Solas in Concert at Longwood Gardens

Seamus Egan last played in the Open Air Theatre at Longwood Gardens about 20 years ago when he accompanied Mick Moloney and Eugene O’Donnell. Let’s hope it won’t be another 20 years before he plays there again.

Egan and his Solas bandmates closed out the summer with a memorable performance in one of the Delaware Valley’s prettiest places. At Longwood, the theatre itself is part of the show. Lush, tall arborvitae flank the stage. Flagstone walls and and lacy wrought iron gates form the backdrop. The place holds 1,500, but it seems more intimate than that. No roof … just cool breezes, dark skies, chirping crickets, bright stars and, on this night, a creamy gibbous moon.

All that atmosphere, and a big, splashy fountain show worthy of Esther Williams at the finale … fans will be talking about this one for a long time.

Egan on flute, joined by Eamon McElholm on guitar, took the stage first and set the tone with a sublime version of the slow air “An Buachaill Caol Dubh (The Dark Slender Boy).” The mellow mood didn’t last long, though. A slimmed-down Mick McAuley on button accordion (I heard someone near me ask “Who is that guy?”) and fiddler Winifred Horan joined Egan and McElholm, and launched into the band’s trademark “Wiggly Jigs” set. They moved on from there to a smoking set of reels. Joining them onstage for the reels was another skinny guy, Lord of the Dance star Jonathan Srour, who popped out of the hedges at stage right and had the audience clapping right from the start. He made two more appearances later on in the night.

Another surprise—a different singer, Niamh-Varian de Barra from Cork, practically just off the plane and making her first appearance with the band. Regular lead singer Mairead Phelan was off that night.

de Barra seemed a bit tentative on her first tune, “The Gallant Hussar.” By the time she made her second appearance, singing “The Ditching Boy,” she seemed to have shed any first-night jitters she might have had. She sang “Seven Curses” with the same confidence and energy.

McAuley and McElholm sang harmony in support of de Barra’s efforts, but it was hard to hear them. Sound quality was a bit out of whack throughout the night. de Barra sounded just fine; McAuley and McElholm were underamplified. Horan’s fiddle came through loud and clear; Egan’s guitar at times was barely audible. On balance, though, everything else about the concert was just so blissful—Horan’s tender rendering of “My Dream of You,” McAuley’s performance of the John Martyn tune, “Spencer the Rover,” and “Vital Metal Medicine,” Egan’s knuckle-busting banjo piece—it’s impossible to get tied up in knots over such a minor point.

It’s easy to forget tiny imperfections, too, when your favorite Irish band appears to be caught up in the middle a massive MGM water ballet. A bit campy? You bet. But the band seemed to be enjoying it, and who were the rest of us not to join in the fun?

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