By Jess Wilson
---- — Brian O’Donovan will mostly likely begin a conversation about his stage show, "A Christmas Celtic Sojourn," with a history lesson. That’s not atypical for the man who has been hosting WGBH’s "A Celtic Sojourn" radio show for 27 years. That’s because Londonderry was home to many Irish immigrants in centuries past.
“In 1719 Scotch-Irish came and settled in the Londonderry area. And they’re not Scottish and Irish as some people assume. They were a particular group of Irish who were originally Scots, and were brought to Ireland centuries before as planters and created a new culture. Irish Catholics came to this country much later, and then the Scotch-Irish migrated down to the Appalachian Mountains and had a hand in influencing the bluegrass tradition.”
What that means to a non-historian is that the music, dancing and folklore that are part of "A Christmas Celtic Sojourn," blend art from the many cultures that influenced what we now call Celtic. Audiences will be able to experience for themselves when the show comes to the Stockbridge Theatre at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, N.H.
This stage show, in its 10th year, has the feel of a traditional kitchen party right or pub gathering right on stage.
“The show is live, collaborative, and invitational. That’s what Celtic music is all about. We try to invite the audience into the process and make the show a gathering of friends and family,” said Donovan, chatting a few hours before jumping on a plane to Ireland for a family wedding.
Though the lineup changes each year, the 10th anniversary celebration of "A Christmas Celtic Sojourn" has drawn some of the most beloved acts back to the stage. Navan, a group who first performed in the show in 2003, will return this year, singing their unique blend of traditional music from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall and the Isle of Man. Also returning to the stage are harpist Catriona McKay and fiddler Chris Stout, who wrote an original piece of music for the show in 2010 and received a standing ovation for their theatrical performance.
Their piece is one of O’Donovan’s favorite moments from all 10 years of the show.
“We thought their new song was too obscure, but they wanted to play it onstage, and when they played it through it was amazing. After they finished, they got a standing ovation and I had not seen that before in the middle of the show,” he said.
There are also some new performers this year including Alyth McCormack, a Scottish singer who works with the Chieftains. Brothers Jon and Nathan Pilatzke, and Cara Butler will bring their unique approach to Irish dance, blending in much of the drama of the Ottawa Valley in Canada where the brothers were raised.
“Their style of dancing is very different, very exuberant,” O’Donovan excitedly shared, “I can’t wait for the audience reaction to them.”
Clearly this show is a labor of love for O’Donovan, who travels extensively to see each and every musician perform onstage before selecting them.
“We nurture a sense of camaraderie with the cast. My wife Lindsay and I invite everyone in, share some brown bread and cheese, so everyone feels a part of it,” he said.
O’Donovan promises all that backstage fun pays off for the audience, too.
“This show allows us to reach out and touch the community in ways we don’t often get to do, but it is New England-based and we like that,” he said.
If you go:
What: The 10th Anniversary of A Christmas Celtic Sojourn with Brian O’Donovan
When: December 15, 2012 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Stockbrige Theater, Pinkerton Academy, Rt. 28 Bypass, Derry, N.H.
How much: Tickets range from $35-48. Tickets available online at www.wghb.org/celtic, by phone at 603-437-5210, or at the Stockbridge Theater Box Office.