Eileen Ivers
at Long's Park, Lancaster, Pa.
(15 July 2001)

The last few years have proven that Lancaster, Pa., loves bagpipes. The popular bagpipe band Seven Nations has brought huge and loyal crowds out to the summer concert series at Long's Park two years running. Now the same can be said with certainty of the Irish fiddle. Eileen Ivers, one of the world's most celebrated fiddlers, packed the lawn surrounding the Long's Park Amphitheater with crowds peaking at more than 10,000 people.

Ivers, backed by a diverse band of musicians from various musical fields, delighted the massive crowd Sunday evening with more than two hours of music under a partly cloudy but rain-free sky.

Grass space was at a premium by 7 p.m., as late arrivals searched for chair or blanket space within sight of the stage. By the time Ivers came on-stage at 7:30, the rolling field was packed.

Ivers played her trademark fiddle, almost pulling sparks from the electric blue instrument with her flying fingers and fast-moving bow.

Anyone who came expecting a concentrated dose of Irish music may have been surprised by the performance -- and a few people may have left disappointed. Ivers and her band are by no means limited to one genre, drawing heavily on Celtic traditions while employing elements of jazz, rock, reggae and various world roots for their own unique style.

Ivers, center stage for most of the action, did not attempt to dominate the performance, often ceding the spotlight to others in her band.

Rounding out the sound Sunday were Dublin expatriate John Doyle, formerly of the band Solas, on guitar; Jerry O'Sullivan from Yonkers on uilleann bagpipes, Highland bagpipes and low whistle; Chulo Gatewood, a native of Chicago, on bass guitar; Puerto Rico's Emedin Rivera on percussion; and Tommy McDonnell from the Bronx on vocals, harmonica and percussion. Also joining the Ivers band on stage were dancers from the Broesler School of Dance, a school in Baltimore, Md., which has produced multiple national champions of Celtic dance.

Everyone had a turn as the center of attention. At one point, the rest of the band retired from the stage as Rivera singlehandedly created a complete rainforest environment with a variety of percussion.

At turns soothing and invigorating, the program seemed to offer something for everyone.

"Islanders" was a Celtic-Caribbean jam, while "Jama" drew on Irish and African roots. For mellower tastes, there were slow tunes like "Bygone Days," a captivating air that held the audience entranced, and "The Gentle Breeze," a lament Ivers said was an example of "the blues of Ireland." "Pachelbel's Canon in D," perhaps one of the world's best-known baroque pieces, even made it into the program -- transformed by Ivers into an amazingly fun and energetic hornpipe called "Pachelbel's Frolics."

This tune also marked the first appearance of the Broesler dancers, a quartet of high-stepping, colorfully garbed girls who kept excellent time to Ivers' fiddle. As the four older girls finished their first dance of the night, they were joined on the stage by an extra wee dancer who charmed the crowd with her diminutive stepdancing.

"Gravelwalk" provided the sizzling close to the first half of the concert, with Ivers jamming so hard she bounced right out of the microphone pickup clipped to her belt. No doubt, when she kicks in the distortion, Ivers can go toe to toe with the best screaming rock guitarists in the business.

The action on-stage inspired Katie Gruver, 7, to try her hand at stepdancing on the lawn. "I think it was great when the dancers came out," said the Lancaster girl.

Meryl Arnold, 9, soon showed her own stepdancing prowess, saying later that she learned some of the steps from the parents of a friend at school. "It's fun," she said. "I want to learn more."

"I like the dancing," agreed Nikki Papadoplos, 6. "I like to dance the jig like this." She quickly demonstrated the moves she'd learned by watching the Broesler girls on-stage. "But it hurts my big toe," she whispered.

The second half of the show began with a trio of Highland bagpipes and snares, which marched through the crowd before joining the rest of the band for another raucous fiddle blitz. As McDonnell added bluesy vocals to the mix, the area in front of the stage soon filled with children and adults, all wildly dancing.

Even a German shepherd got into the act, perhaps unwillingly, but two-footing it all the same. That inspired Debbie Stuart of Lancaster to scoop up her own sleeping fox terrier for an impromptu twirl around the lawn.

Dancers kicked up large clouds of dust which drifted across the stage. "We love it," Ivers shouted into the microphone. "Kick up that dirt!"

Ivers segued into bluegrass for "The Blizzard Train," leaving the stage to fiddle and dance among the crowd, then finishing the set with another Irish blitz that left the crowd on its feet and screaming for more.

The band returned to the stage for one more set, blending the Irish jam with a revival-style interpretation of "Let the Circle Be Unbroken." Ivers dragged more than a dozen young dancers onto the stage to bring the night to a rousing close.

Born in the Irish neighborhood of the Bronx in New York City, Ivers was a featured performer in Riverdance and has won more than 30 All-Ireland Championships. She has appeared on more than 60 albums, recording with the likes of Paula Cole, Hall & Oates and the Boston Pops Orchestra. She was a co-founder and member for several years of the all-female band Cherish the Ladies.

Her latest album is Crossing the Bridge.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 28 July 2001