O’ROURKE’S FEAST, a new Irish traditional music ensemble led by button accordion legend Paddy O’Brien, will play a set on the Celebration Stage at the Irish Fair of Minnesota on Saturday, August 11 at 4:30 pm. The Fair is held on Harriet Island across the Mississippi River from downtown Saint Paul. Admission is FREE.
What sets O’ROURKE’S FEAST apart from most Irish or Celtic groups is the fact that they are what might be called (for lack of a better term) a ‘folk orchestra.’ The Chieftains are probably the best-known example of such a group at the moment, but in Ireland there is a long tradition of folk ensembles, including Ceoltoiri Chulann (a forerunner of the Chieftains), and a couple of groups with whom Paddy O’Brien happened to play years ago, Ceoltoiri Laighean and the Castle Ceili Band.
O’ROURKE’S FEAST is a lively seven-piece Irish traditional music ensemble, with a repertoire that includes dance melodies like jigs and reels, but they also play older, sometimes long-neglected material from the Irish tradition, including hornpipes, clan marches, and some beautiful old slow airs and songs. The group also plays some original music, composed in traditional style. The band is composed of Danielle Enblom, Nathan Gourley and Ann Sandberg on fiddle; Suzanne Rhees and Amy Shaw on flute; Paddy O’Brien on button accordion; and Sherry Ladig on piano.
The band takes its name from a song composed by Turlough O’Carolan, a blind harper from Ireland, who was born in 1670 and died in 1738. The song, written originally in the Irish language by Hugh MacGauran (with a 1720 English translation by Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels), commemorated a remarkable banquet given by O’Rourke, a powerful chieftain of Ulster during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I:
O’Rourke’s noble fare
Will ne’er be forgot
By those who were there
Or those who were not.
His revels to keep,
We sup and we dine
On seven score sheep,
Fat bullocks, and swine.
Usquebaugh to our feast*
In pails was brought up,
A hundred at least—
And a mether our cup.**
(* In Irish, ‘uisce beatha,’ or ‘the water of life’—aka, whiskey; ** a large, four-handled drinking vessel)
O’ROURKE’S FEAST is led by button accordion master Paddy O’Brien, a native of County Offaly in Ireland, and renowned all over the world as a walking encyclopedia of Irish traditional music. Paddy has been rehearsing with O’Rourke’s Feast for more than three years, cultivating the ensemble’s unique and authentic traditional sound.
Sample recordings, a small sample listing of tunes, and band members’ biographies follow; for more information about O’Rourke’s Feast, please visit the group’s website.
For additional information, please contact Erin Hart or Paddy O’Brien at 651-698-2258 / PaddyOBrienBox@gmail.com.
O’Rourke’s Feast sample recordings:
The members of O’Rourke’s Feast include:
Paddy O’Brien, internationally renowned master of the button accordion, known for the depth and breadth of his knowledge about Irish traditional music. He gained that knowledge by spending time playing and talking with master musicians from an older generation in Ireland, and for years has been passing down what he learned to a younger generation of musicians in Minnesota. Paddy does not read music, but carries in his head nearly 4,000 distinct melodies, sometimes multiple versions of the same tune, from regional variations to particular interpretations by individual musicians. He is frequently called upon as a source for musicians around the globe who consult him for historical and cultural background information on Irish music. Paddy has won numerous awards, including multiple first-place awards in the Oireachtas competitions sponsored by the Gaelic League in Ireland, as well as multiple awards in the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil sponsored by the traditional music organization Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann. He has served as a master artist in Minnesota State Arts Board Folk Arts Apprenticeship program, and received a prestigious Bush Artist Fellowship in Folk and Traditional Arts. He has also received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Irish Fair of Minnesota Legacy Fund, and the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council. He is also a member of the internationally-renowned Irish music trio Chulrua, and The Doon Céilí Band.
Amy Shaw plays the wooden flute in Barra, a St. Paul band that performs traditional Irish music. She can frequently be heard playing for Irish dances, sessions, and other events around the Twin Cities. A librarian at St. Catherine University since 1994, she holds master’s degrees in music librarianship from Indiana University and music literature from the University of South Dakota. She became interested in the wooden flute after researching 19th-century English flutes for her thesis at USD. She was surprised to discover that these early classical flutes are much sought after today by players of traditional (folk) music, especially Irish music. Eventually, Amy bought her own wooden flute from contemporary Canadian flute maker Peter Nay. It’s been her ticket to exploring the musical traditions of Ireland, Scotland, French Canada, and Nova Scotia, and is her constant traveling companion.
Nathan Gourley held his first fiddle at 2 years of age. With support from his musical family (in particular his father, who is a fiddler), Nathan enrolled in Suzuki violin lessons when he was 5 years old. He went on to study classical violin with Gene Purdue, former first violin of the Thouvenel Quartet. In his younger years, Nathan made regular stage appearances as a guest in many of his father’s bands such as Stone Soup, Buffalo Trail and Rosewood Moct. It was during annual trips to numerous fiddle and folk music festivals where Nathan was exposed to all sorts of fiddlers such as Martin Hayes, Liz Carroll, Alasdair Fraser, Brendan Mulvihill, Dale Russ, and Laura Risk. In spite of his classical background and a stint as a member of the University of Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, traditional Irish music has become Nathan’s passion. Now settled in the Twin Cities, he is also a member of The Doon Céilí Band and the Two Tap Trio, and is active in numerous Irish sessions.
Suzanne Rhees is an accomplished flute player with a broad and deep repertoire of traditional tunes and more than twenty-five years experience playing in formal and informal settings in the Twin Cities and elsewhere. She and husband David Rhees (fiddle, banjo, guitar) moved to Minneapolis from Philadelphia in 1992; they have played for ceilis, contradances, the occasional party or festival, and are regulars at many sessions around town. Suzanne is an urban planner, currently working on park and trail planning for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and is happiest when her work takes her to a city with a good session, or a bike trail.
Danielle Enblom began playing the fiddle at age 10. She was fortunate to learn from many of the local musicians and fiddle players and to reap the benefits of the local session scene. In 2005 she shifted her focus from dance to music. This brought her to Ireland where she earned a Diploma in Traditional Irish music at University College Cork. During a year of study in 2005 and 2006 at UCC Danielle studied fiddle under Connie O’Connell and also learned from musicians such as Bobby Gardiner and Matt Cranitch. Since returning to Minneapolis in 2006, Danielle has completed a degree in Urban and Sustainability Studies at the University of Minnesota. Other previous and current performances and collaborations include step dancing with Riverdance singer, Katie McMahon’s Christmas tour, sean nós dancing with Liz Carroll and Daíthí Sproule, sean nós and Cape Breton step dancing with Scottish singer, Julie Fowlis, as well as mixtures of the various traditions with the Brock Mcguire Band and numerous Twin Cities musicians. Danielle currently teaches Irish Step Dancing at the O’Shea School of Irish Dance in Saint Paul and fiddle at the Center for Irish Music. She has also expanded her personal lesson offerings, teaching adults and children in private and group settings as well as offering summer camps and workshops throughout the year.
Ann Sandberg has been playing violin and fiddle for most of her life. She fell in love with traditional music on her first trip to Ireland 15 years ago, came home, dusted off her violin, and has been playing ever since! She regularly attends Irish traditional music sessions in the Twin Cities. She loves to sit in with fellow musicians while traveling, and was a regular at Irish music sessions in Rome when she lived there. In addition to Irish music, Ann has a great interest in French Canadian and Cape Breton music, and plays old-time and Irish tunes at home with her husband Tom. Ann taught elementary school for more than eight years, and also has over 15 years of experience leading and assisting with liturgical music. She holds a B.S. in Education from Miami University in Oxford, OH and a M.A. in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas.
Sherry Ladig has been writing and making music all of her life as a pianist, arranger, composer and music historian. Sherry earned a degree in music composition from the University of Minnesota with an unofficial minor in music history. She writes arrangements for and plays piano in several Celtic traditional bands for concerts and dances; she also researches music of many eras, and writes instrumental and choral music for small and large ensembles (including, occasionally, a new piece in traditional Irish or Scottish styles). Sherry is a composer-in-residence for the Minnesota Mandolin Orchestra and writes a new piece for them annually. She currently performs with Dunquin (traditional Irish), Night Scotsman (Scottish), The New Pearl Button Players (mid-to-late-19th century American), and Thistledown (Scottish dance). She has also made appearances in other bands including The Doon Céilí Band.