and also Irish step dance—and those rhythms are pretty accessible to me too.

Andrea is the Swedish fiddler and I’ve spent a lot of time listening to her playing.  She’s counting and people dance to it so there’s a downbeat somewhere, but I can’t for the life of me figure out where it is! I just watch her tap her foot. A lot of it is like a ¾ rhythm–there is a breath that happens. I started trying to figure out that breath, and that’s kind of what opened the door for me.

Some of these different genres, some of them are readily accessible, some of them aren’t. They just take me down to the most rudimentary, the most basic thing to get a handle on it and then I go from there and build on that.

FOLKMAMA: What kinds of things should people expect at a Dovetail Ensemble concert?

WIGGINS: There is going to be a lot of dance music. To me that’s one of the things that ties music of different cultures together. And we’re also going to hear people use their instruments in ways that they never imagined before. Like someone using the cello to play a blues bass line or using the harmonica to jam on a minor key classical piece. They are also going to be able to witness the process. Where do this one thing where someone plays a solo and the next person picks up inspiration and it continues building from the next player to the next.

They’ll see two amazing percussive dancers who are also very different. Nic likes to learn a song note for note and almost dances the melody. Baakari has the melody in his ear but he also improvises-improvising is a big part of what he does.

They’ll see some amazing Swedish fiddle. I don’t know how many people are familiar with Swedish fiddle. I had certain ideas in mind but it was not what I expected. It is really fiery and the rhythms are crazy.  So they’ll hear that crazy rhythm against a Piedmont blues style harmonica rhythm.

They’ll be singing. I guess the main thing is that they will hear traditional being stretched out of their elements and being played in unusual ways.

FOLKMAMA: What happens during the workshop?

WIGGINS: It really depends a lot on who comes. We have a plan and then things happen in an organic way.

FOLKMAMA: Sounds like it might not be the whole group playing together all the time. Will we see some pairing and some breaking down into smaller groups?

WIGGGINS: Exactly. There are some solos and there are duets and trios plus some with the whole ensemble together. They’ll be a variety of sounds and a variety of combinations.

FOLKMAMA: So if someone really loves Swedish fiddling or really loves blues harmonica, they won’t come any be disappointed, will they? They sound be able to hear people playing in their own genres too, right?

WIGGINS: Absolutely. I think whatever they are interested in, they’ll be satisfies for sure. Especially harmonica playing. They are going to get a belly full!

DOVETAIL-PORTRAIT

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Dynamic Acadian Music and Dance with Vishtèn, 7:30 February 16th in Harrisburg, PA

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Vishtèn is a traditionally oriented group of musicians who members are from two different Acadian communities in Canada—onefound on Prince Edward Island and the other on the Magdalen Islands. The group draws from the Acadian heritage of the area, as well as from the Irish and Scots immigrants who the Acadians co-mingled with. The group creates a lively up-beat dance hall fusion sound that’s frequently punctuated by foot percussion and step dancing.

Vishtèn features twin sisters Emmanuelle and Pastelle LeBlanc who join forces with Pascal Miousse.

Vishtèn is scheduled to play for the Susquehanna Folk Music Society at 7:30 PM, Sunday, February 16, 2013 at the Abbey Bar of the Appalachian Brewing Company located at 50 N. Cameron St in Harrisburg, PA 17101. This is a sit-down concert in a listening room environment.  Free parking is available behind the building.

Tickets are $23 and are available in advance at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/436456 or at the door.

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I had a really interesting conversation with Vishtèn member Pastelle LeBlanc about Acadian music and dance and what their band is doing to refresh and enliven the Acadian traditions.

FOLKMAMA: So for this concert coming up, what will people see and hear?

PASTELLE: We’re going to be doing some music and dance from the Acadian tradition. My sister Emmanuelle and I have been step dancing for quite a while and we’ll be presenting some Acadian steps which are a totally different style than Irish stepdancing. There will be a bit of sitting down dance, which is foot percussion done with actual steps.

So the people will be able to see some of that as well as hear high energy Acadian tunes.

We’ll  also be singing some songs.  Most of the songs are kind of old songs that we have reworked, keeping the nice melodies but adding some modern influences. All of us sing and there will be about 12 instruments on stage.

FOLKMAMA: Which instruments?

PASTELLE: There’s fiddle, guitar, mandolin, octave mandolin, accordion, harmonium, whistles, piano, bodhrán, jaw harp, moog, and electric guitar.

FOLKMAMA: And you compose a lot of your pieces?

PASTELLE: Yes, we create a lot. We try to mix the old and the new and keep it interesting.

FOLKMAMA: Could you please give us a little history of the Acadian culture?

PASTELLE: The Acadians were from France and about 400 years ago traveled to start a new life in Acadia which was in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Islands. They got established there for about 150 years before there was a great deportation so a lot of Acadians got deported back to France or to many parts of the United States, especially Louisiana.

Many of the Acadians that remained after the deportation didn’t have the money to buy instruments, but a way for them to keep the music alive was through “mouth music”, so that’s a big part of the Acadian culture. The foot taping was used to help keep the beat and to help the dancers. There is also very distinctive swing to the Acadian style. So the bowing is kind of a “shuffle” bowing.

There is still a strong connection between Acadians throughout the world. We have Acadian congresses– this summer there’s one. It’s a reunion of all the Acadian cultures–Cajun cousins in the United States, Acadians in France and Acadians throughout Atlantic Canada.

FOLKMAMA: I’m curious about that distinctive swing style that you were just mentioning. Has Acadian music always had that swing, or is it a new development?

PASTELLE: I think it is a bit more recent. One of the stories that Pascal tells is from the Magdalen Islands. A lot of the fishermen play fiddle and so they say that the syncopated rhythm kind of imitates the sound of the engines from the fishing boats. So the fiddler would be on the fishing boat the whole day and get back on the island at night and it would make sense that they would still have the engine’s rhythm in their ears.

FOLKMAMA: What about your growing -up years? How has being a set of twins influenced your music?

PASTELLE: We grew up in a household where there was lots of music. Hearing the same music and having the same influences has definitely affected the way that we create arrangement. We don’t notice it but people say that we talk basically the same and even our singing voices are very similar. It’s kind of a twin thing of knowing what the other thinks or is going to say and I guess that kind of transpires into the music as well.

Pascal is from the Magdalen Islands and he started playing fiddle when he was about four or five years old. He actually has a twin brother and sister so he understands the twin thing. He has a very instinctive traditional feel. He’s very creative, and he composes a lot. He plays the fiddle but also guitar and mandolin, anything with strings. He’s a big force in the band.