August 21, 2009
Before I begin reviewing the performance by traditional Celtic act Moch Pryderi (Welsh for Pryderi's Pigs), let me first fill you in on the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage. This is a program that offers free performances in music, theater and dance every single day of the year. That's right, at 6 p.m., you can find a live performance that is absolutely free, 365 days a year. Why am I just now hearing about this?
Okay, enough about the venue and its generosity, let's talk about the music! Moch Pryderi are a six piece out of Fredericksburg, VA who play a blend of folk and Celtic music that sounds like...well...think the soundtrack to the movie Braveheart. Each of the band members contributes in his or her own unique way and the majority of them are multi-instrumentalists. They're quite an impressive act to witness live.
The band took to the stage on Friday evening dressed in what looked like traditional Welsh garb. The four men wore lacy white shirts with brown vests and matching pants (except bagpipe player Bob Roser, who wore a traditional kilt). The two women sported flowing green dresses that could have been pulled straight out of a performance of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
The band opened the show with a stunning instrumental number. When the steady percussion dropped in and I heard the first notes from Roser's pipes, I started looking around for the nearest biergarten...this is drinking music my friends. For their next song, Moch Pryderi played the Appalachian folk tune "Santa Anna's Retreat", adding their own Celtic twist that was highlighted by the faux Welsh accent in the vocals of frontman Bill Reese.
When the band started into "Am Alarch", which apparently "dumps on the French" and has a chorus that translates "into battle I will go", I felt like jumping to my feet and stomping around. Percussionist Rik Rice managed to create a thunderous sound out of a single drum that looked from my vantage point to be no bigger than a standard snare. Combined with Deborah Wenrich's fiddle and Dave Rich's guitar, Moch Pryderi's sound was hauntingly beautiful.
The star of this show however, was Mary Triola and her harp. More specifically, Triola was introduced as one of only 13 other musicians worldwide, outside the country of Wales, to be proficient in the Welsh triple harp. This instrument, as you may be able to guess, has three rows of strings and looks about as daunting as any instrument I've ever laid eyes on. Triola however, played the thing like a master. At one point, her band members even left the stage, allowing her to play a triple harp solo like a true Celtic rock star. Incredible!
When the band closed their hour long set with the instrumental "Dancing in the Pigsty", I was left with that amazing feeling you get when you realize you’ve just been entertained and educated at the same time. I came away with an appreciation for and an interest in Welsh/Breton music and history that I didn’t have prior to seeing these incredible musicians. And to think this enlightening experience was free? I truly was happier than moch in a pigsty.