The Magic of Music

irish music

John Doyle, Irish guitarist and folk singer

I remember the first time I met John Doyle. He was scheduled to play with Liz Carroll at a festival in Vermont. I was working at a booth selling instruments, CDs, strings, etc. He came to the booth and started looking at the CDs. I quickly ran over to him, pulled out one of his and Liz Carroll’s CDs and said “I hear the guitar playing on this one is pretty good.” He giggled gracefully at my stupid joke and we started chatting.

Later that evening there was a late night session in one of the festival tents. And because I had taken a week long fiddle workshop with Liz Carroll prior to this festival, she recognized me and called me into the inner circle to play a tune. There I was in my glory sitting with Liz Carroll on one side and John Doyle on the other. Then they asked me to start a tune.

Wouldn’t you know I couldn’t remember one, not one tune. In fact I think I completely forgot how to play the fiddle in that moment. Then all of a sudden one came to me by the grace of God (Felix the Wrestler) and everyone started playing. It was a moment I’ll never forget. Here I was, such an amateur who barely knew any tunes (this was about 10 years ago), scared to death to play in public and two of my musical heroes sitting by my side encouraging me to start a tune.

Thinking of this story reminds me just how special this music is, not only because it’s beautiful music but because the people who carry it on are beautiful people. I mean I grew up listening to the Rolling Stones, but never in my lifetime will I get to sit side by side with them to play a tune. Irish music is truly special in so many ways.

This month is your chance to meet and listen to some of these wonderful musicians. Here are a few concerts you won’t want to miss:

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A Wee bit of Ireland in Vermont

donegal fiddler

Oisin McAuley, Donegal Fiddler

This past summer I spent some time in Ireland studying Irish fiddle in the Donegal tradition. It was such an amazing experience as it was my first excursion to the emerald isle, and really my first true taste of Donegal fiddle music.

I fell in love with this particular style of traditional music because it encompasses so many different types of tunes outside of just your traditional jigs and reels. There are all sorts of tune types like highlands, barn dances, mazurkas, polkas, and waltzes and they all actually sound pretty different. It’s beautiful music. And it’s coming to Vermont!

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Martin Hayes and the Teetotallers

Irish FiddlerWhen I first started playing Irish music, someone gave me a Martin Hayes CD to listen to. I have to admit his playing didn’t really touch me at that time. I thought his music was a bit slow for my taste. I wanted to play fast, hoppy tunes because that’s what my beginner ear thought Irish music was. All I knew at the time was Danu, Lunasa and Solas. And I wanted to play like just like them. So I put his music on the back burner in case there was a tune or two I might want to learn later.

Many years later, I was at Celtic Connections, a Celtic music festival in Scotland, where I not only got to see Martin play, I  also took a master class with him to find out just what makes him tick musically. It wasn’t until then that I fully realized just how talented this man was. There is nothing like seeing a musician perform live and listening to the them tell you what these tunes mean to them. The experience was one I’ll never forget.

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The Teetotalers Coming to Vermont

The Teetotalers are coming to the Barre Opera House next month. Will you be there? This super trio is made up of not only some of my favorite musicians but some of the best players in traditional Irish music. The band includes John Doyle on guitar, Martin Hayes on fiddle and Kevin Crawford on flute. This show is not to be missed. Get your tickets today!

When: May 4, 2013
Time: 8:00pm
Place: The Barre Opera House, Barre, Vermont

Hope to see you there!

Rockin around the Christmas tree

Liz Carroll and John Doyle are two of my favorite Irish musicians. Not just because they are both amazing musicians but because watching them together is mesmerizing. I watch this video and I can’t help but notice how little Liz moves her fingers and yet she creates this huge sound. And John, well there’s a man who loves what he does. His rhythmic playing just makes me want to jump out of my seat and dance. Check ’em out:

A Letter From John Doyle

John DoyleThe following is a letter from John Doyle who is heading to Vermont this weekend to perform at Higher Ground.

“Hello everybody…..I’m here at home with my family in lovely Asheville, NC on my last few days before taking the plunge into a 2 week solo tour, eating soda bread that I made and drinking copious amounts of strong Irish tea, the champion of all drinks.  I’ve taken up building stone walls in my back yard, which I must say is very fulfilling if not a little dangerous for someone in my profession but I’m taking care not to squish too many fingers before I come play.

Really looking forward to coming up to Burlington.  Mark Sustic has been extremely supportive over the years and I always look forward to the shows there.  Here’s a bit of what I’ve been up to recently:  For the last year and a half I’ve been the Musicial Director/Guitarist/Singer for the legendary Joan Baez, doing three 6 week tours a year.  It’s been an experience of a lifetime getting to know Joan, hearing her amazing stories, traveling the world with her and seeing how incredibly loved and respected she is worldwide.  I’ve recorded a few new or relatively new cd’s over the last couple of years, the most recent of which is “Exiles Return” with myself and my former Solas bandmate and friend, Karan Casey.  It was lovely to make this recording and we’re especially proud of it.  The title track is a song I wrote specifically for the record…

Liz Carroll and I had the proud honor to perform for President Obama, VP Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and many other dignitaries at the annual St. Patrick’s Day Luncheon in Washington, DC March 17, 2009.  It was an experience I’ll certainly never forget…

Liz and I  were nominated for a 2010 Grammy for our duo recording, “Double Play” in the Best Traditional World Music category – we lost out to Mamadou D’iabate but still, pretty great to be the first traditional Irish artists to be nominated besides the Chieftains!  I was also named the “Best Traditional Artist” by Earle Hitchener, writing for the “Irish Echo”.  Jerry Holland, whom many of you probably know, lost a long battle with cancer and very sadly passed away this last year.  It was a tragic loss for the music and for me personally but I had the great fortune of playing and recording with him just a very few weeks before his passing.  This recording, “Helping Hands” is a stellar example of Jerry’s wonderful playing and personality – one of my all time favourites.

One of my main reasons for embarking on this solo tour is that over the past couple of years I’ve been writing a lot of songs and have really been hankering to get out and perform them.  So, I hope to see many of you there!”

John Doyle will be playing at Higher Ground this Saturday, May 8, 2010 at 7:30pm. Tickets are just $15. Hope to see you there! John  is also giving a pre-concert guitar workshop for intermediate and advanced players. Contact Mark Sustic for workship info at

On music with John Doyle

One of the things I love about playing Irish music is that it’s all about the music and sharing tunes. Some of the tunes we play are literally hundreds of years old and have been passed down from generation to generation and from country to country. I mean seriously, isn’t that amazing? Most of the Irish musicians I have met along the way have been nothing but enthusiastic about sharing what they know. And I think that is what makes this genre so special, other than the tunes of course.

John DoyleI recently had the opportunity to chat with master Irish guitarist, John Doyle while he packed for his trip to Celtic Connections in Glasgow, Scotland. We talked about his recent Grammy nomination, his life as a musician and shared thoughts about playing in sessions.

John was an original member of the band Solas, has played for the president, continues to play alongside  some of the world’s best traditional Irish musicians and now both he and Liz Carroll have been nominated for a Grammy award for their latest CD In Play.  It’s no wonder he’s one of the most sought-after session musicians this side of the pond (and probably the other side too).

Born in Dublin, Ireland, from a musical family, John has been playing professionally since the age of 16. John’s grandfather played accordion, his father was a singer and also played accordion. And although he loved the accordion, he was drawn to the guitar. “There was a guitar in the house so I started playing. It was right-handed guitar so I played it upside down for a few years.”  Some of the musicians that inspired John include Arty McGlynn, Paul Brady, Planxty, the Bothy Band and various English folk players.

John told me that what he loves most about being a musician is the community of people he meets along the way. “It’s a fantastic community of people,” he said. “I love to travel and I love to play music.” His passion for music and people is truly evident when you see him play. He has a rhythmic style like no other with a clear but bassy sound. He uses heavy strings on his guitar. The bottom string is 70 when they are usually 56 and he plays in Drop D.

We spoke a little about playing in sessions and how magical it can be. In what other setting can you sit down to share some music with perfect strangers and all know the same tunes? When all the musicians are in sync it can be quite mesmerizing.  “Playing music has a zen like quality to it” says John. “You’re in the moment.”

When asked to give advice to players who want to be better at playing sessions he offered the following: The secret to getting better at playing in sessions is to play with people better than you, listen to good players, and practice. You can take lessons but in the end only you can teach yourself how to play.

John has had a whirlwind of a career and continues to wow audiences with his percussive playing, his sweet Irish voice and his jovial personality.  He didn’t know when he would be back in Vermont but feel free to check his website for tour dates: I wish him the best luck on the 31st in hopes that he goes home with the Grammy.  I also hope to catch a performance of him and Karan Casey next month at Club Passim in Cambridge, MA and I hope to see you there too!

Ta-ta for now.