Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Frankie Gavin and De Dannan

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts – Millennium Stage
Washington, D.C.
March 18th, 2010

This week’s show is rather appropriate, seeing as it comes right on the heels of St. Patrick’s Day. You see, Frankie Gavin is a legendary Irish fiddle player, hailing from County Galway, and his band De Dannan has been playing Irish folk songs in one incarnation or another since 1974. Having played for President Obama the day before as part of the White House’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities, Gavin and company were warmed up and ready to delight the crowd at the Millennium Stage on Thursday evening.

Taking the stage as a four piece, the band consisted of Damien Mullane on accordion, Eric Cunningham on percussion and flutes, Mike Galvin on guitar and of course, Frankie Gavin on the fiddle. The band launched right into an Irish jig that saw Cunningham playing a beat on an Irish drum called the bodhrán that had feet tapping throughout the venue in no time at all. Building on traditional Irish folk song structures, De Dannan seemed to blend a healthy dose of American country into the mix, giving the illusion of experiencing St. Patrick’s Day at the Grand Ole Opry.

After two such upbeat numbers, the band slowed the pace down as vocalist Michelle Lally joined them onstage for the French ballad “If You Love Me”. The song built on her soothing vocals alongside Galvin’s acoustic guitar before Gavin’s fiddle slowly entered the fray, followed by Mullane’s accordion and Cunningham’s flute, all coming together to create a lush, vibrant sound. Lally remained onstage for the next song as well, a more upbeat number that sounded like a mash up of Irish folk with contemporary pop music and had each band member grinning from ear to ear.

The next few songs were played sans vocals and featured Irish jig versions of both a Beatles tune and a Bach composition, illustrating the band’s ability to mix traditional Irish folk with other styles of music, like country, pop and classical. The brilliance of this tactic is that the songs never got lost in the mix, each one standing apart from the one before it. So when Lally, who is the band’s secret weapon in my opinion, joined the band for another ballad called “Summer of My Dreams”, it was perfect timing to mix things up once again, keeping the set fresh and exciting.

An impressive duet featuring Cunninghams’ flute and Galvin’s guitar followed, and then Frankie Gavin announced that he and De Dannan would spend the next few songs incorporating yet another genre into their Irish folk repertoire…the blues. These self described “bluesy jigs” were the highlights of the instrumental portion of the performance as they allowed each band member to really show off their skills on their respective instruments. Next, the band was joined again by Lally, in her final performance of the evening, as they played “Heartbreak Pier”, which is a song she described as being about the hardships and struggles of Irish immigrants.

Before bidding farewell to the Millennium stage, Frankie and De Dannan played a finale that started with a solo by Mullane on the accordion before Gavin joined in with his fiddle, followed closely by the guitar and bodhrán. Of course just when you thought you knew where this jig was heading, Cunningham dropped the percussion and broke into a solo of his own on the flute. This of course led into a guitar solo by Galvin that featured some impressive blues runs before the percussion, fiddle and accordion all fell right back into place, just as it had been at the beginning of the song. The performance was a perfect showcase of a very talented and legendary act that really put the cherry…err, shamrock on top of this St. Patrick’s Day. Cheers!

See this performance for yourself here.

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