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Pausing to Refresh During the Pandemic, and Baking Up Some Creative Alternatives

Shannon Lambert-Ryan bustles about her home kitchen, her fixings for Finnish ribbon cookies—including a huge bag of Heckers flour—at the ready. The mixing bowl sits upon a table at just the right height for her tow-headed toddler son, Liam—which for some, might seem a recipe for disaster.

Not so. Welcome to Lambert-Ryan’s periodic Facebook show, one of a series called “Baking with Babies.”

Video camera duly focused in on the action, Liam helps out enthusiastically. Guided by Lambert-Ryan’s hand, he scoops a cup of flour into the bowl. “1-2-3,” he says.

He seems inordinately interested in adding vanilla, which the recipe calls for, but not yet. With a wee one’s level of patience, he holds and shakes a bottle kept in his little kitchen, waiting for the opportunity to add it.

At one point, he “cracks” some toy eggs from his kitchen into the mixture. A little later on, he scoops up some dough with his little fingers and helps Lambert-Ryan squish it unceremoniously onto the baking sheet. Continue Reading

Music, People

Seamus Kelleher: Singing a New Song, and the Message is Hope

Hope, optimism and resilience can be rare commodities in the age of coronavirus.

You might not expect any of the above from an Irish musician whose last booking came just three days before St. Patrick’s Day.

Like so many Irish musicians, Seamus Kelleher—a Galway-born virtuoso guitarist-singer-songwriter and alum of the celebrated band Blackthorn—lost work when the pandemic triggered state-mandated shutdowns at all the pubs, taverns and clubs where musicians typically find work during St. Patrick’s month.

“I did the Green Parrot in Newtown, Bucks County, on the 14th of March,” Kelleher recalls. “That was the last. It was an afternoon show. And it was surreal because at that stage there wasn’t a definite decision made to close everything down. It was just drip, drip, drip. But the owner and staff could tell. There was a real sense of impending doom. It was a very strange gig, and we just barely made the best of it, as we always do, but there was the sense that things could be changing, and that was very sobering for me.”

Right up until that day, Kelleher had been extremely busy. In fact, he explains, he was on target to have the best year of his solo career. In January, he embarked on a cross-country tour that included Colorado, Indiana and Kansas City. After that, he finished a 23-day tour of Florida before returning to Philadelphia for March madness. “I had 200 shows on the books, all across the country,” he says. To then only get halfway through March before everything closed down, he says, “was like having the rug pulled out from under me … but I wasn’t alone.”

Other local Irish musicians have regular jobs—assuming they still have them—and music is a sideline. For about 15 years, that was the case with Kelleher, who was employed as a speech writer in the corporate world, penning addresses for the presidents of Lincoln Financial and Drexel University, among others. But for the past five years, Kelleher has been committed to music full-time. But now, as a musician with no conventional day job, losing work had an impact. He continues to perform “porch concerts” live to Facebook, and they’ve been helpful, but Kelleher has been unexpectedly fortunate in another way.

During the past five years, Kelleher has devoted roughly two-thirds of his time purely to the performance of music, a lifelong passion dating back to the days when he was opening for the likes of Thin Lizzy. The remaining third of his career he devotes to motivational speaking. And he has quite the inspirational story to tell.

“I suffer from depression and anxiety and I’m a recovering alcoholic,” Kelleher explains, matter-of-factly. “So my motivational speech really talks about my journey. I incorporate some music into it, but the idea is to give hope for those who struggle with mental health and addiction. I also talk about suicide prevention. That’s a big, big part of what I talk about. I’ve been doing that the past three years, doing more and more of it.”

On March 22, Kelleher received a call out of the blue from Texas A&M College of Medicine. “I had spoken there a few times,” he says. “The last time was two years ago. And they asked me if I would talk to faculty and staff because a lot of their people were just starting to really stress out—as you can imagine. So I did a Zoom meeting for several hundred of their faculty and staff, and some of the students. Then, I did a few more meetings for them. After that, they asked me whether I would consider teaching a two-week class for the med students on mental wellness because the topic that I talked about was mental health in times of crisis.” Continue Reading

Music

Irish Singer Raymond Coleman: Taking the Good with the Bad

The St. Patrick’s month schedule was busy for singer Raymond Coleman right up until March 16—and then the coronavirus pandemic hit, and the bottom fell out for Irish musicians everywhere.

Coleman had gigs scheduled as the clock wound down, with pubs, clubs and bars closing everywhere in the Delaware Valley and nearby.

On that last day, he recalls, the Jersey pubs were closing at 8 p.m., and he had a job scheduled at a bar in West Chester, but that was canceled.

At the last possible moment, someone called with a booking.

“The last gig was at the Holy City Publick House in Gloucester, N.J.,” he recalls. “They called me and said, ‘Do you want to play?’ I said, why not. I may as well get that last gig in before God knows when we’re going to be play again. Continue Reading

Music, People

Frank Daly of Jamison Celtic Rock: Making the Best of a Bad Situation

Frank Daly and his band Jamison Celtic Rock were on tour in Florida when the novel coronavirus first began to hit home.

“We had done the Cape Coral Festival the first weekend in March, and then a few of the guys flew back home,” Daly recalls. “Alice Marie (the band’s fiddler), Kyle Walter (drummer) and I stayed the week, and then we were going to play the St. Augustine festival the following weekend. The other three guys were going to fly back down for that weekend. And we were hearing stuff from people back in Philly that things were going to get bad and they might shut things down—and there might be a quarantine. And you know, we’re down there in Florida and on the beaches and playing gigs in Fort Lauderdale, where there was literally no mention of it at all.”

Then came word that the St. Augustine festival was off. That, Daly says, was a blow because it would have been the first time Jamison had performed there, and they were really looking forward to it. “It was kind of a smack in the face,” he says. “Like, this was real.” Continue Reading

Music, News

The Pipes and Drums Are Silenced, But They’ll Play Again

For the members of the Philadelphia Police and Fire Pipes & Drums, the most disappointing impact of the coronavirus shutdown came just days after the March 13 shooting death of Philadelphia Police SWAT Cpl. James O’Connor.

No obligation is more sacred to them than playing as a band in tribute to a fallen police officer or firefighter who suffers a line-of-duty death. That solemn tradition was off the table as the pandemic triggered the shutdown of all but essential services, together with the directive to avoid large public gatherings.

Mark O’Donnell is the unit’s Pipe Major. He’s also a Philadelphia Fire Service Paramedic. Under normal circumstances, the band would have turned out in force for a police officer’s funeral. “But it had to be postponed,” he says. “I’ve just never seen anything like this. We’ve always had that tradition.” Continue Reading

Audio, Audios, Music

“Scatter the Light”—An Interview with Fiddler Eileen Ivers


Premier Irish fiddler Eileen Ivers has released a stunning new album, “Scatter the Light.” We recently spoke with her about the album, the uplifting messages behind each of the tracks, and the uncanny timing of the album’s hopeful, empowering outlook.

Irish Philly: So what inspired you to compose this new album, Scattered the Light?

Eileen: Sort of various things. It came slowly, as an extension I think of even the last record I did, which was called “Beyond the Bog Road,” which really looked at Irish music and its journey, interacting with other roots elements and really forming the roots of Americana music and bluegrass and French Canadian. So it was a very in-depth record. And then after the record came out and all the research and just the touring with that, I started writing more in a certain vein and realized it was all sort of connected with this very upbeat, positive attitude. And I think also coming out of our joyful Christmas shows, I noticed that there was a wonderful sentiment that was happening when those shows would occur, which I loved. And I remember thinking to myself, why can’t this be carried through the year? This feeling of optimism and joy and really looking for those moments? And that’s when the penny dropped, so to speak.

And I felt, you know what, this is a way to connect the dots. And anytime I do a CD, I think I maybe sometimes overthink it because it does take me a little while between projects, but I think it’s such a major statement when you do release a brand-new piece of work like this because it doesn’t come lightly. And I really try to be very thoughtful about it. In short, it really was all of these tracks linking together in a very thematic way, which made sense, which made a statement. And therefore I did call it “Scatter the Light.”

Irish Philly: Well it’s funny that you should mention overthinking it. Because it didn’t come across that way. It really came across as more from the heart than from the head is if there was no conscious decision-making behind it at all, except that you’re going from your soul and your heart.

Eileen: Thank you. No, it’s funny, it really was happening in that way. But when you start to look at a collection of tunes in the body of work, then you, it’s funny, I realized, wow, there is this theme that ran through it, which is the thoughtful part I think of it. But the knee jerk reaction was interesting where I was just writing these tunes. It started with “Shine,” which is the lead track. And also feeling like I wanted those two gospely, faith-filled songs as part of this. And then these tunes just kept coming. “Road Trip.” very quickly. “Hold My Hand” came in a shot. It was literally looking at this picture—and again, heart took over and those words just came right out. And so it is interesting how music does come at different times in people’s lives and thankfully, this did all come and it’s a record I’m super proud of. Continue Reading

Music

Online Concerts Bring Comfort, Even if Only Virtually

Usually, the days and weeks surrounding St. Patrick’s Day are cause for great celebration and jubilation, all in the spirit of being Irish—even if you aren’t a drop of Irish. This time of year is also like Christmas for many local Irish pubs and musicians alike. Now, of course, it’s different. Countless watering holes are feeling the effects of closings and cancellations, as are many local musicians and bands who are losing income hand over fist due to canceled gigs.

Some acts, like John Byrne, Jamison, The Shantys and Oakwyn, offered live streaming concerts during St. Patrick’s Week, perhaps to maintain their own sanity and to help bolster the spirits of their fellow humans. Other Philly Irish musicians and bands followed suit, such as Ray Coleman, Neil Mac Thiarnan, Shelly Beard Santore, Brian Patrick McGuire, Shaun Durnin of Galway Guild, Bob Hurst of the Bogside Rogues, Joshua Mateleski of The Natterjacks, Mike LeCompt, Mike and Callie, Megan Glanz of The Natterjacks, Bill Donohue, Jr., Kevin Sullivan, Joe Mullin, and many others, who offered concerts on their various social media pages, with more shows scheduled as the week and quarantine continues.

The Dropkick Murphys, who we have covered extensively over the years, put on a free live streaming concert straight from their hometown of Boston. The two-hour event, filmed from what seemed to be a small club and offered via their website and social media accounts, boasted a steady rate of 130,000 viewers during the entire show. The rockers, some now in their 50s—as front man Ken Casey pointed out—were not short of energy or excitement, even in the absence of a live crowd. Continue Reading

Audio, Music, People

Still Much to Celebrate: Celtic Woman’s Máiréad Carlin Reflects on New Album

Celtic Woman was scheduled to perform in Philadelphia toward the end of this month, but then—well, you know what happened. With the onset of the novel coronavirus, the tour was canceled, and so went our latest chance to take in one of the biggest and longest-lasting groups in world Irish entertainment.

Fortunately, we now have a new CW album: “Celebration: 15 Years of Music & Magic,” featuring the 15 performers who have comprised Celtic Woman over the years.

We recently interviewed Máiréad Carlin, a seven-year member of Celtic Woman from Northern Ireland, about the abrupt end to the tour, but—more to the point—the new album’s capacity for comfort in trying times.

Irish Philly: We were looking forward to seeing you in Philadelphia. Quite a disappointment, but understandable circumstances, I’m sure.

Máiréad: Absolutely. I mean, my goodness, I think it was a shock for everybody. The news trickled through the world. I think over the few weeks that we were out there and we genuinely didn’t realize the magnitude of what was about to come. And we really only find out ourselves the day before we announced that we were going to go home and have to postpone the tour. It was such a disappointment because for us, this is a celebration. Continue Reading