March 2, 2002
JOHN WHELAN BAND
Well, the picture above is not exactly the same band that John brought to us tonight, but he brought a bunch of guys that wowed our socks off. Celtic music is often a relentless litany of jigs, reels, hornpipes and who can tell the difference ... with the John Whelan Band, I still can't but I don't care because it all sounds so good ... I still can't distinguish between Captain Kelly's Reel and the Kerry Dancers' Shoelaces, but when the John Whelan Band plays them you won't doze -- you'll be clapping and shouting and stomping and hugging your neighbor and hoping that the evening will never end.
John Whelan has assembled a sterling group of instrumental heroes that blend into the super-group that makes us welcome St. Patrick back every year.
Button accordion master John Whelan, by the age of 14, was already a seasoned virtuoso and a winner of numerous accordion championships.
John formed the JOHN WHELAN BAND in 1997. Since then, the band has thrilled audiences at such major American music events as the Philadelphia Folk Festival, Washington Irish Folk Festival, as well as throughout Europe on a junket sponsored by Virgin Records.
We were proud to present John and his Band to welcome in this year's St. Patrick's Day festivities.
Although John grew up near London in Dunstable, England, he was raised on the fiddle and pipe music of Ireland. John recorded his first album at 14, and named it in honor of his father Pride of Wexford. No passing fancy, the album is still is print and selling steadily.
John's artistry blossomed in America. He moved to the U.S. in 1980 and soon was performing with Riverdance fiddler Eileen Ivers in one of the most celebrated Irish duos of the decade. His solo album From the Heart became a 1991 finalist in the Celtic/British Isles category of the National Association of Independent Record Distributors and Manufacturers (NAIRD) awards. In 1996 he signed with Narada and released his first solo album on the label, Celtic Reflections. His next release Celtic Crossroads spent more than two months in the top 10 of Billboard's world music charts — and tonight he played the lilting loping medley that celebrates his world-wise style.
Named Traditionalist of the Year by Irish Echo magazine in 1998, John won high praise from Celtic music authority Earle Hitchner "As an instrumentalist, composer, producer, and arranger who brings both passion and playfulness to his music while respecting the tradition it's rooted in. John Whelan has richly earned the Irish Echo's highest honor for traditional music."
John's latest album, Come To Dance, serves notice to genre purists that the seven-time All-Ireland Champion is as instrumentally agile as ever. It also reveals his consummate understanding of a centuries-old repertoire. The album was recorded live in his hometown church, St. Gabriel's in Milford, Ct., where John lives with his wife and children. John says, "There were no fixes, no second chances, no overdubs - everything is as live as it can be. Sometimes I would check the tracks by dancing to them. If the rhythm is there, if the feel is there, people are going to enjoy..." He continues, " ... many of these tunes have a personal significance to me. The Concert Reel is a tune I played for my first All-Ireland Championship, and Father O'Flynn is the very first tune I ever learned to play".
One of the acclaimed members of the Band is Flynn Cohen, one of the country's premier guitar accompanists. His strong solo tonight impressed everyone, especially the young man he serenaded. He began playing guitar at the age of eleven, and subsequently studied under such luminaries as John Renbourne (Pentangle), Scott Nygaard and Paul Brinkley (Modern Mandolin Quartet). Flynn has degrees in music from Dartington College of the Arts in England and Mills College in California. Flynn's soloes are extraordinary, and contributed to the extraordinary diversity in the group's repetroir. In addition to Irish traditional music, Flynn excels in bluegrass and napping at after concert parties.
Band member Tom Wetmore, a stalwart in both American and Celtic folk culture, has been playing bass since he was thirteen years old. From 1987 to 1997 Tom played hammered dulcimer with Walt Michael. He has also performed with bluegrass banjo player Bill Keith, Joe Beck, Peter Appleyard, and Al Gllodoro. Tom has performed with John for the last 4 years and played bass on John's last 3 albums.
Tonight's fiddler for the Band, Jim Eagan, is a 21 year old native of Baltimore. His solo turn showed that we'll be hearing from him for years to come. Jim learned to play traditional fiddle from the legendary Brendan Mulvihill. A classical violin student since age 6, he graduated from the Baltimore School for the Arts and is currently attending Loyola College in Maryland. Considered to be one of the next generation of traditional Irish musicians, Jim enjoys playing at festivals and concerts throughout America and Europe. He has played with Mick Moloney in The Greenfields of America and also performed with the Chieftains. Jim recently toured with The John Whelan Band in Europe.
Here's what critics are saying about John Whelan