By Rick Coates
Okay, so the big venue shows may be non-existent in Northern Michigan at present, but there are a plethora of great musical offerings throughout the region this weekend at more intimate venues. The great folks in Cadillac at Gopherwood Concerts host Sister Wilene (a Patsy Cline Bob Wills honky-tonk hoedown). The City Opera House in Traverse City is not wasting any time since forming a new partnership with the MSU based Wharton Center as they bring the highly acclaimed Celtic group Solas to kick off their 2010 concert season.
Solas at the Opera House
Sometimes it just takes one song to get you to buy a concert ticket and that easily could be the case with Solas. The 1999 Grammy-winning song I Will Remember You, sung by Sarah McLachlan, was co-written by Seamus Egan, a founding member of Solas, who serves as the bands musical director in addition to his duties of playing the Irish flute, tenor banjo, mandolin, tin whistle, low whistle, guitar and bodhran. Solas also recorded that song as well and certainly anyone with those songwriting talents is worth checking out.
Okay, maybe one great song is not enough to entice you. Maybe you need some visual and audio reassurance before stepping up to the ticket window. Simply search YouTube for Solas and you will discover one of the best Irish music bands touring today.
Formed in 1995 and getting an early break and national exposure on A Prairie Home Companion, Solas quickly found its way not only into the hearts of American Irish music fans as well as with the harshest music critics in Ireland. While their lineup has changed over the past 15 years, their musical focus has not. Solas is rooted in traditional Celtic style folk and country melodies while blending in contemporary musical improvisations to create a lively upbeat live show.
Joining Egan is Winifred Horan on violins and vocals, accordionist and concertina specialist Mick McAuley, along with keyboardist and guitarist Eamon McElholm and newest addition vocalist Mairead Phelan.
They are currently on tour, performing music from their forthcoming CD, The Turning Tide. The new work uses their same successful formula of blending traditional Irish roots music while experimenting with new musical directions. The new songs are invigorating and add spice to Old World Celtic music, reaching both younger audiences as well as traditionalists.
So, what has kept Seamus Egan with the group for the past 15 years as other founding members have moved on for solo careers?
The challenge for any musical group is balancing between individual egos and what is in the best interest of the group, said Egan. We all have projects outside the group to fulfill our individual egos and that makes it easier to keep the group together, because when we are together we are Solas and not pursuing our individuality.
Solas will perform Saturday January 16 at the City Opera House in Traverse City. For additional details and to purchase tickets visit www.cityoperahouse.org. For a sampling of Solas check out their website www.solasmusic.com.
Sister Wilene brings old school country to Cadillac
They say there is a little bit of country in all of us, and that is certainly the case with the members of the Northern Michigan based Sister Wilene. Made up of musicians from a variety of musical genres, Sister Wilene delves into the traditions of Patsy Cline and Bob Wills, among other greats from country musics honky-tonk dance hall days.
Named after the only female member of Bill Monroes Bluegrass Boys (accordion player Wilene Forrester) Sister Wilene is fronted by rhythm guitarist Mary Sue Wilkinson from the bands Iowa Rose and The Pets. Her harmonious wide-ranging vocals will take you back to days gone by. Joining Wilkinson are drummer Dave Collini and bassist Kevin Gills who have been fixtures around the Northern Michigan music scene, performing in a variety of bands; both are sought-after session musicians.
Slide guitarist Joe Wilson of Steppin In It, mandolin virtuoso Don Julin (on guitar as well), and Lauran Bittinger on accordion round out the band. All of the members of Sister Wilene are veterans of not only the Northern Michigan music scene but have national touring credits as well with such bands as Rusty Blaides, Neptune Quartet, The Milroys and Dublin Station.
Be prepared to be lured to the dance floor with their blend of country swing and dance hall music, performed with the same passion as those who brought the style to the forefront of the country music scene more than 50 years ago.
Sister Wilene performs Saturday, Jan. 16 at 8 p.m. as part of the Gopherwood Concert Series in Cadillac at the The Elks Club located at 122 S. Mitchell St. Advance tickets are available by calling 231-775-2813, or visiting their website at www.gopherwoodconcerts.org. Gopherwood Concerts is affiliated with and funded by the Cadillac Arts Council. For a taste of Sister Wilene, check out sisterwilene.com.