Burt Mitchell

Ceili Rain at Good Shepherd Church in Rhinebeck

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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.

BobHalliganJr

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. Winking smile

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.

KowalskiSistersLocalStepDancers

StepDancers

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.

BobHalliganJrGuitar

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.

BobHalliganJrSinging

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.

BurtMitchellBillBleistine

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!).

BurtMitchellWhistleBurtMitchellFluteBurtMitchellHarmonica

The fact that Burt wore a kilt only added to the authenticity whenever he played the pipes. Smile

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.

JoeDavoliJoeDavoliFiddle

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.

BillBleistine

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).

BillBleistineDrums

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.

HadarBillBleistine

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).

Kevin-de-SouzaKevin-de-SouzaBass

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.

RaymondAriasRaymondAriasBillBleistine

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.

RaymondAriasSingingRaymondAriasGuitar

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. Smile

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!).

ToddlerDancingClappingInKongaLine

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). Smile

BobHalliganJrHadar

Ceili Rain at Joyful Noise III

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Over a year ago, I wrote a post entitled Everybody Clap for Everybody. The second paragraph explains how we came to discover Ceili Rain, in September 2001, in the aftermath of 9/11. We’ve been huge fans ever since, but have never had the opportunity, and therefore the pleasure (and privilege) of seeing them live.

That oversight was finally corrected yesterday. All of my posts are overly long, and for the few of you with the fortitude to stick with them all the way to the end, I apologize and thank you (and secretly applaud you as well!). 😉 This one won’t be an exception. I’m busting with things to share, including a generally extraordinary day, in addition to experiencing the magic that is a live Ceili Rain show!

I’ll cover Ceili Rain first (as I typically do), and then describe the rest of the day.

Ceili Rain was scheduled to come on stage at 5:30pm, and play until about 7pm (a very nice length indeed). Due to the constant downpour all day, logistics were thrown off course a bit, and Ceili Rain didn’t start playing until 6:20pm.

Their CDs are marvelous (I recommend every one, but I’ll be more specific later on for those looking to dip their toes, rather than buy the whole shebang at once). I know all of the songs well. Still, nothing can prepare you for seeing them live. Not five seconds into the opening number (Jigorous from Erasers on Pencils) and we knew we were in for a completely magical experience.

Most groups can’t deliver a live experience that matches the polish of a well-crafted CD. Many can and do. A rarer few blow away any sense you have of them as recording artists when you see them perform live. Ceili Rain is in that rarified group. There is literally no way I can do them justice by trying to describe the feeling, so I won’t try too hard.

I’ll state the normal facts as I always do, and simply say that in this case, the whole, greatly exceeds the sum of the (extraordinary) parts (facts).

Here’s a group shot of them on stage:

Ceili Rain

Ceili Rain

Standing left-to-right on the stage:

Burt Mitchell on whistles and pipes (he also sang on at least one number). Bagpipes aren’t typically an instrument one associates with Rock music. In fact, I bet that many people don’t associate Bagpipes with music at all. 😉 Give Burt a few seconds, and you’ll change your mind. He plays a variety of whistles, just as well, and adds a marvelous flavor to Ceili Rain.

Burt Mitchell

Burt Mitchell

Joe Davoli on fiddle. I’ve written about many great fiddlers over the past few years. I’m now officially adding Joe to my list. We both loved every note he played last night. At intermission, Lois bought Joe’s CD (along with guitarist Harvey Nusbaum) called Fiddle & Guitar. Wow. It’s a gorgeous instrumental collection of amazing fiddle and guitar tunes! Of course, Joe was kind enough to sign it for Lois. 🙂

Joe Davoli

Joe Davoli

Bob Halligan Jr. on the acoustic guitar, vocals and electric keyboards. There are many people with great voices. While Bob is one of them, he has a quality that very few have in addition to the voice, and that’s the ability to use the voice and every body part to take you on a trip with him, wherever he feels like taking you.

Bob Halligan Jr

Bob Halligan Jr.

Like my caveat for Ceili Rain in general, I’ll never do justice to describing seeing Bob perform live. Unlike Ceili Rain, I’ll at least make a half-hearted attempt to describe it a drop. 😉

Let’s start with the voice, since I mentioned it first above. Bob can hit notes that are surprising and breathtaking. One some levels, it can give me the same chills that Gary LeVox of Rascal Flatts does (both can create high sounds that are still distinctively male, and both can maintain complex melodies while switching gears seamlessly). Unlike Gary, Bob can also sing in more normal tones (no disrespect to Gary, who is one of my favorite vocalists!).

In addition to also being an excellent musician, Bob’s performance is completely infectious. If joy was a disease, then he’s a carrier, and he can spread the disease in an airborne manner, to all in his vicinity. If you don’t want to be uplifted, stay far away from a Ceili Rain show! 😉

I could on and on, but I’m not sure that I could adequately convey the magic, so I’ll just add that Bob has an instant, and deep rapport with the audience. When he called for a conga line to dance around the tent, it formed spontaneously, with sheer joy on the participants’ faces, and on the fuddy duddies in the crowd (like us), who didn’t join in. 🙂

Finally, Bob is one of the most prolific, and amazing songwriters of our time. He has over 1,000 songs to his credit. He is the heart and soul of Ceili Rain, and the world is the better for him!

Hadar Bob

Hadar Bob

Bob Lois

Bob Lois

Kevin de Souza on electric bass and harmony vocals. He’s the newest member of Ceili Rain. Rating a bassist is generally difficult, because even great ones often fade into the background, by design and choice. I have no trouble claiming that Kevin is awesome on the bass.

Kevin de Souza

Kevin de Souza

In addition to simply laying down fantastic bass lines all night, and taking an amazing long solo (beating out most of the bass solos I have heard in the past), he also has all the requisite on-stage energy necessary to make him a full-blown member of Ceilli Rain. He’s simply delightful to watch and listen to, all night.

Raymond Arias on lead guitar (electric) and vocals. Ray has been with Ceili Rain for nearly 12 years now, making him the longest-standing member playing with Bob. Raymond sings harmony with Bob beautifully. He plays the electric guitar exceptionally well. When his turn came to play solo, he also sang lead in true Rock ‘N Roll style, belting out renditions of two classic Rock songs back-to-back. He too is a great fit for Ceili Rain.

Raymond Arias

Raymond Arias

Bill Bleistine on drums. Bill sits in the back, center stage, behind Bob. Loyal readers know that I love nearly every instrument, and pay a lot of close attention to every band member at every show. This is always true for the drums, for which I have a special love.

Bill Bleistine

Bill Bleistine

I’ve written about a number of drummers in the past few years who have mesmerized me. I need to firmly, and unequivocally place Bill near the top of the list (on any given night, he could easily top the list). Aside from his impeccable and fantastic playing all night long, the energy level of every Ceili Rain song, and the length of the two sets, make his feat all the more inconceivable.

In addition to supporting the band on every number brilliantly, he took a long solo that has to be among the top five I’ve ever heard, quite possibly #1. Bravo Bill!

Whew. Magic, magic, magic, magic (and then some more magic).

Hadar Lois Bill Ray

Hadar Lois Bill Ray

During intermission, Lois also bought two copies of the new CD, I Made Lemonade. The official CD release is on July 1st (according to at  least one website), so you may not be able to buy it anywhere except at a live show until then. Of course, Bob and Bill signed it for her. It’s a wonderful CD. Lois and I feel privileged to have played the tiniest of roles in helping to bring it to fruition.

When you lift the CD out of the jewel case, two large paragraphs of text are revealed on the inside of the back cover. The top one is from Bob. It starts off with him saying that when people ask him which of the CDs is his favorite, he feels like a parent does when someone asks which of your children is your favorite!

While I understand that completely, I also know that many people who read this will not want to jump in and buy all six CDs before knowing if they will love Ceili Rain as much as we do. For those people, I suggest two things:

  1. Listen to the selection of free streaming songs available on their MySpace page. Selections can always change, but at the moment, in addition to the title cut from the new CD (I Made Lemonade), you can also hear my personal favorite (That’s All the Lumber), and Love Travels, the song that started this whole wonderful journey for us in the first place.
  2. If you’re going to buy only one CD, I’d recommend starting with their namesake: Ceilin Rain. It’s just one phenomenal song after another, including both That’s All the Lumber and Love Travels.

After the intermission, they played for roughly another hour, making their time on stage over two hours. The fact that they didn’t melt into a puddle of their own sweat after putting on such an intense show for that long is incredible.

Since the entire show was pushed back a bit, that put the second set in near darkness (given the clouds and rain). Since that wasn’t anticipated, there were no lights to shine on the band. It was still fantastic, but could have played out differently.

Here’s how this all came to be…

Because we purchased the first five CDs directly from the Ceili Rain website, we’re on the regular mailing list informing fans of upcoming shows. A month ago, I noticed that they were playing two hours away from us in Quakertown, PA (technically, Applebachsville, PA, but don’t expect your GPS to know where that is!). This was going to be their third headlining appearance at the Joyful Noise fund-raiser run by St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Given our schedule, it was a tad inconvenient, but it was also our best bet to see them live and we decided to make the commitment to be there. We were surprised to see that the event was free to attend. All of the funds raised would be voluntary. In addition, they were requesting non-perishable foods be donated, since the entire event was for the benefit of the Quakertown Food Pantry.

Wanting to participate in the spirit of the event, not just getting to see Ceili Rain for free, we went to Costco and bought quite a bit of non-perishable stuff. For the most part, food we typically buy for ourselves, so we know it’s really good. We loaded up the back of our car and drove from NY to Quakertown, early yesterday morning.

First, a brief mention of the other five performers who played all day leading up to the Ceili Rain finale. Since all-but-one of these performers isn’t really a professional, it’s not really fair to subject them to the same review that I would normally give any group or individual.

In the order that they appeared, starting at 11:15am:

Living Water. This is a local group from Quakertown United Methodist Church. Eight of them were on stage for roughly 45 minutes.

Living Water

Living Water

Kickin’ Brass. Five performers (trumpet, trombone, tuba, French horn and another trumpet). They were on stage for roughly 45 minutes.

Kickin Brass

Kickin' Brass

Once Called Saul. Five guys in the band. They were on stage for roughly 45 minutes.

Once Called Saul

Once Called Saul

Keith Spencer. I’ll say a bit more about Keith, because of the five groups that performed before Ceili Rain, he’s the only one that is likely able to (and I would guess does) support himself solely through his music. He lists himself as:

Vocalist, Actor, Cabaret Performer

Keith Spencer

Keith Spencer

He’s backed singers like Robert Flack. He has an exceptional voice, and a warmth that makes audiences sit up and take notice instantly. He sang mostly Spirituals, with a few Broadway tunes (also spiritual in nature) mixed in. Lois and I were enthralled at his performance.

He was accompanied on the electric keyboards by Charles de Mets. His playing was excellent, and he complemented Keith perfectly. I updated Charles’ name from my original post, when Keith was kind enough to email me the correct spelling!

Charles Demetz

Charles de Mets

Keith and Charles were on stage for roughly 45 minutes.

This has nothing to do with yesterday, but I stumbled on it trying to find a link for Keith, so I’ll share it. Here’s an article written two years ago about the frenzy of couples trying to win a free wedding courtesy of the Today Show. The last picture of the bunch is of Keith and his then fiancee. A little further down, they tell the story about how Keith proposed to Amy. 🙂

SWiM was the last band to perform before Ceili Rain. Four guys on stage for nearly an hour.

SWiM

SWiM

Except for Kickin’ Brass, which was purely instrumental, the other four sets were purely Christian Music. Of those, Keith clearly performs other types of music in other venues, with the remaining three groups strictly performing Christian Music.

Lois and I enjoyed what each group had to offer the audience, and they fit the spirit and mood of the day quite well. Thanks to all of them for participating in Joyful Noise III!

On to recap the rest of the day. Weather.com was calling for 80-95% chance of showers for every single hour of the day in Quakertown, PA yesterday. Nice. It was quite cloudy for the first hour of our drive over, but we still held out the slightest hope that the rain might be minimal. Those hopes were dashed in the second hour, when it started raining steadily. The rain continued without many breaks until 3pm!

The rain stopped from 3-5pm, then started again. When Ceili Rain was on for a little while, Bob complained that the humidity was wreaking havoc with the tuning on his guitar. He gently asked if could put a suggestion in the box asking the big Boss for better weather.

10 minutes later, it stopped raining. 15 minutes after that, the sun came out, very brightly. 10 minutes after that, a beautiful rainbow appeared. The gentleman who was collecting donations in the buckets all day came over to us and asked Lois to come with him to see the rainbow. Here’s a shot that Lois took:

Rainbow

Rainbow

Even though it later started to rain heavily again, I still am respectful of Bob’s ability to get his suggestion acted upon so quickly. He clearly has a more direct line than I do to the big Boss. 😉

When we arrived at St. Paul’s (thank you GPS for being able to find this rural Church with zero problems) it was raining hard. We parked, but a gentleman immediately came up to our car and asked us to drive a mile down the road to the local elementary school where a shuttle bus would bring us back.

Before we left, three gentlemen unloaded the back of our SUV on behalf of the Quakertown Food Pantry. We also left our two plastic chairs there (to get soaked) while we drove to the elementary school. We were the first car to park there (having arrived at 10:45am) and the shuttle bus took us back immediately, since there was no one else to wait for.

We planted our plastic chairs about 25 feet from the stage, in what felt like it would turn out to be an arbitrary first row. Sitting any closer would have been good for the view of the stage, but would have likely lead to instant deafness, as there were giant speakers on the grass in front of each side of the stage.

Even though it was pouring, we were under a very large tent, and very thankful for it. What was apparent from the moment we returned on the bus was that every single person we encountered was as nice and helpful as they could possibly be. There were an enormous number of official volunteers, all wearing purple T-Shirts with Joyful Noise III on them.

The organization for the event was as good (if not better) than most professional venues we attend. This, despite the fact that the weather wasn’t cooperating in the least.

The main coordinator of the event is a delightful man named Rich Baringer. He was the MC as well. He kept everyone informed throughout the day, and kept the flow as smooth as you could want. He told a number of corny jokes. I’m a sucker for a good groaner, so I laughed with him, not at him. 🙂

Rich Baringer

Rich Baringer

In addition to coordinating the event, he had the vision and passion for it as well, so we all owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude, as does the Quakertown Food Pantry. In Googling around to find a link for him, I discovered that he’s a Personal Chef with his own website. If he cooks 1/2 as well as he runs Joyful Noise, then his client’s are extremely happy, I’m sure!

For two complete outsiders, attending an event like this can potentially be uncomfortable, if it’s really meant to be an insiders celebration. I’m happy to report that the good folks at St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church are wonderfully welcoming. We felt like we were a part of their community, and it felt good.

I could probably tell 100 stories as examples, but I’ll spare you and tell a few. At one point during the day Rich announced that one of the couples in the audience was celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. We all cheered as the wife waved to us. The husband was serving food a hundred feet away.

Later in the day, Rich had to point out that we shouldn’t have been all that impressed with the earlier announcement. He had just found out that a couple of days before, another couple had just celebrated their 71st anniversary! We turned again (and again only saw the wife). My goodness, she could have passed for a spry 60-year-old. There’s some good water in the wells in Quakertown if you ask me! 🙂

There were a ton of kids of all ages at the event, with lots of activities planned for them as well. All of the kids, including the really young ones, were extraordinarily well behaved, so my hat is tipped to all of the Quakertown parents that we met as well! Cute doesn’t even begin to describe them. Lois and I giggled a bunch as we watched kids chase their parents (and each other) with glee.

Boys Eating Hot Dogs

Boys Eating Hot Dogs

Lecture 101

Lecture 101

Helping Dad Carry the Amp

Helping Dad Carry the Amp

Rich’s wife, Mary Beth, was the French horn player in Kickin’ Brass. During Ceili Rain’s second set, Rich (playing the saxophone), Mary Beth and two other members of Kickin’ Brass came on stage to form a horn section for Ceili Rain. It was fantastic! Bob Halligan Jr. joked that he’d be pleased to have them tour with him as long as they were willing to play for free. 🙂

Brass Section

Brass Section

We spent 10 solid hours with a group of strangers. Within minutes, we felt at home. By the end of the day, we felt like we were extended family. Thanks to everyone who attended the event for making us feel so welcome. Aside from the obvious connection of the music to the term Joyful Noise, all of you made a truly Joyful Noise throughout the day!