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.

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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!



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