By Michael B. Murphy
Armed with a wide variety of instruments that included a flute, whistle, fiddle and bagpipes, the Stoneybatter Band provided those that attended their Mar. 5 show at the Heineman Ecumenical Center with a communal musical experience they won’t soon forget.
With a mixed audience of FSU students, preschoolers and members of an elderly women’s group, the Ashland-based band united a diverse crowd with the universal appeal of Celtic music.
The performance began with a series of three jigs that introduced the audience to the tight musicianship of the band.
The Stoneybatter Band paused between playing to crack a few jokes and explain how some of the songs they were performing were hundreds of years old. One of these older songs was a traditional Irish ditty titled “Eileen Curran.” Flutist Jim Gleason had his moment to shine as he led the band through the somber song which was backed by the strumming of an acoustic guitar, courtesy of Greg Bacon, and Pelham Norville’s haunting bagpipes.
As the sounds of the Celtic music became more infectious, the audience began to tap their feet and bob their heads as they tried to keep beat with the galloping drums and whirling fiddle. The crowd seemed to become so overtaken with the music that at one point an audience member stood up, walked to the front of the stage and performed an impromptu jig.
One of the most memorable moments was when George Arata, who played the bouzouki – a lute-like instrument – introduced his daughter, an FSU student named Anna Arata, to sing the traditional Scottish song “Caledonia.” The audience was riveted as her voice soared beautifully above the whistle, drums and flute. When the song ended, Arata was greeted with a round of applause. After the song, Gleason remarked that Anna Arata gave “a touch of class to our show.”
After the event, George Arata said he was “proud” of his daughters vocal performance.
Anna Arata wasn’t the only guest vocalist. Mark Evans, organizer of FSU’s Midday Performance Series, sang two songs with the Stoneybatter Band.
Evans first heard the band in 2004 when he saw them perform at John Stone’s Public House in Ashland, MA.
With hi Midday Performance Series, Evans said he wants to “bring ethnic music to the campus so our students can connect with that which is unfamiliar. To hear another culture’s music is to open a window of understanding.”
When asked why Celtic music is so popular around the world, Evans said, “It is a player’s music, and very social.”
This is an opinion the Stoneybatter Band shares.
“It’s a social music about having fun,” Norville said. However, he added, it can at times be “sad.”
Gleason said, “This music, for us, feels very internal. You’ve known [these songs] all your life.”
The Stoneybatter Band is currently working on their debut album, which has proven to be more of a challenge than its members first expected.
“We started out not knowing what we wanted,” said Sullivan. However, he added the arduous process has been worth it as it has “gotten us to play better together.”
News of an album will excite FSU freshman Victoria Sepavich, who attended the concert as part of her Ethno-Musicology class, as she was wowed by the Stoneybatter Band’s music.
“I really liked it. It’s exactly what I thought it would be. It made me happy,” she said.
The Stoneybatter Band can be found online at www.stoneybatterband.com, as well as on their official Facebook and Myspace pages.