Ceili Rain

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.


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.



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. 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.


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. 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!).


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


Ceili Rain at Tin Angel

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If you’ve visited this space before, then you know we love Ceili Rain. After listening to them for years, we finally got to see them live this summer and I wrote about it in this post.

That show was awesome in every respect. That said, it was an outdoor concert, and that has it’s own feel (and in this case, particular problems). I was talking to the drummer of Ceili Rain (the amazing Bill Bleistine), and he told me that one of the best places for us to catch one of their shows indoors was at Tin Angel in Philadelphia. Shortly after seeing them at Joyful Noise II, they announced a show at the Tin Angel, and we immediately purchased tickets!

Tin Angel is a pretty small club, with a very nice atmosphere and vibe. It has the feel of a long railroad car. The stage is teeny tiny, and with Ceili Rain showing up with a full band (six people on the stage), there were some acrobatic moves necessary to stay out of each other’s way (especially given how active Bob Halligan Jr. always is!).

They performed the same entrance last night as they did at Joyful Noise III, which was surprising and impressive given the vast difference in the venues. Bill Bleistine, playing a drum strapped around his neck (as in drum and fife), along with John Dreibelbis playing the bagpipes, came up the stair case in the back, so that at first you just heard the drums and pipes, then you saw them. The crowd clapped to Bill’s beat, and was already in a frenzy by the time the procession reached the stage, and the full band joined them!

Drum and Pipes Processional Ceili Rain Arriving on Stage

The majority (all?) of the crowd were hard-core Ceili Rain fans. Nearly everyone knew the words to every song, and reveled in the opportunity to sing out loud with Bob (or on occasion without him!), when prompted. Since I sing That’s All the Lumber out loud in my car all the time, it was a hoot to sing it at the top of my lungs last night, with 100 other people. 🙂

Each of them could sustain my interest for an entire set, even if they were on stage alone, that’s how good they are as musicians, individually. Obviously, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, but I’ll give a sentence or two on each of the parts. Standing left-to-right on the stage:

John Dreibelbis (I couldn’t find a good link for him) played the pipes, tin whistles and flute. He was good throughout, but I was significantly more impressed with Burt Mitchell who we saw at Joyful Noise III.

John Dreibelbis

John Dreibelbis

Joe Davoli on the fiddle. Awesome, as he was the last time. He has an incredible touch on the fiddle, and when he took solos (specifically, on Yankee’s Revenge, which he played mostly with John), his fingers ran up and down the fiddle like greased lightning!

Joe Davoli

Joe Davoli

Bob Halligan Jr. on vocals and acoustic guitar. I could listen to him sing a capella all night, what a voice, it’s really an instrument, not just a delivery vehicle for lyrics. He’s also superb on the guitar. He’s excellent on keyboards too, but Tin Angel is way too small to have crammed that in as well.

Bob Halligan Jr Bob Kicking

Raymond Arias on electric guitar and vocals. As I mentioned in the last post, Raymond’s voice and harmonies complement Bob perfectly. His guitar play last night was on fire in general, but really smoking in a rock and roll medley that highlighted him singing lead and playing lead guitar.

Raymond Arias

Raymond Arias

Kevin de Souza played bass. He was incredible throughout the set. Given the size of the stage, and the pressure they had to not go over (there was another show after Ceili Rain), Kevin didn’t get to take a solo like he did at Joyful Noise III. We missed that, given how great he is, but he still kept the bottom full all night, and toward the end of the show (I believe on Love Travels, but I wouldn’t swear to it), he threw in some really fast bass lines at the end of the song.

Kevin de Souza

Kevin de Souza

Bill Bleistine was squeezed into the back of the stage trapped behind his drum set. That didn’t stop him from reinforcing my belief that he’s one the best drummers I’ve ever seen/heard live (and I’m a big fan of quite a number of drummers!). The man is just amazing, and tireless. Keeping up with Bob’s energy on any instrument is difficult enough, but the drummer better do cardio and weight training as well, or he’ll easily pass out during one of these shows!

Bill Bleistine

Bill Bleistine

They were on stage for 95 minutes, and were definitely being rushed by the club to wrap it up and clear the stage and club for the next show. I understand the commercial nature of the business, so I’m not annoyed, but it was disappointing nonetheless. These were adoring fans who wanted either more music, or more time to schmooze with their idols, and the band was certainly happy to give them either (both I suspect), but it wasn’t to be.

Most of the audience respectfully caught up with the various band members as they were packing up their instruments and then we all said goodnight and piled out into a lovely Philadelphia evening.

On our way out, Lois bought six more CDs, even though we own them all. Buying CDs at shows is one of the most direct ways that you can support the bands that you love. When we buy extras like this, it’s always for the purpose of giving them out as gifts, to introduce new potential fans. Try it, you’ll like it! 🙂

That’s it for the music. On to our back story, if you have the patience for a bit more magic. 🙂

In the post about Joyful Noise III, I called out Rich Baringer, the main coordinator of the event. Right after we bought the tickets to the show, Lois said that she thought it would be special (for us, for Rich and his wife, and for Ceili Rain as well) if we were to invite Rich and Mary Beth to join us for the show. I thought it was a great idea. We reached out, and they agreed.

A few weeks later, Lois was exchanging emails with another member of their church, who had been involved in the fund-raising aspects of the show, and with whom we interacted quite a bit during the day, and we invited him along with his wife (we had not met her yet) to join as well. They too accepted, and we bought two more tickets.

To get a reserved spot at Tin Angel you have to eat dinner downstairs (street level) at their restaurant, Serrano, otherwise, the show is first-come first-served. We made a reservation for six people at 5:30pm (the show began at 7:30pm).

The food was exquisite (all six of us had different dishes, and all raved about their meal). We got to know the other two couples better, and are very happy for it, because our instinct that they were exactly the type of people we would like to be friends with couldn’t have been more on target! We both really enjoyed meeting Bruce’s wife (Bunny), as well as enjoying all of the conversation, food, and the show, with four lovely people.

Dinner Friends Dinner Friends

While I highly recommend the food at Serrano, and the staff were all very nice as well, it wasn’t all smooth as silk. The place is as long and narrow as Tin Angel (one building, separate floors), and couldn’t have been noisier if they were pumping in heavy metal (I think the noise was all from dinner conversations!). We had to scream at each other to be heard.

Our entrees came out very late, which made us nervous about missing the start of the show, and caused us to wolf them down. To repeat, they were fantastic, so in the end, it all worked out well, but a slightly more pleasant dinner experience could have been had with less noise, and the food served 15 minutes earlier…

We headed home after the show and walked into the apartment at 11:20pm. Not too bad in terms of the logistics, and well worth the 4-hour round-trip drive to enjoy such a wonderful evening with so many wonderful people!

I Made Lemonade from Ceili Rain

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I’ve written about our love of Ceili Rain before, most recently after we saw them perform at Joyful Noise III. At the time, their new CD, I Made Lemonade was not yet available for purchase, but as of July 1, happily, that’s no longer the case!

In the above link, the new CD is highlighted in the big block in the center. You can order it (please do), listen to snippets of every song and read all of the lyrics.

You can also hear full Ceili Rain tracks (including the title track: I Made Lemonade) on their MySpace page. You can also check out two of their huge hits, That’s All the Lumber and Love Travels.

In other words, don’t take my word for it, listen for yourself, fall in love, then go out and buy the new CD (and the old ones, if you don’t already own them!).

I Made Lemonade is very special to Ceili Rain, and to their fans as well (including us). After making five studio CDs under the Music Label system, Ceili Rain decided to create and produce this CD with the direct support of their fans. Lois and I happily and heartily participated, sponsoring two songs on the CD, including the title track: I Made Lemonade.

Hadar and Bob

Hadar and Bob

The sound is fantastic (who needs a record label anyhow) and the songs are wonderful! We believe Ceili Rain will appeal to all music lovers who appreciate great musicians, an amazing vocalist, uplifting lyrics and a totally professional, energetic performance that always delivers.

Most people (including me) classify them as Christian Rock/Pop, because the messages are full of spirituality, love, God, etc. The music supports, yet far transcends that classification in the universality of message and sound. I have read that they would like to spread their message more broadly.

I don’t believe they’ll add an overwhelming number of non-Christian listeners with this one, as it is a Christian-themed CD throughout. It’s a joy to listen to, over and over, but they’ll need to make another one if they want to expand the current base. So, even though I’m still enjoying this one, I’m eagerly anticipating the next one. 🙂

In the past, when we love an artist, we’ve done one of two things:

  1. Run a contest to give away CDs
  2. Give CDs away to our friends

This time, we’re going to do it a bit differently. We have a bunch of the new CDs, and are going to give them all away, with a twist. Instead of just handing them out, we’re specifically asking our friends whether they want the CD, and if so, that they try their best to share the music with at least one other person, hopefully more.

In other words, ask for a copy of the new CD if you will help spread the word actively!

Second, instead of a contest, we’ll entertain requests from strangers for a free CD, but it will have to be in the same spirit as with our friends.

Tell us why you want I Made Lemonade, preferably by pointing out how you have, or will help spread the Ceili Rain love, and we’ll seriously consider sending you one of the CDs. No promises (as opposed to the contest above), but we’re serious about sharing the music with people who will appreciate it and spread the word as well.

Disclaimer: while we participated in the production of this CD, it was purely a donation, and we have no financial relationship of any kind with Ceili Rain. We don’t derive a penny from any sales of the CDs.

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.



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:



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!

Everybody Clap For Everybody

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For Jewish folks, Lois and I listen to way more than our fair share of Christian music. Aside from the fact that we’re both Country/Bluegrass fans (which has more than it’s fair share of faith-based lyrics, even in normal songs), and aside from the fact that we both love Christmas music (buying quite a bit of it as well), we also purchase specifically Christian music.

Perhaps the best example of this is a group (really their leader) that we’re simply crazy about, Ceili Rain. We own all of the CDs. In this post I mentioned that we discovered them through Kathy Mattea. On September 13th, 2001, we were driving back to NYC from VA, and when we came around 495 approaching the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel, and saw the smoke rising from the WTC site, the song Love Travels (from her Love Travels CD) started playing. Lois owned the CD for a while, but for whatever reason, this was the first time she popped it into the car CD player.

Clearly, the song got to us (but even more to Lois) instantly. As I’ve mentioned numerous times, Lois really cares about knowing who wrote a song. She looked it up and found out that Bob Halligan Jr., the head of Ceili Rain, wrote the song. He also wrote That’s All The Lumber, which Kathy also covered. We bought the CD Ceili Rain, by Ceili Rain, which has both of those songs on it. Kathy’s versions of both are gorgeous (in every way), but there’s a rawness to the way Ceili Rain does it that I prefer.

From there, we’ve ended up buying all of their stuff. Last August we bought a bunch of their CDs, including No You No Me. Since we’ve accumulated tons of music in the past year, it took a while for Lois to finally listen to all of them. She instantly fell in love and connected with the song Everybody Clap For Everybody. Lois is all about fairness toward everyone, always, no excuses and no compromises.

Most of our closest friends are deeply religious Christians (mostly Baptists, but not exclusively). One family home schools their children. I wrote about the 10-year-old recently, when we took him to see Girlyman at Joe’s Pub. He and his 7-year-old brother are sports fanatics (playing as well as watching). Lois thought that Everybody Clap For Everybody would be a great song/message to share with the boys. She asked me to get a copy of the CD for them.

I ordered it from a seller on the Amazon.com Marketplace. I had it shipped to us at Zope, expecting to deliver it in person to our friends in Leesburg the following weekend. It never showed up. 🙁

I waited a few weeks, and the USPS tracking number never got updated. The package appeared to be stuck in Elkton, MD. Meaning, the shipper sent it, but the Post Office lost it. Shocking, I know…

I contacted the seller, and he told me that one in 100 packages ends up in the ether. He immediately refunded my money and told me to keep the CD if it ever showed up. Wow, that’s great customer service, an extremely rare thing nowadays. That was on February 28th!

We were down at Zope at least two separate trips in March and then again on April 1st, and the CD never showed up. We spent the rest of April in NY. Yesterday, we left super early from NY to head back to Zope, stopping to visit our friends in Leesburg on the way. We got there in time to see the 10-year-old play in a baseball game. Unfortunately, the 7-year-old played at 9am, and we were unable to get there in time.

After spending the rest of the afternoon with them, we headed to Fredericksburg. We stopped into the office before heading to the hotel. Sitting on my desk was the CD of No You No Me! I couldn’t believe it. No one in the office gave me a heads up, which leads me to believe that it only showed up this past week (and they knew we were coming down).

It seemed amazing that I became aware of the CD on the same day that I watched a baseball game in Leesburg (the intended recipients of the CD). Not just that, but they played the best team in the league (undefeated) and valiantly came back from down 8-1 to lose 8-4, with some chances (blown calls by the umpires!) to narrow it further. The song would have been appropriate after that game. 😉

Anyway, aside from shipping the CD to our friends tomorrow, I contacted the seller and told him that I insist on paying him, even though he told me I could just keep it. I haven’t heard back yet, but one way or another, he’s getting rewarded for his excellent customer service.

Now, if all of us could just learn to clap for everybody, and let go of all of the pettiness that we feel and exhibit all too often, that would just be very cool indeed. In the meantime, to get you into the mood, go out and get some Ceili Rain and start soaking up the philosophy! 🙂

Kathy Mattea at Joes Pub

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Last night, Lois and I saw Kathy Mattea perform at Joe’s Pub. It was a minor odyssey to make it all happen…

Since we regularly frequent Joe’s Pub (as loyal readers already know), I read their regular email newsletter reasonably carefully, to spot performers that we already know, as well as attempt to discover ones we might enjoy.

A few weeks back, while we were at Zope, I noticed that Kathy Mattea was scheduled to be there on October 24th, 2007. This was a very exciting discovery. She is one of Lois’ all-time favorites. Through her, we also discovered Ceili Rain (she did fabulous covers of both Love Travels and That’s All the Lumber You Sent).

I instantly got on the site and tried to order tickets. Unfortunately, they were sold out. Lois called a few hours later when the box office opened, and they said that they best we could hope for was to call the day of the performance, and see if they released any tickets that were being held for the band, etc. Bummer…

Kathy was a certifiable Country music superstar for a very long time. In the past 2+ years, she seemed to disappear (at least somewhat) from the scene. It was mildly surprising to me that she was playing a venue as small as Joe’s Pub, and therefore not surprising that she sold it out in minutes. In her hey day, I imagine she could have easily sold out Radio City Music Hall, like Martina McBride did. It turns out, she is doing a new project to bring back songs of the coal miners, with an album coming out in January, that she’s touring to promote and work on at the moment.

Two weeks ago, I checked the web site again on a whim. There was one ticket available! I immediately offered Lois that I would snag it, and she could go without me. I would have been thrilled for her to see Kathy, even if I had to miss it. She wasn’t interested. But, she immediately called Joe’s Pub, and told them how often we come, etc., and could they possibly see it in their hearts to release one more ticket?

They got a manager on the phone, they looked up my name and saw how often we come, and he told Lois that he would authorize another ticket, but that we would have to stand at the bar, no seats and no dinner. Obviously, we said yes right away, and they took our info over the phone. I checked the web site a minute later, and they were showing as sold out again, so they definitely have their act together systems-wise…

A few days later, Lois called to ask whether it was possible that dinner reservations might open up (as the one ticket did). They said that it wasn’t likely, but that we should call back a few days before the show. She did, and they said that she should call back the day of the show. She did, and they said that they couldn’t release a reservation, but if we showed up really early, they could practically guarantee that we’d be seated for dinner.

We did, and they did, so everyone ended up happy. We had excellent seats, and had an amazing dinner (they always do a good job!). I had a perfect chocolate martini as well. 🙂 We were seated at a table for four, so we ended up chatted with a very nice couple who were seated next to us. They ordered dishes I never tasted there, and both raved about their meals as well. The woman’s steak looked outstanding!

On to the music. Well first, Kathy simply looked amazing. Whatever she was doing while she wasn’t climbing the Country charts, definitely agrees with her physically. 🙂

Kathy’s voice isn’t in the same league as Martina McBride, or even Alison Krauss for that matter (obviously, all in my own opinion, no need to publicly disagree with me on this). That said, she’s still amazing. Her voice is powerful, emotive and moving. Her song selection is outstanding, and she’s a wonderful guitarist. Half of the show was the new coal project, and half were previous hits (which she encouraged the crowd to sign along during the chorus, and they/we happily obliged).

She had a three-member band playing with her. Bill Cooley on acoustic guitar. Dave Roe on the upright bass. Eamonn O’Rourke on the fiddle and mandolin (unfortunately, a quick search doesn’t reveal any web site dedicated to this amazing musician!). All three are amazing enough to deserve their own mentions independent of Kathy.

I am a guitar-loving nut. I like all styles of guitar, from classical through to screaming rock. While classical is probably my favorite, a close second is someone who can do wonders with an acoustic guitar. Among my favorites forever has been David Bromberg. The man is a genius with an acoustic guitar. That said, he isn’t the cleanest guitar player, as on occasion, in his attempts to dazzle (which he achieves so many times), he can even (gasp) miss a note (no, say it ain’t so!).

The above was meant to put the next statement into context:

Bill Cooley is possibly the greatest acoustic guitarist I have ever heard!

There, I’m on the record with a very bold statement (as in bold font at the very least). 😉

I’m not sure I can describe exactly why, though I tried to last night when Lois asked me why I felt that way. His fingers are so fast it’s almost unbelievable. He plays in a variety of styles. His leads are so clean and clear. He’s one of the few guitarists where you don’t hear the transitional screeches of the strings as his hands slide up and down the neck. He plays brilliantly both softly (when he’s accompanying Kathy as the solo instrument), and when he has to pound it out with all of the instruments going full bore. He’s been touring with Kathy since 1990. She’s crazy if she ever lets him go. Simply brilliant!

Dave Roe is a top-notch bass player. In addition to normal bass playing, he plays a style that includes slapping the body of the bass with his palm, while strumming the strings with his fingers, creating the sounds that a drum might make (they had no drummer on the stage last night), making for a wonderful sound coming from one instrument. He’s truly gifted, and sings harmonies with Kathy as well.

Eamonn O’Rourke is an outstanding mandolin player. His fiddle playing is even better. In the past few years, I’ve seen some amazing fiddle work. While I wouldn’t say that Eamonn is the best (like I did for Bill Cooley above), he certainly isn’t far from it. He also sings harmonies with Kathy.

The following three photos aren’t very good (at all), but they’ll give you a sense. The first is Kathy Mattea, with Bill Cooley in the background, obscured by her guitar. The second is them again, with Bill’s face finally recognizable. The last is Eamonn O’Rourke and Dave Roe. Fuzzy, yes, but you can at least make them all out (I hope). Click on any of the images to see a larger version:

Kathy Mattea Kathy Mattea and Bill Cooley Eamonn O'Rourke and Dave Roe

Anyway, a truly outstanding band, to complement a truly outstanding performer in Kathy. She has a wonderful stage presence, and connects deeply with the audience.

She came out for an encore and did two songs. The first was her alone, no instruments. Wow. Another song from the coal project, and her vocal power was overwhelming (in the most positive way that statement can be taken!). The second number was completely instrumental, an Irish-style jig. Kathy played both her normal guitar, but also broke out two penny-whistles. Man, she’s very talented, and can play that whistle beautifully. We left on an ultra-high note.

On another topic, management chided me for not mentioning Girlyman in my CDB post on Sunday. They weren’t going to take any punitive action (this time), until Wes commented on the blog, and they realized that they were looking weak in public. So, they are now insisting that I put in a solid mention of Girlyman, or risk losing my blogging privileges.

The above qualifies, for sure, but I’ll just remind you all that we’re only 10 days away from seeing Girlyman live again, on Sunday November 4th, at the Highline Ballroom. If you’re in NYC on November 4th, and you don’t go to see Girlyman live, shame on you! 😉

One final Girlyman connection, that is definitely related to the opening theme in this post. The only reason we discovered Girlyman to begin with was because of Joe’s Pub. We had an opening in a blockbuster weekend, and the first place I checked was Joe’s Pub, and through luck (or more likely serendipity, our theme for this week!), Girlyman was playing there that night. 🙂