Bending the music rules

Ivers' music varies; Irish influence remains a constant

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Tonight's Eileen Ivers and Immigrant Soul concert sold out faster than you can say Celtic music, but, weather permitting, those who didn't buy tickets in time can still race for the $5 lawn seating that goes on sale an hour before the show.

Ivers and Immigrant Soul play at 8 p.m. in the Strings Music Tent in Torian Plum Plaza.

Ivers has been bending musical rules since she was a teenager.

Her music eases the listener into a comfortable, recognizable Irish reel, and then it slowly shifts, pulling the listener around the world -- first to Appalachia, then to Africa, Spain and back to Ireland.

It's a musical journey that comes naturally to the first-generation Irish American who grew up in the ethnically diverse Bronx. Her Irish-born parents settled in the city's Irish neighborhood. Blocks away were the Italians, then Germans, then Latinos.

"It was a great way to grow up," Ivers said. "It was a real neighborhood."

Every summer the Ivers family traveled back to Ireland.

"I'm very close to my family over there," she said. "We would go for the summer and be the horrible city kid farmers.

"A lot of Irish moved to America when times were horrible, but now young people are staying there -- even immigrating to Ireland."

Ivers still goes back to Ireland -- she and her husband bought a home there -- three or four times a year, and even though she experiments with the Celtic sound, it is always at the soul of her music.

"It's very important for me to play in Ireland," she said. "I play sessions in pubs over there and get back to what's real -- the core of my music."

Irish audiences have been listening to Ivers' fiddle since she won the All-Ireland Championships as a 9-year-old.

"It was a very different feel then," she said. "Here I was, American born. It was very rare for a Yank to be able to play and feel the music and to be beating Irish-born players."

Ivers is to Celtic music what Joseph Campbell is to religion. She sees the line that runs through the music and, through her travels, notices the same line running through all music.

"There is a swing under the music that exists in American and African music," she said. "Once you get it, once you understand that, it's a testament to how wonderful the music is and how much it has influenced music around the world."

Irish music blends easily with other musical styles because it is melodic and dance-oriented, she said. "You have to be very cold if it doesn't move you.

"You feel the down beat -- clap on the four -- which is a common theme in a lot of music, like old time bluegrass tunes. It all has the same derivative."

Instead of playing with the traditional Irish boron, Immigrant Soul uses bigger African drums, such as congas, to carry the beat.

"We'll use this really bubbling South African base line to fill in the cracks of the tune. That world rhythm underpins the tune," she said. "You barely know it's there, it's just another level of musical depth."

Ivers and Immigrant Soul just played in Norway and Sweden and were introduced to Hardinger fiddle music of Norway.

"We had a session and my ears were wide open to the Celtic music that ran through it and the Appalachian sound," she said. "That's exciting."

Ivers' latest album, recorded with Immigrant Soul, follows three solo albums, countless compilation albums, a stint with "Riverdance" and 30-plus medals in the All-Ireland Championships.

Ivers plays an electric fiddle and walks up and down the aisles as she plays. Ivers and Immigrant Soul recently played three sold-out shows at the Kennedy Center with the National Symphony Orchestra.

"I was going up and down the aisles and there were these beautifully dressed people high-fiving each other. It was what Irish music should me. When it works, it gets across on these serious emotional and social levels. It's my chance to break down the fourth wall."

To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210

or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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