One of the things I always liked to do is to follow a band, especially a band that you see up close in a relatively smaller venue.
I have several of these favorites, most of whom I’ve seen at the wonderful Ark venue, which has moved around Ann Arbor in several places before their excellent present location downtown. As I’ve gotten older the worst part of the place is the steep climb of stairs, done as quickly as possible to get ahead of the oncoming hordes. As is my wont, I always try to sit up front, as close to the band as I can get. That alone is its own special experience.
I was completely unfamiliar with Irish music (except the treacly pseudo-Bing Crosby pop) when a friend took me to see a highly thought of band….and they were awful! But Greg promised me the next band would not disappoint, and 25 years later, they still do not: Altan.
It’s hard to describe the joy you get from what to you is “new” music; music that doesn’t fit the cliches you “know”, music that shows you so many great things about the culture and the performers…I was buzzed about it for weeks after hearing them the first time, which in turn, has led me to see quite a bit of Irish and Scottish music, more than I ever thought I would growing up! Not everything reverts back to childhood joys!
There’s also something else — seeing a band over a long period of time. You want both the familar and the new, to see where they want to go musically! It doesn’t always work out, as I recall one tour where Altan was pressured to be a bit more “New Agey” than I think they were naturally inclined to be, but that’s the biz for you! If you love them, you stick with them in the hope of this being just a phase.
The moment I’ll always remember is when, Frankie Kennedy, one of the original founders of the band, the husband of the lead singer/fiddle player Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh passed away from cancer at a quite young age. I wasn’t sure if they would tour, but they did with Mairead in black, without the band mentioning his passing during the show. This lent a somber note to those of us who followed the band, but it was the first encore that nearly did me in. She came out to sing a song that she had done as a duet with Frankie playing the flute — alone. I couldn’t look, and covered my eyes so I wouldn’t get upset. Later, she upbraided me for that telling me that if I had started crying, she’d start crying, and she was on stage! Crying — and drinking — was for backstage.
A video taste of her singing for you…
I can’t wait to see them again, if only just to get in some solid footstomping to some of the more lively jigs and reels, like this one
If Altan comes your way….I couldn’t recommend a band more highly. If I can scrape together the $25 I’ll see them March 4th.