Move past the lyrical content of murder ballads and the jilted lover songs and you’ll realize Celtic music, like its cousin in bluegrass, is at its acoustic-based core a soundtrack for a good time. It’s been that way for centuries. The songs that were born in Scotland and Ireland and played in the pub and various community gatherings, have been passed on through generations, making their way around the globe, spawning Celtic festivals everywhere, including here in Durango.
The Durango Celtic Festival happens this weekend, with music and workshops at The Irish Embassy and Henry Strater Theatre through Saturday night.
Performing are Patrick Crossing, The Hydes, DAIMH, Truckely Howe, Kitchen Jam band, and Old Blind Dogs, the 25-year-old Scotland band recognized as one of the great Celtic bands of the United Kingdom and beyond. Old Blind Dogs sets are tonight (Thursday, March 8) and Saturday (March 10) at the Henry Strater Theatre.
The band honors the lyrical and instrumental traditions with stellar playing while remaining aware of the music’s cultural contribution, wearing its historical and social significance as a badge of honor.
“It’s part of who we are. Thousands of years of history, the beauty of the language in the songs, the beauty of the melody. We’re proud we can play this and say ‘This comes from our people, this is our music.’ It’s a great honor to play it,” said Aaron Jones, who plays guitar and bouzouki. “There’s something about the Celtic culture; it’s very welcoming and very open. That’s why it’s so appealing. You can let your hair down. You don’t go out to be convinced to have a good time; this music allows you to do that. There’s something about it that’s a little bit hedonistic, but it’s allowed. It’s not too crazy. Enjoy yourself, have a couple of beers, and forget about the things going on in the world for just a little bit.”
As a festival it has the similarities in that the musicians are here to play, both on stage and off. The music happens everywhere, from the stage to hotel lobbies and rooms.
“That’s part of the joy of it; it’s a universal language. We can be with Celtic musicians, and even bluegrass musicians, and wherever we go, that’s the great luxury for us,” Jones said. “Being cultural ambassadors, and once we’ve played our own music, we then get to meet other people. Part of the joy of playing music is the synergy that you get with somebody you haven’t met, that opportunity to learn. In order to live, the Celtic tradition has to evolve, it always did, it was never written down, it was passed on, so it always changed. If that means we incorporate a little bluegrass from somebody that’s all fine, that’s all ok. It doesn’t dilute the message, it enhances the music and it engages new people and means more people hear us. So you’re more than likely going to find us in a hotel lobby somewhere knocking tunes out at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning.”
The Durango Celtic Festival is starting to make an international name for itself on a professional and social level. Musicians are treated quite well, and are well aware that Durango audiences will reciprocate the good time.
“The hospitality of the festival is known,” Jones said. “When you play in Scotland the people come out to have a good time – you don’t have to convince them – and it sounds like the people of Durango come out to have a good time, you don’t need to win them over. That suits us; that’s like playing at home for us.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. firstname.lastname@example.org.