Thursday January 24, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- A fresh load of snow that made driving dicey was not going to deter these guys.

"Our Trad groups are pretty die-hard, so they will be meeting," admitted Brattleboro Music Center Managing Director Pam Lierle in an e-mail earlier that day.

And there they were, snow on their boots and fiddles, whistles and guitars in hand -- the participants in one of the BMC Youth Celtic Classes playing a spirited rendition of an apt song, "Banish Misfortune."

"It’s just fun," explained Bridget Kainoshita, a 13-year-old member of the class. "And we get to play for audiences."

Bridget and her fellow Celtic music classmates aged 9-14 were not there just to have a good time. They were preparing for their appearance on the New England Youth Theatre stage this Saturday in the 7:30 p.m. concert which wraps up the Northern Roots Traditional Music Festival.

Now in its sixth year, the Brattleboro Music Center’s annual festival brings together local and regional musicians representing the musical traditions of Ireland, Scotland, England, New England and French Canada.

The festival starts at noon on Saturday and continues throughout the day with workshops, group participatory sessions and performances at NEYT and McNeill’s Brewery.

"It’s fun to go to different classes with different teachers, and at the end of the day perform," said Delaney Bullock, another 13-year-old in the Youth Celtic Classes.

It is a fun day, both for seasoned players and for those who’ve never picked up an instrument -- imagine how much fun the 1 p.m. Pub Sing at McNeill’s with Tony Barrand and Jerry Bell is going to be. But it’s fun with a purpose.

"In the end, the festival is really about strengthening and showcasing the local traditional music community," said Festival Director Keith Murphy. "Traditional music is in a strong place in the world. It’s a very, very widespread phenomenon. That’s definitely motivation to make sure that that’s happening in Brattleboro as well."

Brattleboro is well-positioned to be a hub of traditional music. Among the workshop leaders and performers are musicians well-known to local audiences -- Lissa Schneckenburger, Andy Davis, Mary Cay Brass, Laurie Indenbaum, Dan Houghton, Arthur Davis, Jill Newton, Becky Tracy and Murphy.

But the festival also draws talented professionals and spirited amateurs from outside the community, making it a chance for Brattleboro to strut its stuff a little bit. In all, Murphy estimates that 300 people will be taking part in the festival in one way or another. The evening concert typically sells out the NEYT theater, and the McNeill’s Pub Sing is wildly popular. But so are some of the other offerings -- the Family Concert and Family Dance at 3 and 4 p.m., respectively, and many of the workshops.

Mostly, this is an event about getting people together to play and enjoy this music.

"It’s true, this music is a very social, communal kind of music. It’s a very strong way of bringing people into the music," said Murphy.

Every year the festival mixes popular annual favorites with new features and new guest musicians. This year is no different.

"We’re going to have a very nice Scottish presence this year," said Murphy, pointing to the appearances of fiddler of Katie McNally (of Childsplay), Edinburgh-born Jerry Bell and his family and local Scottish piper Dan Houghton. "One of the things I’ve always wanted the festival to be about is giving people a chance to hear some of these different traditions side by side."

McNally will lead a Scottish fiddle workshop, take part with Katie Bell and others in a Double Fiddle session and perform in the evening. Houghton leads a session of Scottish Tunes for All, and The Bell Family will perform at the Family Concert at 3 p.m., and again in the evening.

The Family Concert will be followed by a Family Dance, led by Andy Davis and Mary Cay Brass, featuring a dance band that will grow out of a workshop earlier in the day.

In addition, Nancy Bell will lead a neat new offering, Spinning Stories and Wool, in which she will do just that -- spin wool on a loom and a few yarns, as well.

"That’s going to be a beautiful session," said Murphy.

Other visiting musicians include Boston-based guitarist Eric McDonald, Connecticut-based singer Ellen Cohn, Massachusetts-based fiddler David Kaynor and Irish flute and whistle player Dan Restivo.

Returning for this year’s evening performance is the ever-changing, crowd-pleasing Traddleboro ensemble. Traddleboro is a shifting conglomeration of local musicians who each year create and perform a set of music specifically for the Northern Roots Festival. This year’s Traddleboro ensemble includes Scottish piper Dan Houghton, singer Charity Houghton, fiddler Schneckenburger and French Canadian guitar, mandolin, piano and foot percussionist Murphy.

The daytime schedule includes several participation workshops including Scottish Fiddle, Irish Flute & Whistle and Guitar DADGAD workshops; and New England Dance, Scottish, and French Canadian tune workshops for all instruments, as well as a Dance Band Prep workshop.

David Baker, of Baker Violins, will also be on hand to advise on fiddle care, fitting and maintenance.

Daytime performances include Local Repertoire Favorites, Double Fiddle, Spinning Stories & Wool, and Songs of Trades & Professions.

This year’s festival showcases youth talent throughout the day and with the BMC’s Celtic youth group in the evening concert. Performing in the daytime Youth Showcase this year are Scottish fiddler Katie Bell, New England fiddler Emma Snope, piper Andrew Dickinson, fiddler Aiden Murphy, whistle player Alden Witman, guitarist Everest Witman and fiddlers Madeleine Stewart and Fiona Shea.

Welcoming all musicians, and rounding out the daytime activities are a slow jam, Irish/Scottish and French Canadian sessions and the pub sing.

Tickets for the Northern Roots Festival ($35 for combination day and evening, $20 for daytime only, $20 for evening only; $15 for youth combination day and evening, $10 for youth day only and $10 for youth evening only) are available from the Brattleboro Music Center at www.bmcvt.org or 802-257-4523. Advance ticket purchase is recommended; seating for the evening performance is limited.

Admission at 3 p.m. for the Family Concert and Family Dance only, is $5 at the door.

On Saturday during the festival, tickets can be purchased at New England Youth Theatre, 100 Flat St., with doors opening at 11:30 a.m.