Interview with Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh fiddler and founder of Celebrated Irish Group Altan: “I’m Very Proud That The Band Has Continued And Evolved.”

Altan, one of Ireland’s foremost traditional groups, will bring its combination of tunes and songs to the Abbey Bar, located above the Appalachian Brewing Company in Harrisburg  on Thursday, February 20th. The evening begins at 7:30 pm.  The concert is sponsored by the Susquehanna Folk Music Society.  More information can be found on the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website. Tickets are $30 General Admission, $25 for SFMS Members, and $10 for students (ages 3-22).  Tickets will be available at the door or online.

Earlier this week, fiddler, vocalist, and co-founder of Altan, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh chatted with SFMS staff writer Peter Winter via email about the musical tradition of Donegal where the band hails from, her work with the organizaion Cairdeas na bhFidléirí (Friendship of Fiddlers), and what keeps Altan exciting after 30 years!


So much of your music is a celebration of the musical tradition of your home county of Donegal. What do you associate with the music of this region?

County Donegal is situated in the North West of Ireland. On the Western part it is dominated by the Derryveagh mountains, which divides the county between the bog land and the good farming land. This varied topography gives Donegal a distinctive style in the musical dialects of the area as a whole! It seems to lean towards Scotland in its music, where a lot of the people had to emigrate to make a living and in turn brought back songs and tunes! Today the fiddle is the main instrument in the county but all of the other instruments , flies, pipes, whistles and accordions are also in abundance.

You founded Altan in the late 80s. What about this band has kept it
exciting and fulfilling for you over the years?

Myself and my late husband Frankie Kennedy started the band together,
never planning to take it too seriously as we were both teaching at the
time. But after 30 something years of touring and life in general I’m very
proud that the band has continued and evolved. I am really excited about this latest combo and our latest album The Gap of Dreams, as I feel with Martin Tourish (accordion) and myself playing melody and Ciaran (bouzouki) and Dáithí (guitar) adding great color with their accompaniment, the music has a very special dynamic and depth.

What was behind the decision to return to Donegal for newest album
“The Gap of Dreams” (2018)?

We wanted to indulge in the atmosphere and source of our music.
It seemed that it was time to go to the hills of Donegal and play the
music of the area. It worked as when we would travel to the studio daily, we would stop and appreciate where we really were. As an artist would bring his easel and paints out to paint a picture, we would bring the images into
the studio while playing and singing! The Gap (of the title) being that space between this world and the other!

You are a founding member of Cairdeas na bhFidléirí. Could you explain a bit about what this group stands for and why it is important to you?

Cairdeas na bhFidléirí meaans the “Friendship of Fiddlers,” which was set
up in the early eighties (circa 1982) to promote and make sure that the
fiddle music and style of Donegal was preserved and passed on to future generations. Donegal fiddling is unique and very different to other Irish fiddling styles. It also has a very unusual repertoire which isn’t found anywhere else!

What do you hope audiences take away from an Altan show?

I hope everyone will enjoy the show! I also hope that listeners will take away an understanding of the deep tradition of songs, both in my native language Gaelic and English, and of course the unique fiddle music of the area.

Who are artists in traditional music that are inspiring and interesting to you right now?

I’m enjoying so many young musicians at the moment! I can’t get over the standard and integrity of the musicianship these young musicians have obtained. I love listening to a young Dublin fiddler by the name of Liam O’Connor, Another one to look out for is Iarla O’Donnell. There’s also a 12 year old Donegal fiddler by the name of Brandon Shovelin that blows me away. There are so many amazing musicians, Rebecca McCarthy Kent, Aoife Ní Bhrídín, Molly Wall….. I could go on! Recently while discussing this with one of Donegal’s veteran fiddlers Danny Meehan, he pointed out that long ago we looked to all the older musicians for inspiration; but that now its the opposite! We are looking at the younger generation for inspiration! He was so right!


Peter Winter lives in Harrisburg where he writes, teaches music, plays in the Celtic group Seasons, DJs, runs half of the record label His & Hers Records and serves on the board of the SFMS. He is on instagram.

BON DÉBARRAS Concert (to have been held March 3, 2019) CANCELLED because of snow.

Susquehanna Folk Music Society audiences have been treated to some fantastic concerts by artists from Quebec in recent years (think Le Vent du Nord, the Yves Lambert Trio, Genticorum, and Le Bruit court cans la ville) but what we haven’t seen much of is the wonderful step-dancing that Quebec is known for. You’ll get a chance to check out amazing PERCUSSIVE DANCE AND BODY PERCUSSION this coming Saturday evening, March 3rd when Bon Débarras comes to Harrisburg!

Bon Débarras is an exciting trio from Quebec that brings together a fusion of Quebecois folk music, traditional step-dancing and global influences for a show that is full of fun and inventive energy. On guitar, banjo, violin, and harmonica, the trio opens a door to their recollections of America and their music is at the intersection of various traditions. Bon Débarras’ energy taps into the rhythms of today and ventures boldly on the multi-faceted road to tomorrow’s dreams, in an atmosphere that transcends boundaries and ages.

For this tour only Bon Débarras will be traveling with Alexis Chartrand, a fiery young fiddler from Montreal. As the son of Pierre Chartrand, Quebec’s most celebrated tap dancer, Alexis has been immersed in the tradition since he was very young. He and is well known for his energetic accompaniment of step-dancing and social dances. Susquehanna Folk is excited to welcome Bon Débarras to Harrisburg!

IF YOU GO: Bon Débarras appears on Sunday, March 3, 2019 at 7:30 PM at Appalachian Brewing Company located at 50 N. Cameron St, Harrisburg, PA 17101. This is a sit-down concert in a listening room environment. Tickets are $24 General Admission or $10 for students and can be purchased at the door, by calling 800-838-3006 or online at

We had a chance to speak to band member Jean-François Dumas about the band’s music and their upcoming concert in Harrisburg.


FOLKMAMA: What will people experience when they come to a Bon Débarras concert? What is your music like?

JEAN-FRANÇOIS : They can expect lots of joy and energy and fun!  We play a lot of dance music and sing songs in French, and there is body percussion and step dancing too. We compose our own music but our inspiration comes from the old tunes that have their origins in the music that the Irish, Scottish, and French settlers brought to Quebec. So audiences will hear singing, guitar, fiddle, banjo, harmonica, and some other surprises too!

We think of our music as a voyage across North America with stops along the way in Appalachia, Louisiana, Mississippi and other places so our music has overtones of Cajun, rock, blues, country music , and even rap. Plus Montreal is a very cosmopolitan city, so we are influenced by the Latin and African music that we hear around us.

FOLKMAMA: What does the band’s name Bon Débarras  mean?

JEAN-FRANÇOIS:  Bon Débarras has two meanings, really. One is ‘good riddance’ and good riddance is getting rid of sorrow, anger and all negative energy. We let it go when we play music.

Also in French, débarras is a place to keep old stuff you don’t want to get rid of. Our band is like a storage closet where we can go and find traditional influences and inspiration.”

FOLKMAMA: I’ve seen your band twice, and I’ve come away both times thinking about the band’s wonderful use of rhythm. There is rhythm and pulse in everything that you do. Can you speak about that?

JEAN-FRANÇOIS: Well, I’ve always loved drums so for me rhythm has always been very important. I use rhythm when I play with my hands or tap with my feet. Just about every song has rhythmic foot tapping, which is something very different that we do in Quebec which adds a lot of energy to the music. Dominic is a percussive dancer, and a lot of what he does uses syncopated rhythm. And all of us add body music. Another thing that Quebec is known for its mouth reels, which adds a lot of rhythm to the music too.

FOLKMAMA: Can you tell me about the players in the band?

JEAN-FRANÇOIS: I mentioned Dominic Desrochers. He and I have been the core of the band since we first started playing together about 10 years ago, mostly in kitchens which is where a lot of Quebecois music starts! He plays regular guitar and then a small guitar from Cuba called a Tres and sings. And getting back to rhythm, Dominic’s step dancing is very powerful and rhythmic and adds a very exciting dimension to what we do. He is very respected for his dancing by a lot of groups including La Bottine Souriante and Cirque du Soleil. And I play banjo, harmonica, accordion, and a little guitar and do foot tapping while I’m playing. I grew up in a musical family and have traveled a lot in the United-States, Latin America and Europe to learn about other peoples’ folk traditions and colors. So we’ve been the core with other musicians playing bass, accordion, or fiddle.

Just very recently the fiddler Véronique Plasse joined the band, but she was not able to join us on this tour, so we have Alexis Chartrand. Alexis is a young fiddler who grew up in the tradition since his father Pierre Chartrand is a very famous Quebecois Tap Dancer. He has been accompanied dancers since he was very young, and when we first got together to prepare for the tour he learned our show in no time! He’s a very good singer too, and we are very excited to be working with him.

FOLKMAMA: Does Bon Débarras’ tour frequently and if so where do you generally tour?

JEAN-FRANÇOIS: It’s funny, but it seems that most of our touring is outside of Quebec. We tour all over Canada, the US, France, and the UK. The current tour that we’re on will take us to Philadelphia, Pittsburg, and Harrisburg before heading off to Scotland for the Shetland Folk Festival. We’re really looking forward to being in Harrisburg and hope to see you there.



SFMS presents Tracy Grammer & Jim Henry Feb. 2, 2019 in Harrisburg, PA. An Interview with Tracy Grammer.

 Interview with Tracy Grammer by Chris Milsom

Acclaimed contemporary folk music star Tracy Grammer brings her springwater-clear alto voice, perfectly intoned violin, and percussive and delicate guitar playing to Central Pennsylvania for a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert on Saturday, February 2, 2019, at the Fort Hunter Centennial Barn, 5300 N. Front Street, Harrisburg. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m.

Grammer rose to prominence as half of the “postmodern, mythic American folk” duo Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer. Between 1998 and 2001, they released three internationally celebrated, chart-topping albums featuring Carter’s mytho-poetic Americana songcraft. In 2002 they toured with Joan Baez both as featured artists and as her band mates. Their rise in the music world ended in July 2002 when Carter suffered a massive heart attack and died at age 49.

Determined to honor their trajectory and keep Carter’s songs alive, Grammer stayed on the road, releasing several solo and archival recordings, including Little Blue Egg, which was the number-one most played album on folk radio in 2012 and contained that year’s number-one most played song.

She is currently touring to celebrate the release of Low Tide, her first album of original songs. Co-produced with long-time touring partner and multi-instrumentalist Jim Henry, who will appear with Grammer in the concert, the album was released January 19, 2018 on Grammer’s own label.

Concert tickets are $24 General Admission, $20 for SFMS members and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available at or by telephone at (800) 838-3006. To learn more about Tracy Grammer visit her website at

Recently, Tracy spent some time sharing her thoughts with Susquehanna Folk volunteer interviewer Chris Milsom.


It occurs to me that you are about the age now that your music and life partner, Dave Carter, was when he suddenly passed away in 2002 while you were on tour together.

Yes, turning 50 was a trip.  Turning 49 was scary because I was like: this is how old he was? This is unthinkable. I feel like a spring chicken. I was only 34 when Dave died.  Then when I got to 50, it was very disconcerting, strange, and sort of tragic in its own way.  Then I thought, alright, it’s ok, I am still here, my heart is still beating.   I hadn’t realized that I had been hanging onto this fear that I was going to share the same fate for 16 years.  So, then it was like, now what? What am I going to do with the gift of my remaining years?  It seems like a small miracle that I live longer than he did.

I had this sense when I met him that he was either going to die young or live forever. It’s kind of both in a way.  He did die young but he left all this music behind and there it is, your “little tiny” contribution that will go on without you.  It’s very interesting, the whole trip.

Probably the most helpful thing anyone told me was that it took them about 5 years to start feeling like themselves again.  At first, I was like, the heck with that!  On the other hand, I relaxed into those 5 years and let it be. When I hit the 5 year mark, I checked with myself and said,” self, do you feel better now?”  I could say “yes”. I do feel like I came around.  I definitely felt like, that 5 years was a window I could work with.

I want to congratulation you on the success of your 2018 release Low Tide. It is ending up #9 for folk albums on the Folk DJ List for 2018.   I am so impressed with the powerful songs you have written and the process you took to get to those songs.   What is that you want to tell us about that?

Well, what I can say is that pain is really good for creativity.  It is such a deep well. There are so many levels to it, right?  There is the feeling level of it, you just have to sit there and feel it.  But it doesn’t have to be just pain.  If you can cultivate a curiosity about anything you are going through, there are just levels and levels of art you can make from it.  It can be any emotion or sense of wonder or boredom or grieving. This is what I am learning to do. This sort of seems to be what my life is teaching me, to just sit with whatever comes and see what it has to offer. Sort of turn it over in your hand like it is a little stone you are trying to see what it’s made of.  You hold it up to the light and get to know it, taste it and smell it and not really be in resistance because once it’s here, you can’t have it not be here.  This has been sort of my meditation.

The songs on Low Tide come from that kind of attention, to a period of time in my life when I was going through a bunch of stuff. They really have nothing to do with Dave, in spite of what some people think.  They are really more specific to a particular relationship and time.  Then there is the song about my Dad, a healing song.  (Tracy’s father died of cancer in 2013. They sometimes had a difficult relationship and he was very sick before he told her he was dying, passing away before she could see him in person)

So, just the process of sitting with things and being curious about them and letting them move you into art. That is sort of my big revelation with Low Tide, that capacity.  It is a very different relationship to my music career than singing Dave Carter songs. In that realm, I have a creative foot in it but not the same.  I make it pretty and presentable and make it alive, of course, for Dave Carter fans but it’s not quite the same as pulling from your own self as a source.  It was quite the trip, I will say that.

 I can believe that! So, you wrote these songs 4 years ago and now you are out there touring in support of this album.  I wonder as you are performing them now, how have things changed for you?  Do you feel differently about any of them now?  Do you sing them differently?  How does this move you through a place you were 4 years ago?

They do, they are starting to feel different.  Partly what happens when I am writing, I am letting stuff come through that I don’t necessarily understand.  I have a daily writing practice I have been doing forever. I write longhand for at least an hour every day.  I am really comfortable with my voice and the flow of words.  I take a playful approach to it.  When I sat down to write those songs, it was sort of like conjuring. I just let them come through.   It they sounded pretty, or made me cry a little or if they just felt right, I let them go but I didn’t necessarily understand them.  So, the process of singing them, and performing them and seeing how audiences react has really taught me what they are about.  So now, I feel like when I deliver these songs, I can go a little deeper with them.   On the surface it may seem the same as a year ago, but my feeling about them is different.   I understand myself a little better and understand my muse a little better.

I do occasionally think to myself, if you keep singing “Hole”, which is basically: I am never ever going to get married, how are you ever going find a partner?  One wonders to what extent one is casting futures one doesn’t really want by repeating the same message over and over again.  Maybe in the next batch of songs I will look at things from a different perspective.

It is very like me all my life to be just a tad tragic. I have what I call the “Blue Gene”, a depressive streak that I think I inherited from my father and grandmother.   Not so much anymore, since I turned 50 and got free of that fear of dying. The Big Exhale, ha, ha.

Well now, since you have this daily writing practice, I’m assuming you are writing more songs?  It took you 4 years to get from writing those songs to putting out Low Tide, your 11th release but the first one of your own songs.  Where are you at with your next project and how are you feeling about things?

The writing I do is not songs, it’s just flat out journaling.  It’s like a meditation.  It’s the first thing I do in the morning. After getting my latte, I sit down to write and I don’t usually remember what I write.  I am planting seeds and see it as tending my rows not knowing what may grow. I sometimes underline words as I write that I want to come back to later. I am messing around with language which I think is fun.

What I am preparing to settle into is some memoir work which has been long neglected.  I started this in 2007 after taking a memoir class, writing a chapter here and a chapter there.   I was in a writer’s group for about 4 years when I lived in Pennsylvania but stopped when I moved to Greenfield, MA.  Luckily, the success of my fall tour will allow me to take this winter off from performing so much so I can get working on this project.  I am ready to dig into my journals from 1998 up to about 2012, the 10 year mark (of Dave’s passing) and see what I’ve got.

As far as the next album is concerned, my hope is to come out with something in 2020. Low Tide is good for another national tour. I will be taking it out again in the fall. Making Low Tide was a lot of fun and I am looking forward to doing the next album.

You tour with some pretty amazing musicians and will be coming to the Susquehanna Folk Society show with Jim Henry.  What do you want us to know about him? 

I have known and played with Jim Henry since 2003. He was with me for my first big tour after Dave died.  He has been my stand by guy.  He is a fantastic multi-instrumentalist. He is also a songwriter and producer and a podcast host and just wrote a book called “50 Pro Tips for Musicians”. He can do it all, was Mary Chapin’s guitar player for a while.

Jim and I have spent so many miles and shows together, we have a really great balance. Jim is the perfect counter point to my dark side with his funny banter and good stories. Also, when he comes along, I get to play my violin more which my fans always enjoy hearing.  People can expect a lovely multi-instrument show with funny stories and a real lovely sound. Jim is a great harmony singer.  This is my preferred presentation, the duo with Jim Henry.

I was wondering about that, which format you prefer, solo, duos, or touring with a larger band?

Actually, I really like solo shows and I like touring with Jim Henry.  When you are solo, you have a slightly more intimate, more direct contact with the audience.  It’s more of a conversation. When I am with Jim Henry, it is more of a show.  We are involving the audience, also, but we have a thing that we are doing.  It’s my impression, and I could be completely wrong that the shows with Jim Henry might have a broader appeal.  Some folks like Jim’s stories, guitar players nerd out on his gear, there’s just a little more for everybody.  We have been doing it for so long that it is seamless for us and super fun.

You mentioned that with the Jim Henry shows, you get to play your violin more.  Is that your preferred instrument?

You know, I spent so many years touring, just me and my guitar that I am more up to speed on the guitar at this point, but I played violin all my life and I do love violin and of course, I played violin and mandolin with Dave.  That’s how I got my start in folk music. That’s who I was.

It will be interesting as you continue on this journey of “who am I and what am I really doing?” which instrument you will gravitate toward.  Maybe that violin will be popping up more in your future?

Well, I did buy myself a looper recently because I was starting to feel self-conscious about not playing violin on the solo tours. This way, even on the one-woman tours, I can start with guitar or the violin and play the other instrument over it, without getting all excessive about it.  I know that many people groan when they hear the word, looper, but I think there is a tasteful way to do it. I think it is a super creative tool.  I won’t be doing it on this tour, though, because I haven’t practiced with it enough yet to feel comfortable using it in a show.

I don’t like playing the violin unaccompanied and I thought this would be would be a way for me to play it more because my fans actually bought me this violin.  Yes, in 2004; I think it was the first crowd funding exercise ever.  Somebody from Michigan heard that my old violin was having problems with tone and started a Pay Pal donation site and in something like 3-6 week’s time they had raised $10,000!  So, I thought, Ok I guess I am getting a new violin. This was before Facebook. This was email.  This was really hand to hand grassroots stuff.  Now, I show up for my solo tours and my fans will ask “where is that violin we bought you?” so that is another motivation to learn the looper. It seems appropriate.

Wow! That is amazing! What a testament to you and your fans.

The last thing I wanted to ask you was about your cat, Miss Kitty, who you described in your interview with Artie Martello as a “lifesaver” for you.  Does she travel with you on your tours? 

She does! Miss Kitty went on the fall tour which lasted 6 or 7 weeks.  She is an old girl now, at almost 17. She is very content to sit in the back on her pillow. She is great in the hotels and rides on the luggage cart. She doesn’t come to the shows.  That’s a little bit too much stimulation for her.  She is a great companion and it really is quite grounding to have a little someone to take care of on the road.  You can really get lost in your head out on the road traveling by yourself.

Thanks so much for your time, Tracy.  We all look forward to seeing and hearing you in a few weeks.


Chris Milsom lives in Wrightsville, PA.  A bass player, dubbed Mrs. Bobby, she and her beloved singer-songwriter husband, Joe, aka Robert Bobby, performed as a duo until his death in March 2018.


Interview with Irish Fiddle Hero Eileen Ivers: “You Have to Keep Moving Forward.”

Eileen Ivers, a pre-eminent exponent of the Irish fiddle will perform on Friday, January 18th at 7:30 pm at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York (925 S. George St., York, PA 17403) in a concert sponsored by the Susquehanna Folk Music Society.  More information can be found on the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website HERE. Tickets are $30 General Admission, $26 for SFMS Members, and $10 for students (ages 3-22).  Tickets will be available at the door or online HERE.


Earlier this week, Eileen chatted with SFMS staff writer Peter Winter about her roots, upcoming projects, and following your compass.

___________________________ ___________________________

Your parents were from Ireland and you grew up with this heritage, but it was at age eight when you finally started playing music and learning this instrument. Was it your parents’ idea or your idea to start actually learning this music and this instrument?

It was actually my decision! It was funny Peter, cause my cousin was playing the piano accordion, and there was a little something of that going on so my mom thought, “Oh maybe the piano,” which I kind of rebelled against.  And then she thought, “Maybe it’s some Irish dancing,” so I did try Irish dance for all of about two weeks, and I just didn’t like it! But I just kept asking for the violin! There was something that definitely drew me to the instrument at a very young age. There was even an aunt in the family who recalled that when I was 3 years old, she said it was funny I’d go around the little Bronx apartment playing, I guess, “air violin” with a pink plastic guitar and a wooden spoon.

That’s awesome!

So maybe there’s something there!

Did you begin learning in a more traditional violin style, or were your lessons fiddle lessons?

 Yeah, they were very much traditional Irish Fiddle lessons. Our teacher back then was Martin Mulvihill, and he taught a lot of kids around the tri city area, and around New York. He taught the button accordion, the piano accordion, flutes, whistles, it was amazing. He was from Kerry, and he just had a wonderful way about him. So it was very much in the oral tradition, and really kind of just learning by ear, and learning from him.

That’s awesome.  You’re really known for bringing together a lot of musical styles, united under this banner of Irish music. Whether it’s band members from different musical styles or utilizing African beats. You grew up in this Bronx neighborhood, in this cultural diversity, do you think growing up in the Bronx led you to want to embrace this musical diversity and bring different styles and cultures together?

 I think it may have played a part for sure Peter.  I don’t think it was the sole reason.  But I think just through the years being so immersed in traditional Irish music (and I think it’s so important to sort of ground yourself; in whatever tradition that is) and I competed through the years till the All Ireland Over 18 Senior Championship and, thankfully, I won it when I just turned 18 that summer.  To me then, it was kind of like, “that was a nice part of my life,” but there was something about just the violin as an instrument that kept drawing me to learn more, cause obviously there’s so much music that can be played on the violin.

And just being in any kind of urban city, being so fortunate to hear (which I did) the great Stephane Grappelli, or these amazing musicians who would kind of come through town and to just absorb all styles.  I was just a fan of music in general.  It was an extension that kind of came out of that.

And just a little tie into my dad, God rest him, he used to listen a lot to bluegrass music in our house growing up, and I think that was always in the back of my head so later on in life I really loved just the parallels.  Of course Irish music is hundreds and hundreds of years old, but nearly the last four centuries people have been coming to this country from Ireland, and the music certainly has had such an amazing journey, and is a big part of Americana Music, so that really drew me Peter; just to get a little bit more of a wider range out of the recorded music that I was doing and also performing…It’s a fascinating journey! It certainly keeps changing musically in the show a little bit, but it’s still all connected, so I find it very interesting.

For the past 20 years, you have been such a torchbearer for traditional Irish music, and being so connected to Irish fiddle playing, but you are also such an innovator. I don’t know how many other people are out there sending their fiddles through wah pedals, and you were certainly one of the first people to do that.  How do you balance these two idea of innovation and tradition, and how do those two concepts relate to each other for you?

Ah that’s a great question!  And thank you! It’s funny, it’s something that I’ve grown to learn that’s just part of me.  I think, like any artist, you have to be true to yourself if it’s in you to create music in that way, and even I had a moment for sure even in my 20s, where I was saying, “gosh this doesn’t feel right, you know, don’t go there, don’t go there.”  But how can you stifle creativity?  Or just the want to keep learning and keep exploring and innovate and really, truly, hopefully push the limits? The violin is an incredible instrument and can do so much and can make so many incredible sounds, from rhythm to lead, to everything; especially in emotions as well. So it just was something I said “Look, this is in my heart, I just have to do this!”

But at the same time, it wasn’t a very haphazard thing at all. It was really (and still is) a journey of discovering what can be done, but also again the connections; because I think especially being very, very, privileged to be performing this music (and to be asked to perform in many different places) it’s a huge responsibility that I feel (and I bring to the band and they certainly feel the same way) to present the music in a very thoughtful way.  Not just throwing stuff here or there, but to really lay it before an audience or in records, the thesis of it all.  This is the tradition; and if you want just purely traditional music, there’s amazing places you can go to find just maybe that, and we love to certainly ground the night in that (and I feel my music is very much grounded in that) but again to show how it’s all connected.   How it comes from this very beautiful, pure place, but, whether it be to extend it into some Cajun voicings, or some back beats of bluegrass within an arrangement, or certainly (like you said Peter) maybe loop or bring in an improvised violin solo, we get there in ways that are certainly connected.

I like to ground my playing, my thoughts, and an evening in a concert where the audience comes along for the ride.  They’re understanding, “Ok this is cool.” We’re going in these directions and hopefully at the end of it they feel a sense of maybe even learning historically about some stuff, and just kind of going into a really fun musical journey.


So your last record, “Beyond the Bog Road,” in 2016 goes along with what we’ve been talking about.  This record explores the connection between Irish music and how it connected and led into other forms of North American Music.  I was wondering if you could speak a little about this record, and also what lead you to record it. 

Thanks Peter.  Yeah, it was a labor of love for many years honestly, because with my background it was an obvious one at the time.  I just really got into the history of the music.  I was documenting a lot of our family history.  We have a little house in Ireland that we built on my father’s land a good many years ago now. It’s something, we used to go over to Ireland every summer as a family (my dad used to work for the airlines) so that was like a huge part of the extension of our life. So [I was] kind of documenting a lot of the history, videoing an awful lot, filming, as well as then researching this.  It was a good many years of really getting into it in a really deep way.

The famine really impacted where my family is from in Ireland, and I learned so much about like incredible famine walks that were going on, [and] the relationship Ireland had with America even way before that, so it was a good kind of time to really delve into that.  I learned so much, and that really fueled the live show as well.  I’ve seen audience members really respond to that because so many know that, “Celtic music sounds familiar,” but then when they realize why, it starts to make a lot of sense. It’s cool, we do a lot of tunes still from that particular record in the program, as well as some stuff from a new record that we are just about finishing up now. It’s great, it’s exciting!

Oh Nice! Anything you can tell us about that new record?

Oh I’m so excited Peter! Yeah, it’s going to be called “Scatter The Light.” Again, I always find I kind of have to just follow the heart, it goes back to that again!  After “Beyond the Bog Road” was so heavy intellectually and ethnomusicologically with what I was doing, I started just writing some lyrics. I was getting into a lot of just composing, and realizing that they [the pieces] were connected with very powerful themes of positivity and faith.  I don’t know, I was just getting into a place where I started to see that it was certainly connected.  Even the tunes were a very happy kind of angle on things!

I still just love the art of making a CD. I love that it has to have a message (for me anyway). I like it to be unified. I think at the end of the process you start to whittle down the tracks and really say “Ok does this make a complete thought?” A complete gift, at the end of it.  We have artwork, we’re just basically halfway through mixing, so it’s really exciting.  It’s coming out very soon. It’s nice and we’ll be playing some tunes from that as well, ‘cause you can’t not do it. You have to keep moving forward!

In addition to more traditional concerts, you and your band do educational programs at schools, and other venues.  Why is that something that you make time for, and why do you think that’s important to add an educational aspect to what you do? 

Great question, and thanks for asking! I’m very passionate about that and I feel it is even somewhat of a responsibility as a traditional musician.  It’s a pure gift to be taught this tradition, and to be a part of the continuum of this wonderful living tradition.  I think that’s a great term too; the living tradition.  You’re a part of it, it comes and goes and changes, our ancestors have been playing this music and the stories that come through the music.  To try and impart that to students of music, whatever age they are, I think is a wonderful thing.  Certainly when I teach, I love to do that in [the] very pure way that I was taught the music. And then of course the wonderful deep history behind it.  When the band and I go in sometimes to even teach some master classes or just outreach programs, it’s just great to fuel these school age kids with thoughts that learning an instrument is great.  It’s a great thing to have in life, it’s just a great thing for your mind as your mind develops, and roots music especially and acoustic instruments can be very cool and very accessible. That’s a big point I try to get across in a very underpinning kind of way. Just to get that out there, that it is something.

I went through school, I was a math major in college, and I certainly knew math and music; it’s a beautiful part of the brain (I’m actually helping my son, he’s nine and a half and he’s learning the violin in school so I get to see it firsthand!). Music is a powerful thing, and you’re fans and you know, and the folk society certainly knows, it’s a big deal.  Thank you for mentioning that because I think it’s so important and it is kind of a part of what we do and I just relish the chance to do it every time I can, I just wish there was more time in the day to do more!


You have done so many projects. Not just your own albums, but collaborations with other artists and movie soundtracks.  As you look back on your career, are there any collaborations or projects that really stand out to you as special?

 Oh Wow! A flood comes in mind as you ask that question, which is a great question.  Just a flood of thoughts.  It’s so funny.  I’m thinking about [how] somebody asked me to present a speech to some graduates, and I’m kind of contemplating a lot of that, and what can you bring to that event.  You know, I think improvising is such a powerful tool that we have as musicians, and God knows in life in general [laughs]. I think as you’re asking that question, I went to something that was an interesting one.  Bill Whelan, who was the composer of River Dance (he wrote pretty much that show) he wrote the music for this incredible film called “Some Mother’s Son.” It was about the hunger strike around 1980 in Ireland. It was a very powerful time of political turmoil of course, Bobby Sands, and all those amazing men whose story was told through this film.

Long story short, Helen Mirren was one of the incredible actors in the film, and I was asked to play on the soundtrack, but when I recorded the outro part of the film, it was in Dublin, and I saw the film on the monitor, it was solo violin over this score, it was just a very ambiguous chord structure, I think the key of C from what I recall (I think) and Bill Whelan just said into my headphones “Eileen just kind of travel and see.” and that’s sort of all the advice he gave me. And I remember the movie, I won’t give anything away, but it was incredible, and Hellen Mirren played a mother (if you ever have time Peter definitely check it out it’s incredible) and her acting was amazing and I kind of knew the story, and I was basically reacting to her acting, completely as it was happening, and not knowing what the outcome was going to be.  I was literally following her and the story as I was playing, and it was such a powerful moment for me that I did nothing but emote and play through my instrument.  I wasn’t thinking about technically anything, sometimes the nastier the sound on the violin I could create to try and feel angst; that was where I went to.  It was a really wonderfully freeing experience of trying to emote through an incredible actress and an incredible story. And that was probably one of the moments that I, if you want to say collaboratory, I just felt humbled to be a player in this amazing scenario.  And I just was exhausted after.  Oh my God, I was very emotional, and I think the guys in the booth were too [laughs]! I just heard them in the cans “Thanks Eileen.”  It was a cool moment.


That’s great.  Thank you so much for your time! I have one more question.  This is kind of a broad one. I think it’s been a really interesting time from when traditional Irish music was in the 90s, to where we are in 2019.  Does anything jump out at you as to how Traditional Irish music has changed over the past 20 or so years or to how the perception of trad Irish music has changed?

 Yeah, great question again! Loaded question.  Probably we could talk for an hour about it!  To try and kind of whittle it down, let’s see. And even you say 20 years, and I think you’re being very kind Peter, because I’ve been playing this for so, so long and performing out of my college days in the late 80s, and really kind of digging in, and being on…the precipice of so many new ideas, and thankfully some records that were kind of groundbreaking in the tradition, and I say [that] humbly because at the time it just felt like the right thing to do.

Just following that compass.

Right, exactly.  To be told by the next generation of players who are really out there right now doing it as well, that certain records and certain things have shaped them as players and even performers, I mean that again is incredibly humbling.  So I think what the body of work that we’ve been doing (“we” meaning me and the people who have come up with me) and of course [we] always build on those before us.  I always have to say that right? It is so important that that timeline is maintained.  There’s just so much there, and it has changed.

I think just a couple quick ways in my mind would be the elevation of the technical prowess in the players is just incredible.  And yet there’s emotion, thank God.  There’s still emotion in their playing.  And a lot of them are very thoughtful, they do know that this is a continuum and it’s not about being self centered but it’s truly an art and we’re part of a much bigger picture you know?  I think that’s really wonderful.  And just the arrangements and the chord structures are getting much more full of dimension and thought and I love that! You know the Michael Coleman days of the 1920s when he’s playing the tune and there’s certain chord changes that were obvious but the piano player would just be hanging on a G chord [laughs]!

He would have no idea what was happening!

Those days are really gone and a hundred years from that even, there’s a lot more to it. Also I love to say the performance of it.  Because I think when you’re asked to perform, it is a performance; you don’t put your head down, you’re not in a circle.  Part of Irish music is being social, being in a corner of a house or a pub and just enjoying each other and the music. You’re not performing in that situation.  I think that when you’re asked to perform, you have to perform! You have to put thought into it, you have to put arrangements, you want to chat with the audience, and I think bring them along for the ride of what it is! Instrumental music, it’s good to have some background on some things as well! I think that’s really important, and I think a lot of the musicians and bands are really, really taking note of that.  I think that’s really important and fantastic, to bring it up to that higher bar.

Well Eileen this has been an absolute blast! Thanks for taking time out of your schedule to talk with me!

Absolutely my friend! It was a joy! Thanks for great questions! It was fun!


Peter Winter lives in Harrisburg where he writes, teaches music, plays in the Celtic group Seasons, and DJs. He is on instagram















Thursday, September 20th Corn Potato String Band play in Harrisburg, PA!

The Corn Potato String Band will make their grand return to the Susquehanna Folk Music Society stage when they appear on Thursday, September 20, 2018, at 7:30 p.m. at the Fort Hunter Centennial Barn located at 5300 N. Front Street in Harrisburg, PA. Tickets are $24 General Admission, $10 Students, and $20 Susquehanna Folk Music Society members.

For tickets and information visit

The band has delighted audiences with their driving fiddle tunes and harmonious singing across the US, Canada, Europe, Mexico, and India. In addition to being champion fiddlers, they play banjo, guitar, bass and mandolin and deftly handle many different old-time styles including ballads, “ho-downs,” country “rags” and southern gospel, specializing in twin fiddling and double banjo tunes.

As those that went last year found out–onstage they are infectious, fun, and VERY entertaining! Aside from humorous songs and stellar musicianship, we’ll also get a chance to see a “cranky” (scrolling picture show) and some flatfoot dancing!

We had the chance to learn more about the band during a chat with band member Aaron Jonah Lewis (updated for a 9/17 interview)



FOLKMAMA: What can people expect to hear when they come to a Corn Potato Soup concert?


AARON: We play old-time music in a broad sense.  You will hear old-time Appalachian tunes, Country Rags, Mexican Polkas, Early Country and some Western Swing.  We like to dig up beautiful and unique songs and instrumentals from the 1920s and 1930s.  You will definitely hear something you haven’t heard before, and if you have heard it before, we might do it differently.  We recently have been featuring “Classic Banjo” which is a style of music that comes from the 1890’s-1900’s.  The banjo music of that era has a ragtime feel and reminds you of silent movie music, which is why we have our own scrolling picture show to accompany a couple of the banjo pieces.  We also can’t get through a show without letting Lindsay do some flatfooting.


FOLKMAMA: How did all the members in the band meet?


AARON: We all met for the first time at a Spaghetti Dinner in Richmond, VA, where our mutual friend was hosting a variety show.  None of us remember it, so the second time we all met was at the Appalachian String Band Festival in Clifftop, WV.  Lindsay and some friends recruited Aaron and Ben to play Klezmer music for a latke party.


FOLKMAMA: How did the band get its unusual name?


AARON: The Corn Potato String Band got its name in the tradition of band names that evoke a bucolic setting with a suggestion of gaiety.  We have since realized that it gives us the tagline:  “The Ears and Eyes of America” which is kind of fun and weird at the same time.


FOLKMAMA: Tell me a little bit about the band members—specifically what they bring to the band.


AARON: Aaron is the Brains, Ben is the Face and Lindsay is the intestines.  Aaron and Ben played in a bluegrass band in Richmond for a long time.  They love to play fast and have great chops on fiddles and banjos.  Lindsay is a puppeteer but when she met up with Aaron, who is her household companion, she always wanted to be in a band.  She has managed to sneak some cranky shows and the occasional novelty song into the Corn Potato repertoire.


FOLKMAMA: Are you all full time with the band, or do you have other projects?


AARON: We are not a full-time band right now.  We do have other projects.  Ben Belcher plays with the Hot Seats, based in Richmond when he can. Lindsay and Aaron play and tour with Roochie Toochie and the Ragtime Shepherd Kings.  Aaron also performs solo and plays with several other bands in and around Detroit and some Chicago and New York-based projects when he can.  Lindsay continues to make puppet shows and works with puppet companies in Minneapolis and Vermont.


FOLKMAMA: Tell us about any CDs which you have recently made. (Which concert-goers may want to purchase!)

AARON: Our latest CD is called: “Good Job Everybody” and features a little of everything we do.  Highlights include a double fiddle polka, an old country song about UFOs, an original double-banjo “stomp,” and one of our favorite novelty songs about drinking too much from 1928.


Our three previous CDs are currently out of print but they are available on our website We will also have a couple of Aaron’s CDs from other projects available: Square Peg Rounders’ “Galax, NYC,” an all-instrumental album of traditional fiddle tunes played with fiddle, banjo, and guitar, and lots of flair, and “Wild Hog,” an experimental/traditional album of classic old-time songs and tunes played with fiddles, banjo, guitar, and bass, in the style of old-time musicians who also love who also love free improvisation.

Sat. May 12th FARA–trad music from four beautiful young women from Scotland, perform in York, PA

The Scottish group FARA, four beautiful young women whose three fiddles and a piano produce a fiery sound rooted strongly in their Orkney Island upbringing will be featured in a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert on Saturday, May12th. The concert begins at 7:30 pm and will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York located at  925 S. George Street in York. This concert is part of the group’s first tour in the United States.

Tickets and information can be found here: Tickets will also be available at the door.

Fara brings together four leading musicians at the forefront of today’s Scottish folk scene – Jennifer Austin, Kristan Harvey, Jeana Leslie and Catriona Price. Their repertoire showcases the strong fiddle tradition of the Orkneys; a group of around 70 islands situated just off the northern coast of Scotland. The Islands were parof  Norway until the early 1400s, so Norwegian, as well as Gaelic influences, can be heard in the group’s music.

As is common on Orkney, they grew up playing music in Grammer School, and later all sought University degrees at Royal Academy of Music, the Royal Northern College of Music, The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and Strathclyde University. First coming together as backup musicians for the popular Orkney group “The Chair,” Fara decided to strike out on their own in 2014.


The four contrasting personalities and individual musical voices in Fara make for a colorful melting pot, with each member bringing a different musical palette to the mix. With vibrant arrangements full of rich harmonies, energetic fiddle playing, and driving piano, Fara’s music is an exciting experience.


Using a mixture of self-penned and traditional Orkney tunes along with the stunning vocals of the group’s lead singer Jeana Leslie, Fara has been called “a new fiddle supergroup,” and “a real delight.” Their on-stage banter and musicianship routinely hold audiences spellbound.


A nomination for “Up And Coming Act of the Year” at the Scots Trad Music Awards in 2015 and the success of their debut album Cross The Line in 2016 lead to a nomination for the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards’ Horizon Award. Since then they have played across the UK and Europe and are making debut tours this year in the U.S., Canada, Sweden, and Germany.



Concert tickets are $24 General Admission, $20 for SFMS members and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available through or call (800) 838-3006. This concert is presented with support from Bob and Donna Pullo and from an anonymous Your Name in Lights sponsor and in cooperation with and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York.


Funding for Susquehanna Folk Music Society concerts is provided by the York County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, the Cultural Enrichment Fund and by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, administered locally by the Cultural Alliance of York County. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website at

March 23rd, Tony Trischka & Bruce Molsky to play in York, PA

Two perennial Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert stage favorites—Tony Trischka and Bruce Molsky—team up for a dynamic March 23 concert sponsored by SFMS at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York, 925 S. George Street, York. The fun begins at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets here:

Make it a Weekend!

Come for the concert and visit some of York County’s other attractions. Consider taking in a York Revolutions game, touring the Harley Davidson plant, checking out Central Market, or hiking on the magnificent York County Rail Trail! There is plenty to do in beautiful York County. For more ideas visit

Tony Trischka was named a 2012 United State Artists Friends Fellow in recognition of his work as perhaps the most influential banjo player in roots music world today. In addition to his accolades as a performer, he also is one of the instrument’s most respected and sought-after instructors, having created 15 instructional books and a series of DVDs. In 2009 he launched the online Tony Trischka School of Banjo. He has been a mainstay on A Prairie Home Companion, Mountain Stage, From Our Front Porch, and other shows.

A Grammy-nominated fiddler, Molsky has been acclaimed as “one of America’s premier fiddling talents.” Trained as a mechanical engineer after having spent time in Virginia and loving Appalachian music, Molsky decided at age 40 to try to make a career in music and has never looked back. Molsky has appeared on NPR programs including A Prairie Home Companion and All Things Considered and on BBC broadcasts in England and Scotland.

Concert tickets are $25 General Admission, $23 for SFMS members and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available online at or by calling toll-free (800) 838-3006.

We had lots of fun talking to Molsky and Trishka and interrupting their rehearsal just to learn what music they will be playing on Friday night and to find out if it really true that Tony played recently with Miley Cyrus??? Read on to find out!

FOLKMAMA: You both are very well known with stellar careers of your own, but I’m curious what people should expect during the concert on Friday evening?

TONY: Lots of instruments for sure. I play banjo, two kinds of banjos at this point. Bruce plays a whole host of things.

BRUCE: A couple of fiddles and a guitar and a banjo which I’ll sheepishly play with Tony. And we’ll sing.

TONY: Mostly Bruce! But Bruce is forcing me to sing, and I’ll do it. Just for you guys! And we’re doing a bunch of old-time fiddle tunes for sure and we’re doing a tune called “Green, Green Rocky Road” which was written by Dave Van Ronk, one of my favorite tunes. Then we’ll do a tune that Bruce wrote called Kilkenny which sounds like a Scottish tune but it’s not.

BRUCE: I’m going to tell the story about that song at the concert, but here it is.

Tony and I had a trio years ago with a guitar player Paula Bradley and we were sitting in rehearsal and Tony said, “Let’s play something that we’ve each written.” And I said that I hadn’t written anything. And Tony said, “You have one week to write a tune, and I’ll calling you every day.” So this is the tune I wrote.

I don’t know if you ever watched South Park, but there is a young character that dies every week on the show and he always comes back the next week. And whenever he gets killed, one of his friends says, “The bastards! They killed Kenny!” And that was the name of the tune. But Tony made me shorten it, to make it socially acceptable.

TONY: Right. And we will do a Celtic tune Sí Beag Sí Mór, a beautiful O’Carolan waltz and fiddle-banjo duets, guitar-banjo duets.

BRUCE: This is the overlapping diagram, the Venn Diagram of Bluegrass and Old-Time. Plus everything else that’s kind of rattling around in our heads.

Playing with Tony for me is a really special experience because first of all we are old pals and it gives us a chance to visit. Playing with someone that has a really strong musical voice who is amazing like he is gets me on my game and gets me thinking hard in ways that I don’t usually think. And we don’t do it often enough so that any of it is pat.

So that ‘being in the moment’ for me is a really big thing with this.

TONY: And I feel the same way. Bruce is truly amazing. His groove is just so strong when we play fiddle/banjo duets. I just luxuriate in the grove. I can stay there for 20 minutes, which is something I have to be careful not to do! I think, “Do we really have to stop now? Just when it’s getting exciting?”

Playing in Bruce’s groove is unlike any other situation that I’ve ever played in. It’s not a bluegrass grove at all. I just get lost in it.

FOLKMAMA: So how often do you get to play together in this kind of way?

BRUCE: We’re doing three shows this weekend. We’re playing at Godfrey Daniels and we’re playing at the Town Crier in Beacon where I live. It’s a three gig run. Bur your organization caused it! And it will be particularly “seat of the pants” for your show—in a good way—because it’s the first of the run. So it will be fresh, very fresh.

FOLKMAMA: So what are some of the projects that you both have been involved in recently?

BRUCE: Well you know about my trio, Molsky’s Mountain Drifters. They played for Susquehanna Folk recently. We’ve just finished recording our second CD. Hoping that it’s out late summer. So the Drifters are my main musical thing, although I’m starting to do more solo work.

I had kind of given my solo act a rest, and I discovered that I really missed it. So I did a show out at the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley, California this past week and it was the first time I stood in front of a mic by myself in awhile and I really enjoyed it. And of course, and Tony does this too, I teach at Berklee College of Music in Boston. It all adds up. I’m also doing a few shows with the cellist Mike Block. I like to do collaborations.

TONY: I just finished up a new CD, or whatever it will be. It’s actually supposed to come out on tape—you know reel to reel tape, believe it or not. There is a company that I’ve been talking to called “Red Wine”. I’m going to be recording a cylinder soon—I met this guy and he works at the Edison Historical Museum near here in South Orange, NJ where Edison had his work shop. And it turns out that this guy actually records new things to cylinder. So in the next few weeks we’ll do that.

But I am finishing up a CD and it deals with the Civil War. I made up this story about the Civil War that has some basis in historical fact. It has a march with a brass band and two string quartets and bluegrass fiddle, and I got John Loofka to do some spoken word. I’ve been working on this project for 10 years—visualizing all this. And then I have this on-line school—we both have on-line schools. The Tony Trischka School of Banjo, and I also teach at Berklee a few times in the spring and the fall.

And I did one gig with Miley Cyrus.

FOLKMAMA: What?? You did a gig with Miley Cyrus? How did that come about?

TONY: Well a friend of mine was first approached, but he couldn’t do it so he asked me. There was a big Elton John pop album that had all these big names, like Lady Gaga are on it. So Miley Cyrus was on there doing The Bitch is Back. And she wanted a banjo solo on there. They did this live show during Grammy week at the theater of Madison Square Garden so I played The Bitch is Back with her with Elton John’s backup band. He was in the audience, right in front, and after the show he came out and played. So I got to play one song with Miley Cyrus. And I got a banjo solo. Not everyone can say that they’ve play a banjo solo with Miley Cyrus.

FOLKMAMA: Amazing! So any last words about what we can expect?

BRUCE: The audience is going to hear some fun, ‘in the moment music’ played by a couple of old friends who want to have a nice time and enjoy it with everyone.

TONY: Just us reconnecting musically in front of an audience. We just love to play with each other and enjoy sharing that with people.

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