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I confess in advance that I know next to nothing about Celtic music. On Saturday evening, I certainly found myself in the right place to learn, at the house of Barbara Ryan and Bernard Argent. These two kind, welcoming folks host summer concerts at their beautiful Fairfax Station home, as well as curating concerts at the Old Brogue in Great Falls and the Institute of Musical Traditions, which puts on shows in various locations around the D.C. area (IMT’s upcoming calendar features a diverse range of concerts from the Mediaeval Baebes to Kinobe & Soul Beat Africa to Väsen). On Saturday, they provided a venue for the talents of harpist Lily Neill, whom I previously saw in a duo with tap-dancer Cartier Williams at a wonderfully surprising Velvet Lounge concert last year. Neill has appeared at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage and was Strathmore’s artist in residence in February 2007, and now makes her home in Finland, where she studied at Helsinki’s Sibelius Academy.
If Barbara and Bernard’s roots are clearly in Celtic music (they also play in traditional Celtic band Iona, which they founded in 1986), their IMT concerts show a broad interest in a variety of folk musics, and Lily Neill was a perfect showcase. Neill seems to have a foundation in Irish and Scottish music, but the concert she played on Saturday also included tunes from Sweden, Norway, Finland, Israel, and Australia, as well as some of her own creation (and a riff from The White Stripes‘ “Seven Nation Army” for good measure). Neill’s talent goes beyond technical skill, which she has in spades, to include a remarkable ability to take all these diverse musical traditions and adapt them into her own distinct style.
An appreciative crowd of perhaps 30 people filled Barbara and Bernard’s living room for Neill’s concert. Normally these concerts are held outside, but the humid weather and threat of rain forced Saturday’s show indoors. Anyone with even a vague interest in Celtic music should look up these folks – they have a very good thing going.