A gaggle of musicians gather this weekend in Forest Grove to celebrate Irish roots music
The U.S. has its own unique St. Patrick's Day traditions, though green beer, pinching and shamrocks aren't exactly direct exports from the Emerald Isle.
In Ireland, St. Patrick's Day is of course a celebration, though one marked by less revelry. Named for the patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick's Day is a celebration of Irish culture, marked by intricate musical performances, dancing and other celebratory expressions.
And while many stateside commemorations are marked with ballyhoo and shenanigans, Ross Productions and the Education Foundation of Forest Grove are teaming up to bring the Celtic traditions to life with the St. Patrick's Day Celebration, featuring traditional Irish music, dancing, storytelling and other cultural mainstays. The concert takes place Sunday at Forest Grove High School.
The show features traditional music performed by fiddler Kevin Burke and guitarist Cal Scott, who have composed original compositions for the showcase's string quartet. In addition, Grammy-winning musician Tim O'Brien will travel from Nashville to perform at the show, along with piper and native Dubliner Tom Creegan, the Claddagh Dancers and others.
'It's something that's really fun to watch. It's something that's not just one tone from beginning to end,' says producer Marv Ross, who also plays with the Oregon Trail Band with Scott. 'It's not like 'Riverdance.' It's more like what you'd see if you were over in Ireland.'
Ross has produced the show for the past three years, and this marks his first showcase in Forest Grove. Other performances take place in Salem and Portland during the weekend.
The producer says the concert offers a unique glimpse into St. Patrick's roots in Irish culture, and an opportunity for those unfamiliar with the music to be fully immersed in it while learning about the history of the beloved holiday.
'(The performers) give a lot of insight as to what St. Paddy's Day is (in Ireland), as opposed to what it is over here. That was kind of the original concept: to create a celebration of St. Patrick's Day that wasn't just green beer and whooping it up and hearing the same old songs,' says Ross. 'When we first came up with this, we felt like there needed to be an alternative to that. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's just more interesting to see what the holiday really is. It's a big day, and it involves a lot of traditions that we don't do here in the U.S.'
Among the performers is Oregonian Cal Scott, a guitarist rooted in American folk who, while composing the score for a documentary about northern Ireland, connected with fiddler Burke. The two formed a fast bond, and quickly became musical partners.
Scott says his experience in American folk - some of which is rooted in Irish ancestry, particularly bluegrass and other Appalachian styles - helped him identify the common threads and stark disparities between the musical traditions.
'There are many similarities and many differences. There are even common tunes, but the approach is very different,' says Scott. 'There's no improvisation that goes on (in Irish music). The melody player might turn a phrase a little differently, but he's not improvising the way a bluegrass player would. And of course there are differences in the instruments as well.'
As part of the performance, some of the musicians are expected to explain the music being played, offering audiences the opportunity to understand more fully the differences between the traditional and the modern, and the musical bloodlines they share.
'Kevin's playing is steeped in a tradition, and keeping this real Irish traditional music alive, which is really different than the kind of pop Irish music, the 'Riverdance' kind of stuff, and the Celtic Women and even the Irish rock bands. This is steeped in real traditional music,' says Scott. 'That's what we're trying to bring. There's a lot of green-beer influence in St. Patrick's Day. It's not really representational of Irish tradition. It's an American tradition that doesn't have much to do with Irish tradition. We're trying to highlight the real traditional element rather than the over-the-top shamrocks and green beer. I don't think you're going to see any shamrocks at the show.'
As with any show opening doors to the past, the St. Patrick's Day Celebration is sure to have different effects on each of its audience members, whether it prompts them to research further the true meaning of St. Patrick's Day, helps them recognize the influence the songs have had on modern music or simply gives them a few new melodies to hum.
But there's one experience Ross is confident that everybody will share: the desire to tap their feet.
'That rhythm, there's a lift to it. The melody and the rhythms make you feel like tapping your foot. If we were a little less inhibited, we would probably get up and dance to it,' says Ross. 'I think people in the audience really want to so bad. You see them and they're like, 'Oh, I just really want to dance.''
The St. Patrick's Day Celebration takes place Sunday, March 18 at 7 p.m. at Forest Grove High School, 1401 Nichols Lane.
To learn more, or to purchase advance tickets, call Wynwood of Forest Grove at 503-357-3288, John L. Scott Marketing Center at 503-359-9100 or Susan at 503-740-6429.
Everyone's Irish on St. Patrick's Day
The Irish concert at Forest Grove High School isn't the only local event that will have people seeing green.
Beginning at noon on Sunday, the Grand Lodge is doing its best to transform itself into a Dublin pub with a free day of concerts, drink and other merriment beginning at noon on Saturday and going well into the night.
Along with Irish food and drink - and the promise of an appearance by bagpipers and, (naturally) leprechauns - the event includes performances by Angry Monks (noon), Irish dancers (2 pm), the Erik Kilops Trio (5 pm), Fast Rattler (6 pm), Blarney Thursday (7 pm) and Ants in the Kitchen (8 pm).
To learn more, visit mcmenamins.com.
Meanwhile, Hillsboro has its own tradition in the form of the Murphy's Furniture St. Patrick's Day parade, which turns downtown into an Irish extravaganza Saturday beginning at 9 am.
Along with a parade featuring floats from schools and local businesses, the event includes the authentic Corned Beef and Cabbage Feed, dancing, games and more.
For more information, including a full parade route, visit murphysfurniture.net.
if you're just looking to grab a few pints of green beer, there are plenty of options around:
Ballad Town Billiards, 2036 Pacific Ave Forest Grove, 503-357-1111
Half Moon Sports Bar, 1927 Main St, Forest Grove, 503-357-8080
My Place, 1930 21st Ave, Forest Grove, 503-357-4456
Leo's Lair, 1098 Baseline St, Cornelius, 503-359-5388
Tabbs Sports Bar and Grill, 124 N 20th Ave, Cornelius, 503-359-4822
One Horse Tavern, 300 Front St, Gaston, 503-985-3273