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'Baltimore, Fiddle Fair, 7th May 2011'   

-  Genre: 'Folk'

Our Rating:
“What happens if you play country music in reverse?” asks Stetson-toting mandolin and fiddle maestro Caleb Klauder.

“Well, your wife comes back to you, your dog comes back to life and you get your truck back.”

“Yeah, and the tears flow up from your beer!” finishes a clued-in audience member.

That little cameo pretty much sums up this Country/Folk music cliché-busting night. W&H are attending the highly respected Baltimore Fiddle Fair for the first time and finding it to be friendly, inclusive, efficiently run and enormous fun all round.   We’re in the festival’s cavernous marquee and it’s the ideal place to see off both the storm raging outside and the economic depression dogging Ireland in 2011.

Now in its’ 19th year and counting the Fiddle Fair is the kind of event that respects talent and encourages long-term friendships to grow. Originally in their guise as The Foghorn String Band, THE FOGHORN TRIO has been coming here for a number of years and on this showing it’s not hard to hear why. They are ideal festival fare with their remarkably authentic old-time sound capable of drawing in the old and young alike. In fact, merely their energy and enthusiasm is enough to melt the coldest of hearts.

While they may be based in the urban environs of Portland, Oregon, The Foghorn Trio are clearly steeped in the old time traditions of rural American Roots music. With its’ bluegrass, country-folk and Cajun leanings, their recent album ‘Sud de la Louisiane’ is vintage stuff, displaying a love of a simpler world where the Rock’n’Roll clichés we usually condone are entirely irrelevant.

Hunched together in a semi-circle around an old-style communal valve microphone, The Foghorn Trio perform with a refreshing lack of ‘celebrity’ excess. Camaraderie is the watchword and the sum always seems to exceed the parts, even though there’s never any doubting the individual skill and dexterity Caleb Klauder (mandolin, violin, vocals), Stephen ‘Sammy’ Lind (violin, banjo, guitar, vocals) and Nadine Landry (guitar, double bass, vocals) bring to the table.

There’s one heck of a stylistic melting pot being stirred here. Nadine’s French-Canadian background brings a Cajun feel to tunes like ‘Sud de la Louisiane’, while phenomenal picking and fiddling drives tunes like Kyle Creed’s ‘Liza Jane’ and Noah Beavers’ ‘None of Your Business’ to ever greater heights.

It’s by no means all breathless hoe-downs however. There’s also plenty of room for the waltz-time loveliness of Caleb’s self-penned ‘Just a Little’, the god-fearing likes of the Louvin Brothers’ epic ‘Satan’s Jewelled Crown’ and the eerie, mandolin-led ‘Caleb’s Lament’ which – to these ears - has just the briefest twist of ‘St. James Infirmary’ in its’ elegiac melody.

Nadine suggests the gentle love song ‘The Right Combination’ is one of “only two non-fatalistic” songs featured in the set, yet while death’s shadow may not seem to hang over the Trio’s material with the kind of pall it does with The Handsome Family, they do wrap up the main set with a curiously sprightly tune called (ahem) ‘The Jaybird Died of Whooping Cough.’ It’s a feisty finish with the trio briefly swelling into The Foghorn Quartet courtesy of a cameo from one of the festival’s other rising stars, Stephanie Coleman.

It’s not really the end, of course, for the heartfelt encore ‘Be Nobody’s Darling but Mine’ finds Nadine abandoning her bass altogether for a spin around the floor with the head of the festival organisers’ family, Mr. Brendan McCarthy.   It’s the perfect way to bring their Country-Folk master class to a conclusion and in summation I can only say that if I also make it to 72, I hope I am still as fleet of foot as Mr. McCarthy senior.

Following such a celebratory experience would be more than most ‘headline’ acts would be capable of, but ALY BAIN & PHIL CUNNINGHAM are wily old stagers, whose 25-year partnership “has out-lasted both our marriages,” as Cunningham so drolly puts it.  

Although my primary point of entry to Shetland native Aly Bain’s music is his session work with Richard Thompson, there’s clearly very little that this duo didn’t either invent or learn from the ancient book of rules where the Roots of both Scottish and Scandinavian folk is concerned. Their generous, hour plus set features a staggering array of jigs, reels and polkas, plus several beautiful laments like the graceful ‘By Dundas Loch.’ Magnificent though the music is, it’s equalled by the pair’s ultra-dry wit and you could listen to their tales of drams and misadventures in the Highlands and islands until the cows come home.

By the time they finally say goodbye, the midnight hour has long since passed, but such is the goodwill both acts have created, it seems to have flown by in about five minutes rather than almost four hours. While I can’t claim to be a hardcore Folk head by any means, the love and faith both these acts have for their respective traditions is enough to make a believer out of even the casual fan and I can’t recommend them enough. Ditto the Baltimore Fiddle Fair. See you for the festival’s 20th birthday? Hope so.

The Foghorn String Band online

Baltimore Fiddle Fair website

Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham website

  author: Tim Peacock/ Photos: Kate Fox

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FOGHORN TRIO, THE/ BAIN, ALY & CUNNINGHAM, PHIL - Baltimore, Fiddle Fair, 7th May 2011
The Foghorn Trio
FOGHORN TRIO, THE/ BAIN, ALY & CUNNINGHAM, PHIL - Baltimore, Fiddle Fair, 7th May 2011
The Foghorn Quartet
FOGHORN TRIO, THE/ BAIN, ALY & CUNNINGHAM, PHIL - Baltimore, Fiddle Fair, 7th May 2011
Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham