A & E

Exploring Gaelic traditions with The Alt

8.31.16-A&E-The Alt-Jared Larwence-Jeff Wilner

Jeff Wilner

Jared Lawrence
  Staff Writer

The ‘Alt’ is a celebrated glen on the side of Knocknarea; and in Irish mythology is said to be the grave sight of the warrior-queen Maeve. The little village of Coolaney is sheltered under this glen, and is where a trio Irish traditional virtuosos first gathered with one another. The ‘Alt’ consists of John Doyle, Mick McCauley and Eamon O’Leary, carries on tradition of Gaelic culture through music. They will have the privilege of performing at the year’s National Folk Festival alongside headliners such as Grandmaster Flash and Nathalie Pires.

John Doyle, originally of Dublin, now an Asheville resident, John himself is a devoted collector of Irish music. Himself a preeminent guitarist, Doyle is credited with creating a whole new fashion of playing the rhythm for Irish dance tunes, by developing a signature left-handed strumming style. As well as being a celebrated songwriter, producer and arranger, he was originally part of the popular Irish American band Solás, and has performed and recorded with musicians from Eileen Ivers to Mary Chapin Carpenter.     

Eamon O’Leary has been in the States a longer than Doyle, calling New York City home for about 20 years now. He is a gifted singer and guitarist; and is also proficient on the Greek bouzouki, which is a long-necked  instrument similar to the mandolin. He is a principal figure in New York’s rather expansive Irish music collective, where for many years he co-hosted one of the City’s most well-known Irish music gatherings at Mona’s, a folk music mecca on the Lower East Side.

Skilled accordionist, whistle player, singer and composer Mick McCauley was born in the rich musical community of Callan, County Kilkenny, Ireland. A longtime member of Solás with John Doyle, Mick has been part of a campaign to bring Irish music to wider, more distinct crowds all around the world. His debut solo piece, “An Ocean’s Breadth”, was named Best Celtic Album of the Year by The Washington Post; McCauley’s newly released “Highs and Bellows” features traditional and original acoustic melodies and songs.

For those who are uninitiated, Gaelic music is an umbrella term for the folk music of Ireland and of the Scottish Highlands. It has also been used for any music written in the Gaelic languages of Irish and Scottish Gaelic. The sound created in this style of music evokes a great sense of pride for many of Irish and Scottish descent. Like any genre of music representative of groups of people, it is a bit specialized and elusive to those not exposed to it regularly. The genre carries a lot of energy and has an upbeat pace. Its place at the folk festival is not up for debate. Traditional folk music takes a good deal of its atmosphere from traditional Gaelic music, like what “The Alt” offers to its listeners. Historically much of the old-time music of the United States grew out of the music of Ireland, England and Scotland, as a result of cultural diffusion. By the 1970s Irish traditional music was again influencing music in the US and further afield in Australia and Europe. It has occasionally been fused with genres such as rock and roll and punk. With notable bands like the “Dropkick Murphys” and “Larry and his Flask”, as well as bands outside the punk aesthetic like “Gaelic Storm”.

The skill, tunes, and new and rediscovered songs each of these musicians brings to “The Alt” show their appreciation of the traditional music that has been a touchstone of Irish identity for generations on display. They also build on the heritage of the Irish immigrants who settled in Appalachia during the 20th century, where Irish song provided some of the cornerstones for old-time country and bluegrass.They chose to record their first work, eponymously titled, “The Alt” at a cabin deep in North Carolina’s part of the Appalachian Mountains. The Appalachian Mountains have a rich history of blues, Old-time and bluegrass music, as well as hosting many notable performers.

For their upcoming performance at the National Folk Festival, accomplished fiddler and Asheville native, Duncan Wickel, will also be performing with “The Alt”.  The Alt is currently scheduled for five separate performances at the National Folk Festival. It promises to be a great experience for those who both deeply in love with Irish folk music, and those who are entirely new to the genre. You won’t regret it.

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