The Beat Goes On: Lots o’ Celtic music over St. Patrick’s Day weekend, blues and soul in Florence, and more

By STEVE PFARRER

Staff Writer

Published: 03-16-2023 6:01 PM

Unless you’re planning to drink yourself into a stupor with a borg (blackout rage gallon) or some other kind of booze preparation, you can celebrate St. Patrick’s Day weekend by listening to any number of Celtic groups that will be playing in the region.

One of the best options might be House of Hamill, which comes to The Parlor Room in Northampton March 19 at 7:30 p.m. This musical trio, based in Philadelphia, is centered on Brian Buchanan and Rose Baldino, first-rate fiddlers and singers. Buchanan also plays guitar, and he’s a well-known face from the Canadian Celtic rockers Enter the Haggis, who have gigged in the Valley for years.

Baldino and Buchanan have been playing together for almost a decade and have known each other longer than that. They first shared a stage in 2014 at a folk festival in Kansas, where a potential disaster was looming for Baldino, who was there for a gig with her band Burning Bridget Cleary.

As the story goes, two members of Burning Bridget Cleary couldn’t make the show when their flights were canceled due to bad weather. Baldino begged Buchanan, who was also at the festival, to grab a guitar and join her onstage — and the two “just clicked,” they say.

Now touring with bassist Caroline Browning, House of Hamill calls its sound “sophisticated indie Irish folk,” but it’s something more than that. They certainly offer plenty of Celtic drive and energy on their version of “Pound a Week Rise,” a tune about struggling coal miners in Great Britain, and on “Fierce Cottage,” a spirited instrumental with Baldino on fiddle and Buchanan on guitar.

But the group stakes out unique ground on some wild fiddle versions of rock and roll tunes, from “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” to “Sweet Child of Mine” to “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Their cover of “Guitar Gently Weeps” brings the song’s aching melody to the forefront in a way the Beatles’ original tune never did, while “Sweet Child of Mine” is a master class in using multiple fiddles to duplicate the rhythm, melody and guitar parts of the Guns N’ Roses rocker, right down to the song’s iconic wah-wah-inflected guitar solo.

As one reviewer of the group’s most recent album, “Folk Hero,” puts it, House of Hamill presents a “cohesive and effervescent acoustic sound,” one with its “own personalized signature ... with strong flavors of Celtic, folk and folk-rock.”

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If you can’t see House of Hamill, check out one of these other Celtic-flavored shows this weekend. One option is Big Bad Bollocks, the Valley pub rockers who have been doing their thing since the late 1980s and will make their first trip to the Drake in Amherst tonight (Friday, March 17) at 8 p.m.

The Parlor Room will also celebrate St. Patrick’s Day tonight at 7:30 p.m. with a double bill of real Irish musicians. The folk duo of Nuala Kennedy and Eamon O’Leary, who are also part of the trio The Alt, play a mix of traditional and contemporary music, and fiddler Kevin Burke has won a number of awards in Ireland, both as a member of different groups and as a solo artist.

In addition, at the Unitarian Society in Northampton, Greenfield harpist (and Irish native) Rosemary Caine and her group, the Wilde Irish Shenanigans, will play a fundraising show tonight for the society at 7:30 p.m. The group, which includes guitar, cello, bass, percussion and vocals, also plays Hawks & Reeds Performing Arts Center in Greenfield March 18 at 2 p.m.

Still feeling your Irish? Hawks & Reed has you covered tonight as well at 8 p.m., when Tory Hanna, one of the guys from Americana favorites Whiskey Treaty Roadshow (and a Shelburne Falls native, too), plays a St. Paddy’s “Birthday Bash” with friends known as The Hell Yeah Boyz.

If that’s not enough, the St. Patrick’s Day weekend continues at Hawks & Reed March 18 at 8:30 p.m. with Jimmy Just Quit, Greenfield rockers who bill themselves as “the greatest party band of all time.”

 

Not related to St. Patrick’s Day: The Bombyx Center for Arts & Equity in Florence offers a one-two punch of soul, blues and more March 23 and 24 when Shemekia Copeland and Martha Renbone, respectively, come to town.

Copeland, the daughter of the late blues legend Johnny Copeland, has more than held her own as a performer for the last 20-plus years, winning a number of awards for her music; last year the powerhouse singer was voted Blues Artist of the Year in Downbeat magazine’s annual critics poll.

Last year also saw Copeland release her 10th album, “Done Come Too Far,” which includes the single “Too Far to be Gone,” a rocking salute to the civil rights movement and seminal figures from it like Rosa Parks, John Lewis and Martin Luther King Jr. The song’s defiant chorus includes the line “If you think we’re stoppin’ you got it wrong.”

Copeland’s show on March 23 begins at 7 p.m. On the 24th at 7 p.m., Martha Renbone brings a mix of folk, blues and gospel that reflects her roots as a Black and Native American woman.

It will be the third appearance by Renbone, a singer-songwriter and educator, in the Valley in the last three years; she performed at the Fine Arts Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2021 and at the Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival last year.

Backed by her small ensemble known as the Roots Project, Renbone also presents music that reflects her childhood in Harlan County, Kentucky as well as the “eclectic grit of her life in a pre-gentrified Brooklyn,” as program notes put it.

More music on tap

Johnny A., the great electric guitar stylist from Boston, comes to the Drake on March 18 at 8 p.m. He’s shared stages with scores of legendary performers including B.B. King, but his specialty is instrumental guitar arranagements from the 1960s British rock songbook, especially the Beatles.

Luthier’s Co-op in Easthampton offers three acts on March 18, beginning at 7 p.m. with songwriter Lou Lamothe followed by swing band Ch’Chunk! and the Grateful Dead tribute band Bring Out Yer Dead.

Hawks & Reed features two Valley favorites on March 24, but you’ll have to choose between them. Folk and bluegrass duo Jim Henry and Tracy Grammer will play at The Perch at 7:30 p.m., while Bella’s Bartok will offer their mix of punk, folk, pop and more in the Ballroom at 8 p.m.

Opening for Bella’s Bartok will be Dr. Bacon, a six-piece band that plays “Appalachian Funk, Grass and Rock & Roll.”

The Ross Bellenoit Band, led by the versatile Valley-raised guitarist and music producer of the same name — Bellenoit has had a long stint with The Sweetback Sisters, among a number of bands — plays The Divine Theater at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke on March 25 at 8 p.m.

Norwottuck Chamber Concerts features chamber music March 25 for strings, piano and voice, including Dvorak’s Piano Quartet No. 2. The 7:30 p.m. show takes place at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in South Hadley.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

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