Fire in the Glen
Lancaster Malt Brewery,
Lancaster, Pennsylvania
(18 March 2000)

They say that where there's smoke, there's fire, but if it's Fire in the Glen, you can be sure of plenty of heat as well.

OK, let me start off by saying that I'm biased. I know the guys and count them among my friends. But there's bias and there's bias -- these guys transcend the loyalty and courtesy that friendship requires. Yes, they're that good.

I had the pleasure of reviewing their debut on St. Patrick's Day in 1999, and it seemed fitting that, a year and a day later, I found myself reviewing them again. I could complain that I always get the oddball assignments -- as one of the band members was heard to comment about himself when reviewing a storytelling concert in which I was a performer -- but that wouldn't be fair, since I assigned myself to the task.

Fire in the Glen is John Varner on guitar and vocals and Tom Knapp on fiddle, bodhran, backup vocals and snappy patter. (The last was redefined as "smartass remarks" by an audience member who shall remain anonymous but who bore a strong fraternal resemblance to Tom.)

Since their impressive debut, I've watched Fire in the Glen open for Great Big Sea, play to capacity crowds at Countdown 2000, Lancaster's New Year's Eve celebration, and capture the attention of the entire crowd in packed smoky taverns and bars. They have been well received at Lancaster Malt Brewery on more than one occasion and their two shows on St. Patrick's Day at New Cumberland's PJ O'Brien's sold out

The crowd who greeted Fire in the Glen with enthusiasm as they ripped into their first set with "Scarce o' Tatties." Both of the performers have gained confidence over the year and are more comfortable performing. They followed up with "Battle of Aughrim/After the Battle of Aughrim" before the first vocal number, the spirited "I'll Tell Me Ma." (It was Tom's dedication of this song to his brother which inspired the evaluation above of Tom's repartee by the anonymous audience member.) They moved on to "Mari-Mac" which gave John a chance to run wild as the music -- and lyrics -- got progressively faster. Lyric sheets distributed to the audience allowed people to sing along or try to catch up.

The first set also included staples of Fire in the Glen's repertoire: "Haste to the Wedding/The Irish Washerwoman," "The Rights of Man," "Lover's Heart," where John's powerful, warm voice and Tom's violin intertwine in a lovely duet, and "The Stool of Repentance/Stan Chapman's Jig," as well as two more songs: "Paddy McGinty's Goat" and "Finnegan's Wake." The set closed with what has become Tom's signature piece, "Dark Island/Devil's Dream." "Dark Island" is a slow and sweet air which leads easily into "Devil's Dream," a reel which begins casually, at a moderate pace, becoming faster and faster with each repetition until you can almost see smoke rising from the strings -- and Tom doesn't miss a note.

Highlights of the second set included "Whiskey in the Jar" (complete with Tom's running commentary on the events of the song), "Give Me Your Hand/Lord of the Dance/Fairy Dance/The Butterfly" -- they say that set doesn't really fit together, but it's one of my favorites -- "Bee's Wing" and their Irish polka set "Ger the Rigger/Maggie in the Woods/Bill Sullivan's Polka." It closed with "Barrett's Privateers," which features John singing with only Tom's bodhran punctuating the seafaring story with a beat that gets your blood going.

The crowd had thinned a bit by the third set (something to be expected on the day following a rowdy St. Patrick's Day and all the hoopla that entails), but there were enough people left to enjoy the tunes, which included "Shebeg Sheemore/Off She Goes," their arrangement of Emerson Lake & Palmer's "Lucky Man," more pub songs such as "Rambling Rover," "All for Me Grog" and "Wild Rover," and closed with an encore of "Dark Island/Devil's Dream."

I thought Fire in the Glen was pretty good when they started out -- but I had no idea how good they could be. But there is a special rapport between the two that heightens the quality of the music and indeed, goes beyond it.

My daughter watched me to get ready to go out and asked if she could go too. I told her she had to be 21, and she said, confidently, "When I'm a little older we'll go together." Well, I hope the guys are still playing together in 15 1/2 years. Maybe they won't be Fire in the Glen then, but I think it's likely that they'll still be two good people creating good music -- and that's what it's all about.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

Read Donna's review of the band's first performance on 17 March 1999.

Visit the Fire in the Glen website.