Seamus Shinners: The Man Behind the Music
June 19, 2011Just mention his name in certain music circles and one will quickly find
that Seamus Shinners is a legend. He may not be a household name in
Northern Michigan, but there is a good chance over the past 20 years if
you are an aficionado of music you have attended at least one of the more
than 500 concerts he has presented around the region.
The founder of Connemara Concerts, Shinners has brought an eclectic
collection of performers, from Greg Brown to Second City to Lynn Miles to
Chris Smither to name just a few. His quiet but passionate demeanor has
helped shape the culture of the music scene in the region. While
concertgoers from the area have benefitted so have the performers Shinners
has brought in.
Seamus has meant so much to my career and the careers of so many other
musicians, said Chris Smither. Not just in connecting us to audiences in
Northern Michigan and providing us with venues to perform at, but his
passion for our work that reminds all of us while it is a business we are
in and it is our livelihood, at the end of the day we all got into this to
make music and to entertain. For us musicians coming to Northern Michigan
for a show Seamus is presenting is not seen as work but rather a
celebration of our musical path. It is why all of us keep coming back and
doing shows with him, he gets us, and as a result so do the audiences he
provides for us. As musicians we cant ask for anything more.
Singer songwriter Bill Staines agrees.
Seamus Shinners is well known and respected throughout the country,
especially within the folk community. When he calls on us we respond out
of respect for all that he has done for us over the years, said Staines.
Recently I had some shows in southern Michigan and drove home to the east
coast on Monday for a couple of shows during the week. On Wednesday as I
was heading out my wife asked where I was going and I said back to
Michigan and she responded but you were just there. I smiled and said,
but these shows are for Seamus and she smiled and nodded.
ROOTS OF MUSIC
Seamus Shinners first started promoting shows in 1992 in collaboration
with the Traverse Area Arts Council (TAAC).
I was on the board of directors and I was encouraging them to expand
beyond the visual arts to the performing arts, said Shinners. The rest
of the board was very acceptable to this. At that time the Bayside
Travelers were responsible for bringing in a lot of shows and Gary Worden
was one of those leading that charge within their organization. Well Gary
was bringing in Greg Brown and I said to Gary, would it be okay to do two
shows with Greg? and he agreed. So one show was hosted by the Bayside
Travelers at JRRs Warehouse (The Loading Dock) and the next night the
TAAC hosted Greg Brown at The Bay Theatre in Suttons Bay. That was my
first show and it was in May of 1992.
Shortly after that first show Shinners was contacted by Gene Jenneman, the
newly hired director of the Dennos Museum Center.
Gene had hired my wife Jackie to assist him with the opening of the
museum as well as being the first curator, said Shinners. I volunteered
to help with folk, world music and blues shows. Jeff Haas helped with jazz
and John Becker was helping with classical. For the first few years we
were the Three Musical Musketeers helping Gene with shows at the
Eventually Jenneman took over the the responsibilities of booking the acts
at the Dennos himself, leaving Shiners looking for new opportunities.
I called Rick Shimel (Meridian Entertainment) as I was trying to figure
this business out and he was very gracious with his time and energy. He
helped out tremendously to understand the business side of this business,
said Shinners. Some of my early venues included The Keller in the
basement of Shields Restaurant in Traverse City and Bill Thomass -- now
the Bay Leaf -- along with the Bay Theatre in Suttons Bay were early
places to commit to doing shows with me.
Seamus recalls that he landed in Traverse City 40 years ago with his wife
by pure chance.
We were living in Buffalo and a high school buddy of mine was living
there as well.His wife was student teaching in Traverse City and he wanted
to visit her. I said hey we are not doing anything, we will drive you
out. We really fell in love with the area. I said to Mark Brown and Cathy
Hundley if you guys are interested in having company, Jackie and I would
move out here. Well, a month later he called and invited us to come and
live with them in 1972 in this old farmhouse on the Leelanau Peninsula
north of Leland.
Shinners immediately started making musical connections that summer as his
friends were also musicians and had a weekly gig at The Cove. Shinners
hung out there and started forging friendships with musicians that would
prove helpful in his future endeavors.
Eventually his wife Jackie was hired to be the art director for the
Traverse Area Arts Council and Shinners in 1974 would land a job with the
transportation department with the Traverse City Area Public Schools,
another connection that would prove to be useful.
I got to know the people in the various music departments and I was able
to bring artists in for a performance at night and then have them go to
the schools and do workshops and performances for the students.
He credits his longevity in presenting concerts to the many venues and
others who shared his same vision.
When I first started New Moon Records it was going strong and Mike and
Teresa Parshall (owners) were always very supportive, said Shinners.
They often quietly underwrote blues shows at the Museum when no one knew
if blues shows would work at the museum. I built a great working
relationship with them and I worked with them on several shows.
Shinners is also grateful to the many venues that stepped up over the
years. Places like Kejaras Bridge, Cedar Tavern, Rhondas Wharfside
(Frankfort) from the past along with the InsideOut Gallery and Sleders
Porch where he currently hosts shows.
I am proud of what we were able to accomplish at Union Street with the
Early Show series over a six year period. Certainly the smoke free aspect
was huge, especially for the performers, said Shinners. The other aspect
that we accomplished was essentially concerts in a club setting which was
somewhat foreign to the area at the time. Now it has become very popular.
What a performer really loves is to be able to go into a club and be the
center of attention and not have people playing pool, watching TV, playing
the jukebox. That environment elevates the experience for everybody and we
accomplished that setting there.
For Shinners, he had a simple goal for each of his 500-plus concerts.
My philosophy, or maybe I should say my hope, is that when you come to
one of the shows I am putting on, the performer will do something with a
song or musical riff that just stops you cold. For me the perfect show is
when the artist feels the energy of audience and vice versa.
Shinners has never pursued his musical promotion endeavors for any
significant gain, in fact he points out that certain financial guardian
angels have helped keep his work a reality.
I really see what I am doing as a small piece of the cultural jigsaw
puzzle in the region, said Shinners. I have had the good fortune of
having met a lot of people along the way who share the passion who have
helped me make this happen, most have become my friends.
If he doesnt measure his success from the bottom line, exactly how does
he define his success?
For me the greatest testament to my work is that I have regulars who tell
me they trust my musical choices; and even when I bring acts in that are
unfamiliar, these regulars say we know this artist is going to be good or
you wouldnt bring them in.
After 36 years with the schools, Shinners retired last year. His wife
Jackie also retired recently from NMC where in addition to her work as the
first curator of the Dennos Museum she taught in the art department. So
just how long will Shinners keep presenting concerts?
I admire what Mike and Kim Curths are doing at the InsideOut Gallery,
they are bringing a real diverse musical offering to the community. Sam
Porter is another one that I admire with what he has been doing recently,
said Shinners. I guess what I am saying is and I have been giving some
serious thought to this is that if I were to walk off the stage as a
presenter I dont think the area will hurt for musical offerings. I am not
sure when I am going to stop, sometime in the next couple of years but I
feel good that there are others in the area who will carry on.
Fortunately Seamus Shinners is not leaving anytime soon he has a full
lineup of shows this summer and is currently working on his fall concert
series. Here is a sampling:
Sunday June 26: Sister Wilene - Sleders 7 p.m.
Thursday June 30: Cameron Blake - Sleders 7 p.m.
July 2: Marthas Trouble - InsideOut Gallery TC
July 8: The Heatons - Irish folk duo - Elk Rapids
July 13: Claudia Schmidt & Sally Rogers - Cabbage
July 15: Igor & the Red Elvises - Insideout Gallery TC
July 17: Mulebone - 6023 Lake Street, Glen Arbor
July 20: Michael on Fire - 6023 Lake Street, Glen
July 21: Michael on Fire - Insideout Gallery
July 22: Mulebone - Seed Studio Gallery, Elk Rapids
Saturday July 23: Michael on Fire - Elk Rapids Town
July 24: Will Pearsall/Chelsea Saddler - 6023 Lake
Street, Glen Arbor
July 30: Trina Hamlin - Elk Rapids Town Hall
August 2: Goitse Irish quintet - Elk Rapids Town
August 3: Goitse Irish quintet - 6023 Lake Street,
August 4: The RFD Boys in Frankfort - Garden
August 7: The RFD Boys - 6023 Lake Street, Glen
August 17: Rita Hosking - Old Homestead Rd Glen
August 31: Josh White Jr - Elk Rapids Town Hall