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Ryan & Brennish Thomson

Updated Feb 2, 2024

A celtic and fiddle oriented review 

of the annual North American Folk Music and Dance Alliance meeting in Jacksonville, Florida. February, 2002

by Ryan Thomson

This event took place in the new Adam's Mark Hotel on the waterfront in Jacksonville. Attendees numbered around 1500 and included serious amateur and professional "folk music" performers, venue organizers, agents, record producers and other folk music industry related persons. I brought along my fiddle, flute, and accordion, and spent most of the time playing at informal sessions in the hotel lobby. I particularly enjoyed jamming with members of the band Zar, from Denmark, who played Irish and American reels in their spare time. I book marked a few interesting showcases which I attended during breaks in my own playing. 


In the middle of the hotel lobby I had the pleasure of hearing an impromptu performance by April Verch. She is a young virtuoso fiddler who does intricate solo dance steps both: while holding her fiddle in her hand; and also simultaneously while fiddling traditional dance tunes. Her fiddling is great, but I liked her dancing even better. After one spectacular bout of tap and folk dance steps while holding her fiddle and bow in one hand, her shoulder rest flew off her fiddle onto the floor where it was retrieved by her spoons playing accompanist. Without missing a beat though, she launched into the next fiddle tune without the shoulder rest and did a respectable job despite the handicap.


Cathy Ryan's Irish singing was spectacular as usual. I met her for the first time when my descending elevator coincidentally stopped at her floor and she entered it. She looked right at me and said, "its nice to see someone smiling and relaxed," probably contrasting my demeanor with that of the high pressure salesmanship going on at the convention. 


I also particularly enjoyed Frankie Gavin's solo Irish fiddle performance. The day before leaving for Florida I had sat in a session with some musicians who were trying to impress each other by playing mostly obscure pieces. Someone started up a common session tune known to most amateurs and one of the players leaned over and whispered "those are the kind of tunes that I'm trying to get away from." Sure enough, when Frankie Gavin, one of the best Irish musicians in the world, played his last hot set of tunes, he included not only that tune but several other "common" session tunes as well, including Cooley's Reel, the Wise Maid, etc. I'll venture a guess that "common" tunes have achieved their label for the very reason that they stand on their own merit.


There was less Celtic music at this year's convention than last year's, partly being replaced by a larger proportion of contemporary solo singer/songwriters. Many performers have jumped on the Celtic bandwagon though, as there were all sorts of singers and bands playing pseudo-celtic tunes and songs (I can hear them thinking as they compose, "As long as it uses a 5 note pentatonic scale in the myxolydian mode it must be Celtic") Its fun to be a folk singer though, and at this very commercially oriented event there were lots of weekend musician want-to-be's, passing out loads of free T-shirts, CDs, bumper stickers, and other types of souvenirs in order to market their acts.


The event cost me approximately $1100 to attend, including: airfare from New Hampshire; Folk Alliance membership and admission fees; and hotel room charges. On the trip home the airport security detail in Jacksonville confiscated my envelope of spare violin strings as a possible weapon. Fortunately, I was allowed to return to Ticketing to check in my strings as "baggage," which was allowed to fly in the luggage compartment, packaged in a cardboard box.

This article written by Ryan Thomson, 2002

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