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December 05, 2016
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Eileen Ivers & Immigrant Soul: not just fiddlin’ around

Clearly, the folks at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts ( www.Bethelwoods.org ) had their thinking caps on when dubbing the “Event Gallery.” My dictionary describes “event” with words like “momentous,” “important” and “exciting.”

Grammy-winning fiddler Eileen Ivers and her band, Immigrant Soul, who performed to a sold-out crowd at the venue this past Saturday, were (IMHO) above and beyond any musical “event” that I have ever personally attended.

Prior to the concert, I had done some internet research, including at the official web site ( www.EileenIvers.com ), but the quotes and superlatives attributed to Ivers’ performances were so extraordinary I had a difficult time accepting them at face value.

After the concert, I stopped reading what others have already said in the fear of blotting out original thought—and keeping in mind that I had jotted down over 20 pages of notes, in between leaping to my feet, screaming, crying and clamoring for more.

The opening act, talented duo Nathan and Rebecca Bliss, known as Barnaby Bright, were introduced by Tia Schaeffer as the “Grand Prize Winner of the fifth annual song-writing contest” sponsored by Song Circle Music ( www.songcirclemusic.com ). Barnaby Bright (“This day the sunne is in his chiefest hight/With Barnaby the bright,” in the words of the 1595 Spenser Epithalamion l. 266) was a perfect choice to warm up the crowd and ready us for Ivers and company as it expressed its own brand of indie/folk/Celtic feel-good tunes that warmed the cockles of my heart.

Nathan Bliss summed up the emotion the two of them felt appearing at Bethel Woods by sharing that when he was 10, “My mom took me to see the Woodstock movie, and I was bitten by the bug, determined to make music my life... so it’s amazing to be standing on this very spot, where the ‘Woodstock Experience’ forever changed and influenced the music world.”

Checking my notes, I see that words like “beautiful,” “melodic,” “mellow,” “haunting” and “original” were scribbled down as I conjured up images of the Scottish moors during their performances of “Don’t Look Down” and “Wake the Hero,” from their new CD of the same name.

Then Ivers and the band (Tommy McDonnell, Buddy Connolly, Greg Anderson and Leo Traversa) leaped onto the stage—and the rest of the evening is a rhapsodic blur. “We are absolutely thrilled to be back at Bethel Woods,” Ivers told the crowd, grinning from ear to ear. Acknowledging that her family was in the house, she continued, “Irish music is very interactive, so please, join in, participate. Feel free to whoop it up as we share the resiliency of the Irish people and the musical heritage that inspires us.”

The vibe was indeed incredibly interactive, with a raw and emotional tug at my heart that was so energetic and infused with such depth that I was literally overwhelmed. Ivers appeared at times to be a marionette, since the music lifted her into the air and the audience could actually see how the strings moved her and the band, the five seeming to act as one in a symbiotic display of (again, my notes) “exhilarating, thrilling, playful virtuosity.” It made me wish that the entire world could see what we saw that night, hear what we heard and feel as much a part of the experience that Ivers desires to (and succeeds in) expressing so brilliantly.

Thankful that we had been invited to share our enthusiasm, I could not sit still, and joined Woodstock icon “Duke” in the aisles as the crowd danced and stomped their feet with growing enthusiasm, feeling the music rise through the roof of the gallery and become a visceral part of the universe, knowing that the sounds of the enchanted fiddle would continue to swell and spread through the sheer magic that flowed from this woman’s fingers.

There were times when Ivers’ bow and fretwork appeared to take on a frenetic life of their own as she and her band blended classical, jazz, rock and fusion into a heady explosion of joy and rapture that (ok, I’ll quote one) drove The New York Times to call her the “Jimi Hendrix of the violin.” (Wish that I had said it, but glad that someone did.)

This was one of those inspiring evenings that remind me of how fortunate I am to be a part of the Catskills legacy and landscape. I’m still vibrating, tingling and shouting to the rooftops about the evening that (I know it sounds corny, but...) changed my life. It’s not that I’m at a loss for words (that will be the day) but that I simply don’t have room here to express them all. I believe (hope? pray?) that Eileen Ivers & Immigrant Soul will return—and I, for one, can hardly wait.