Last night I went to the Great Park, a would-be future Central Park West, in Irvine. They have a free summer concert series, though admittedly they are now charging a $10. parking fee to boost the fund for completing the park, which is apparently and predictably coming in at way over the estimated cost of construction.
Liz and I went to see Solas, an Irish-American band of some fame. I had never heard of them before, but it was instant engagement for me. I sometimes don't have the patience to sit through concerts. This happens a lot, in fact. But I have always liked traditional Celtic music when it is done well, and it was done well here.
First, the Great Park is at this point a bit more built up than it was last year, but only a tiny bit. There is now an experimental farm, where vegetables and fruits are grown, much of the yield going to local food banks. There were pumpkins, yellow squash, strawberries, and that was only what I could see from behind the fence, in the half dark.
A couple of buildings and a merry-go-round have joined the huge orange hot air balloon that sits beside the outdoor stage where the music was performed. As the band played, the balloon rose up and down, tethered to the ground by guide ropes, taking people on rides to see the world from above. I have never gone on one of these rides. The lines are always too long, and my innate fear of heights probably has something to do with it as well. The band leader remarked on this enormous "red planet" that he no doubt could see and feel in the background as the band performed.
The band is an appealing assortment of personalities, two of whom still live in Ireland (plus the visiting vocalist), while the other two have immigrated to the States. The fiddle player lives in New York (Far Rockaway) while the band leader resides in Philadelphia.
I particularly was interested in the fiddler, a young woman with strong arms and shoulders and a tendency to hop up and down on stage, her bow strings flying like unruly hair, in all directions. She was the only one of the band who did not sing, at least not in the capacity of lead singer, on any of the songs.
I don't remember the band members' names, or I would name them here. They are tremendously energetic, as this style of music requires, and I was amazed by their precision, how the music, in all its variety, stopped and started so sharply, as if the notes were chiseled into rock.
They also write their own music, and the band showcases its members' compositions, which reflect their disparate though harmonious personalities. As a group though, they have recently been engaged in writing a CD about the historical link between Ireland and Montana, where the band leader's great uncle immigrated in the 19th century to work in a copper mine owned by a countryman, and perished a few years later. The family never learned what exactly happened to him.
After some research and help from fans in Montana, they learned how the uncle had died and where he was buried, and they began writing songs to celebrate not only this man's experience but that of thousands of other Irish immigrants who came to Montana to work in the mines.
It was perhaps the most memorable evening of music I can recall.