Ceili Rain performed at Good Shepherd Church in Rhinebeck, NY last night. This is the second night in a row that we’ve seen a group that most consider Christian music. There’s no doubt that the label is accurate (if you analyze their lyrics and message), but both groups are so much more, that compartmentalizing them is a mistake.
Here’s the difference between the two nights for us. When we saw Burlap to Cashmere, we had no idea what we were in for (nor did I remember that they flew at/near the top of the Christian Music scene). We attended because we love their bass player and discovered what we had been missing all these years.
With Ceili Rain, we’ve been fans for over 11 years, even though we’ve only seen them perform live twice before last night. We have a rule: if Ceili Rain has a show within a 2-hour drive of NYC, we’ll move Earth (and try to influence Heaven) to get there. Rhinebeck qualified, as it was roughly a 90-minute drive from our Westchester base. If you have a lot of patience, and any interest, you can read about how we discovered Ceili Rain in this post from nearly four years ago.
Neither group should be pigeon-holed. Aside from their message (which is as beautiful as you could want to listen to and embrace), they make music that is amazing on every level.
Bob Halligan Jr. is in a category that even the greatest songwriters rarely achieve. He’s prolific. For starters, here’s a 14-year-old article detailing his early career (he was already prolific then). He followed that up by penning 8+ additional CD’s after he formed Ceili Rain (Bob writes all of the songs). He continued to write for other groups as well. I believe that Bob has roughly 1,000 songs to his credit.
You say, Hadar, why do you insist that I read so much? Can’t you make it easier for me to understand the magnitude of Bob’s songwriting achievements? OK, since you asked, just take a quick peek at this list of CD’s crediting Bob as a songwriter.
So he writes good songs, big deal. Why should you buy their CD’s? Because every musician on every song is exceptional on their respective instruments (yes, plural) and the production quality is outstanding. If you buy them, you’ll hear amazing musicians performing incredible songs (whether you buy into the message or not).
OK, so the CDs are good, big deal. Why should you drive two hours to see a show? Because Ceili Rain delivers a live performance that can only be described by one word: Joyous. Every time, every venue, no matter what they may have to overcome (last night’s performance was in a Church gym!, who cares, it was fantastic!).
Hadar, you’re finally going to describe last night’s show, right? Sure, but one last detail.
Lois called to find out if this show was open to the public. Yes, but she was told that it was part of a Youth Retreat. Cool, we like youths.
Ceili Rain hit the stage (a very large one) exactly on time (8pm). They played for 2.5 hours with a 15-minute break. Their set list (not written down) was a great selection of their songs through the years, including my personal favorite (All the Lumber) and Lois’ (Love Travels, the closing number).
They played a medley of Irish/Celtic tunes (instrumental) two different times. When they did, step dancers (both professionals and extremely talented local amateurs) performed to everyone’s delight. The professionals were sisters, Christy and Leighann Kowalski. Their feet and legs moved so fast (and in perfect unison), that I don’t know how to adequately describe it.
They played parts of three different classic rock songs, again showing their raw musician chops, breaking the stereotype that people may have of them. But mostly, it was Heavenly Ceili Rain music (figuratively and literally).
Each member of the band deserves as much praise as I can muster, so I’ll start with Bob, (who is mostly center stage), then I’ll cover the rest, left-to-right:
Bob Halligan Jr. Up top, I praised Bob’s songwriting. Obviously, he doesn’t come on stage and read his songs like they were poems. Bob is an excellent musician. Last night he played exclusively on the acoustic guitar, but we’ve also seen him tear up the keyboards. Still, what makes Bob special is his voice and his energy.
Bob has a wonderful voice that can smoothly and seamlessly hit high notes that infuse the music right into you. He dances on stage and generally doesn’t let up for a minute. I consider Bob a music delivery system, that comes across live as well (actually, perhaps even better) than it does on the CDs.
Because this was specifically a show put on as part of a Youth Retreat, Bob also paused a number of times to deliver very inspirational messages and guidance.
Burt Mitchell on penny whistle, flute, bagpipes, harmonica and light vocals. Basically, if you can blow on or in it, Burt can make it sound gorgeous. Burt kicks the show off accompanied only by a drum, getting the crowd worked up as he walks through the audience leading a procession which ends up with the full band on the stage.
While every member of Ceilli Rain is a top musician, it’s Burt’s instruments (and his skill at every one of them) that really gives Ceili Rain their unique sound (that, plus Bob’s voice!).
The fact that Burt wore a kilt only added to the authenticity whenever he played the pipes.
Joe Davoli on fiddle. Joe is masterful on the fiddle (we own some of his music apart from his work in Ceili Rain, he’s that good). While you can easily pick out Joe’s work during any Ceili Rain song, when he and Burt combine for the long Irish medleys, their interplay is mesmerizing.
Bill Bleistine on drums and vocals. I could easily copy/paste what I said about Bill the first time I saw him play (nearly three years ago). While every word I wrote then still applies (and was evident last night), since then, we’ve immersed ourselves in the NYC indie music scene (drowned is a better description than immersed). That has led us to discover a slew of NYC-based drummers that we simply can’t get enough of. And still, seeing Bill last night brought back the realization that Bill is in a rarified class of drummers.
Rather than quote the entire rave from that first show, let me quote my closing line:
Whew. Magic, magic, magic, magic (and then some more magic).
We had a lot of time to bask in the show’s afterglow on our long ride home. One of the many things we discussed was Bill’s drum play. I noted that Ceili Rain music, with it’s non-stop joyous (there’s that word again) beat, is about as perfect a set of music for a great drummer to let loose on. The corollary is that said drummer better be as good as can be, or the music will no longer feel joyous and perfect. Obviously, Bill is as good as can be.
Kevin de Souza on electric bass. I fell in love with Kevin’s bass play (and energy) the first time we saw him. All of that was repeated last night, including another amazing bass solo that started out super slow and built to a masterpiece that any lover of a great jazz bass solo would be thrilled to have seen. As he was building, the rest of the band was joining in, making Kevin the focal point (essentially like a lead electric guitar).
Raymond Arias on electric guitar and heavy vocals. Ray provides exceptional harmony with Bob on every song. At the same time, he’s ripping it up on the electric guitar, playing a number of styles and delivering high-speed leads when called upon.
One of the highlights of a Ceili Rain show is when Bob interrupts the very long Irish medley to give every band member a turn at a solo (going across the stage in the order that I’m describing each of them). When their solo (an actual solo, with no one else playing) is over, the rest of the band joins in, with them still being the highlight (as I described with Kevin above). Then, whatever they were playing morphs back into the Irish medley. After a few more bars of the Irish tunes, the next soloist is called upon (by Bob pointing the neck of his guitar at them).
When it was Raymond’s turn (last in line), he mashed up two rock classics, the first of which was Wild Thing. While the others soloed on their instruments, Ray added fantastic vocals on both numbers, while wowing us with his guitar play.
About 2/3’s of the way through the show, Bob called up a special guest.
Daniel Grimsland was recruited from Rhinebeck (or the surrounding area) to be one of the earlier bassists in Ceili Rain (I think he was with them from 2002-2005). He’s now part of a band called 3 (or so I discovered from Googling). He joined Ceili Rain for one song (I believe it was 40 Shades of Green), and of course, held his own, even though he’s been away from the group for seven years.
Unfortunately, all of the photos of Daniel came out too poorly to post. In fact, apologies for the quality of a number of the photos. The gym lighting wasn’t the most conducive for Lois’ tiny point-and-shoot.
One of things that warmed our hearts last night was the audience. Aside from this being a Youth Retreat, it was really a family and community affair. There were little kids (dancing their hearts out!), all the way through to grandparents, enjoying and celebrating the music and their faith, together (that’s the key folks, none of us can have a meaningful life alone!).
It didn’t take Ceili Rain to give them that spirit of family and community, but there’s no better way to come together than over a Ceili Rain show. Let’s think of them as a legal performance enhancing drug, for whatever you might otherwise enjoy doing!
After the show, we said a few hellos and goodbyes and hit the road. We got back around 12:35am (or actually 1:35am since I reset all the clocks before we hit the sack).