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Goodbye Winter Blues, Hello Festival Folk | IMBOLC 2019

Traditional music 50 years ago was essentially a national culture. Touring giants The Chieftains and The Johnstons played Europe and America while the loose network of fleadhanna drew some interested tourists to Ireland. Since then Irish music’s cultural stretch has become global, with any physical borders disappearing with the Internet, social media and webzines.

According to the organisers of Derry folk festival IMBOLC, the vast line up to their event is a ‘dynamic microcosm of how things have changed.’ Taking place from January 27 to February 10, it will feature performances from world-class established Irish, American, Canadian and European acts – as well as up and comers making their presence felt by expanding the definition of all things traditional.

Five concert venues throughout the city and over twenty local bars, hotels and cafes will be taking part in the festival, ensuring attendees have the chance to see and experience Derry as well as hear music.

Among the guests for the festival’s Transatlantic Sessions – based on the classic TV music series – is Nashville-based Gretchen Peters. Writer of hits for Martina McBride, Trisha Yearwood, George Strait and Shania Twain, she released her debut album The Secret of Life in 1996. Since then she has been inducted to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Also to be welcomed is Tim O’Brien whose unique style has bridged older stringed-instrument driven trad with more modern bluegrass. He will be promoting his newest release Where the River Meets the Road, a covers album focusing on songwriters from his native West Virginia.

Celtic voices among the line-up include Cara Dillon. In the early 2000s, when innovation in traditional music had stalled, the singer reinvented the genre. Over seven albums, she has used syncopation and modal electronic rhythms to heighten her emotional interpretations of songs familiar – taking them on an Indie journey, transporting them to an acoustic rock context.

Outside of the Transatlantic Sessions, the visit of Mick Moloney and the Green Fields of America to this year’s IMBOLC is extra-special as it is the 40th anniversary of the ensemble forming and touring.  The group was the first on either side of the Atlantic to bring together Irish vocal, instrumental, and dance traditions on the concert and festival stage.

Dublin singer Declan O’Rourke will also be attending IMBOLC, playing tunes from his most recent record Chronicles of the Great Irish Famine. Fifteen years in the making, the epic song cycle presents a sequence of extraordinary true tales from the most spirited period in Ireland’s history. Folk Presenter Lynette Fay of BBC Radio Ulster perhaps called the album: “A work of art from start to finish,” stating “This will be around forever.”

Wider European players at IMBOLC will be represented by the Swedish duo Symbio, named in 2016 as Best New Artists of the Year at the Swedish Folk & World Music Awards; and Josie Duncan and Pablo Lafuente, winners of the 2017 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award.

On top of the aforementioned gigs, the city-wide IMBOLC Session Trail will provide added opportunities to experience folk and traditional music in the relaxed setting of bars, cafes and restaurants. The session winds through the city centre, allowing visitors and locals alike to check out the city’s immediate cultural-social life, as well as the diversity and quality of Derry’s food and drink offerings.

At the heart of IMBOLC also is the world-class instruction students receive in a programme of special workshops. Acadamh Ceoil Chaoimhín Uí Dhochartaigh – the North West’s foremost hub for music teaching and learning – will host a two-day Trad Music Camp for young musicians. Working with internationally acclaimed tutors, students will have the chance, in mixed instrument groups, to create and arrange tunes, new and old. They will also be able to try their hand at a few steps and songs and ask questions.

Accessibility and inclusion remain central to the ethos of the festival. Thus, there will be a schedule of music-making workshops for children and young people with special needs. Those taking part will work on acquiring skills in rhythm and melody and collaborating to create their own performance.

“The best part of the IMBOLC International Music Festival is that it gives audiences the chance to hear so much incredible music performed by such fabulous musicians,” says Eibhlín Ní Dhochartaigh, Arts Programmer for festival venue Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin in a statement. “This is a compact festival, centred upon the concept of an intelligent, musically-aware audience that is interested in hearing great music with no smugness or indifference. That’s why music matters in the first place.”

For more details on the festival programme, visit Imbolc’s website here. Tickets can be bought online or through Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin’s box office by calling 028 7126 4132.

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