Fire in the Glen
at J-M's Bistro, Lancaster, PA
(17 March 1999)

Going out on St. Patrick's Day is ripe for potential exposure to cheesy sentimental music and food Nature never intended to be green. This was not the case at J-M's Bistro in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where Fire in the Glen made their professional debut.

Fire in the Glen is Tom Knapp on fiddle and bodhran and John Varner on guitar and vocals. Musically, they are an excellent fit; one musical element never controls or overrides another. For this evening, Fionnuala Scullion, an exchange student from Northern Ireland, joined the duo for several songs. The first set was a good balance of tunes and songs ranging from poignant to rowdy, and the range allowed each performer opportunities to shine -- and shine they did.

John's warm-timbred voice was in fine form from the start, but when he sang "Barrett's Privateer's," however, he blanched a bit at singing "God damn them all" in front of a table full of priests, leaving Tom (on bodhran) to sing the line on his own. (The priests didn't seem to mind, and John quickly regained his equilibrium.) Fionnuala's smoky-sweet voice added richness to songs which could easily become oversentimental, and "Lover's Heart," sung with John, was especially lovely, their voices blending perfectly and poignantly with Tom's fiddle. Tom's energy never flagged, whether on fiddle or bodhran, and the set I liked especially moved from the tender "Give Me Your Hand" to a merry "Lord of the Dance," to "The Fairy Dance," and finally, concluded with a robust interpretation of "The Butterfly." This was a butterfly with attitude.

The set was slightly plagued by common first performance technical nuisances, mostly related to their sound system, and the band seemed a little tense, but they were thoroughly warmed up and relaxed by their second set, which included "Shebeg Shemore," "Ger the Rigger/Maggie in the Woods/Bill Sullivan's Polka," and "Whiskey in the Jar" among others. Fionnuala received an ovation for "The Town I Loved so Well" and Tom blasted the set closed with "Farewell to the Creeks" and "Scarce o' Tatties."

The bistro does not have a kind layout for performers. Many of the diners could not see the musicians, and as it was the dinner hour, the band had to compete with the clatter of cutlery and conversation. Furthermore, the sprawl of tables on different levels and in different rooms did not lend itself to a cohesive audience experience. Hands beat lightly on tabletops (one or more of the priests kept a constant rhythm), feet tapped, heads bobbed, but the dining room atmosphere had a dampering effect. These conditions would be a challenge to a seasoned performer, let alone a band on its first night out, but Fire in the Glen met and overcame the challenge with impressive spirit.

They had to pack up quickly at the end and leave for another gig at The Pressroom, also in Lancaster, where I hear they received an enthusiastic reception. Unfortunately, I had to forego that pleasure, but I'm pleased I got to hear Fire in the Glen in their first public performance -- and I know there'll be more.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

Visit the Fire in the Glen website.