Gaelic Storm
at Long's Park amphitheater,
Lancaster, PA
(23 June 2002)

It was a "Stormy" night in Long's Park, the burning hot sun and cloudless skies notwithstanding.

Gaelic Storm, the popular Irish band that launched its fame belowdecks on James Cameron's Titanic, rocked the park Sunday evening before a record crowd.

Sunday was the fourth of 13 free concerts in the park this year, and organizers said the crowd -- estimated at 17,500 -- was the largest ever to attend a summer concert at the park, with the possible exception of the annual patriotic concert with fireworks to mark Independence Day. "The popularity of our Celtic shows seems to build every year," said Alison van Harskamp, programming chair for the series.

"The weather was great, we had a great band and it was the right price," Van Harskamp noted, shortly after Gaelic Storm started its fiery performance. "And Lancaster loves its Celtic music."

The afternoon peaked in the high 80s Sunday afternoon, but that didn't stop people from coming out in droves, packing the rolling field around the Long's Park amphitheater in time for the music for start at 6 p.m.

Local band Wyndfall got things rolling with a sultry instrumental leading, aptly enough, into Dougie MacLean's ballad "Ready for the Storm." For the next hour, Wyndfall kept the park alive with a number of traditional songs and tunes including "The Gilderoy," "The Kelpie," "June Apple/Red-Haired Boy," "Bold Doherty" and a spirited "Back Home in Derry." They also played a few original numbers, such as "Garden of You" and "The Piper's Dream."

The band, heavily influenced by jazz despite its Celtic roots, also added a bit of baroque to the evening with "Prelude from Suite #1 in G Major for Solo Cello," a Bach composition spotlighting Laurie Haines Reese on cello. The band also features Tom Reese on flute and pennywhistle, Chris Laughery on guitar and vocals, and Chris Loser on drums. Mark Sullivan rounded out the band Sunday as a guest percussionist, adding Middle-Eastern drums to the sound.

Just as the sun started sinking below the tree line to take the edge off the heat, Gaelic Storm came onstage and lit things up again.

County Cork native Patrick Murphy (vocals, accordionist, harmonica) revved the crowd from the outset with the lively song "Go Home, Girl," about an unwise gypsy romance, before Chicago fiddler Kathleen Keane pounded her way through the band's first set of highly charged reels.

And the band, based in Santa Monica, Calif., was just warming up.

Englishman Steve Twigger (guitar, mandolin, bouzouki) was next with the refreshing original song "Swimmin' in the Sea." Then it was back to Murphy, celebrating his birthday and dressed in an embarrassingly tight polyester shirt, for Gaelic Storm favorite "Johnny Jump Up," an infectious song about the perils of drinking hard cider.

The band, which also features New Yorker Steve Wehmeyer (bodhran, vocals) and Englishman Shep Lonsdale (percussion), took turns in the limelight, never resting long enough to let the energy levels drop. Keane led the band through several vigorous tune sets, occasionally gunning her fiddle to machine-gun rapidity and sometimes swapping it for an equally deft pennywhistle. Ontario native Tom Brown, the band's sound engineer, also joined them onstage for a high-velocity set on the bagpipes.

The peppy song "I'll Tell Me Ma" convinced the crowd to start packing the dance area, a large half-circle of lawn that was stuffed for the rest of the show. When the band slowed down for the ballad "Black is the Colour," most of the dancers just plopped down where they stood, taking advantage of a moment's breather.

It wasn't long for another bop-worthy song, "Before the Night's Over," got them back on their feet. Other songs Sunday evening included "The Scotsman" "The Bonny Ship the Diamond," "Drink the Night Away," "Johnny Tarr" and "The Leaving of Liverpool."

The heat might have brought some musicians to their knees, but Gaelic Storm kept the energy going 'til the very end, a final blast of reels followed by a high-powered "Little Beggarman."

The roar at the end of the night would have put a major-league baseball stadium to shame. Gaelic Storm didn't disappoint, returning to the stage for two encores, including the sailing song "South Australia," which begged for clapping and stomping along, and an ad-lib Irish version of "We Will Rock You," before finally closing down the park.

"This is easily one of, if not the best crowd we've had all year," Wehmeyer told the cheering throng.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 13 July 2002

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