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Irish music and dance

October 21, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - The sounds of the Emerald Isle will color Jefferson County, W.Va., green this weekend.

And that's no blarney.

Upper Potomac Irish Weekend workshops, concerts and jam sessions in Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown, W.Va., will showcase Irish music and dance from Friday, Oct. 22, through Sunday, Oct. 24, director Joanie Blanton said.

"It's going to be a blast. You can't help but have a good time around Irish music," she said. "People love Irish music. It stirs their passions. It's very danceable. It's a very visual tradition. It's one that captures a lot of people's imaginations."

Irish musicians and dancers will lead workshops and participate in jam sessions at the Hilltop House Hotel in Harpers Ferry on Friday through Sunday. On Saturday, the six guest music instructors - including fiddler Brian Conway, pianist and flute player Brendan Dolan, vocalist Julee Glaub, accordion player Patty Furlong, piper Eliot Grasso and flute and whistle player John Skelton - will unite on stage at Shepherd University's Frank Center for the Performing Arts in Shepherdstown for the festival's showcase concert. Jam sessions after the concert in the hotel's pub might run into the wee hours, Blanton said.

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She said she chose an Irish theme for the first-ever Celtic weekend because the many networks within the tight-knit Irish music and dance community could help spread the word about the event. On a personal note, Blanton saw the Irish festival as a way to celebrate her 50th birthday year with a Celtic bang.

"It's sort of my change of life festival," she said. "Irish music is one of my absolute favorites."

New Yorker Brian Conway, 43, would say the same.

The award-winning Sligo-style fiddler said he's been playing Irish music since age 10, when his Irish parents encouraged him to take up the fiddle. Named after a county on Ireland's west coast that produced renowned fiddler Michael Coleman and a number of other fiddle players at the turn of the recent century, Sligo is "a driving style," Conway said. "It's lively. It's got a lot of lift in it. It's sophisticated."

"It's my favorite kind of Irish music," he said.

Conway, who works full-time as an assistant district attorney in Westchester County, N.Y., has entertained audiences throughout North America with traditional Irish music infused with his modern-day talent and imagination. He counts the tunes "Bonnie Kate" and "Jenny's Chickens" among his favorites, he said.

The Irish American newspaper, Irish Echo, named Conway's "First Through the Gate" the 2002 CD of the Year.

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