Sweet winter music from Ireland and Canada

For a cozy winter head to the Jacob's Ladder Winter Weekend this December.

Canadian-Irish due 512 (photo credit: courtesy: Jacob's Ladder)
Canadian-Irish due 512
(photo credit: courtesy: Jacob's Ladder)
The Jacob’s Ladder Winter Weekend – the cozier version of the main spring event – is almost upon us, and will take place at Nof Ginosar by Lake Kinneret on December 2-3.
One of the most appealing aspects of the festival’s winter version is its intimacy. There is a family-like ambience, with all shows taking place indoors. Many patrons make the trek to the lakeside site every year, and most attend both editions of the festival.
But it is not only the audience that maintains a pleasant ambience. There are generally plenty of familiar faces and voices on the stages as well. Local regulars include the likes of high-energy Balkan and gypsy music troupe La Vache Qui Rit, Israeli-folk band Havurat Atomic, Celtic harp-player Sunita Staneslow, veteran guitarist-singer-harmonica player Shai Tochner and a bunch of like-minded musicians such as singer-songwriter Diane Kaplan. There will also be a couple of acts from abroad – returning American musical comedian Sean Altman and Canadian-Irish duo Sophie Lavoie and Fiachra O’Regan.
Numerous Irish performers have appeared at Jacob’s Ladder over the years – most of whom hailed from the Emerald Isle, so the pairing of Quebecois fiddler Lavoie and western-Irish uilleann- piper O’Regan is an intriguing prospect. The couple has been recording and performing together for around four years and, says O’Regan, it was musical love at first sound byte.
“The pipes make a sort of strident sound and the Quebec style of fiddle playing is very strong; They often play two strings at the same time, which means Sophie can carry her sound through when I’m playing,” he explains.
O’Regan comes from Roundstone, Connemara, in the west of Ireland and says material circumstances in his neck of the woods imbued local musicians with some special skills and takes on the traditional art.
“In old times, people didn’t have much money but they did have more time to get together to play music,” he says, adding that there has been something of a revival of those good old days. “Like other parts of the world, materially, things have gotten a bit worse here in the last few years, and people seem to have more time to talk to each other and be able to spend time together and play music.”
The lack of material comfort in the past, says O’Regan, led to the development of a distinctive western-Irish style of music. “We have a lot of old music and old songs here. I think songs are particularly strong here, because people didn’t have the means to buy instruments so they sang and danced. We have a lot of tunes here. People would get involved in the music in all sorts of ways.”
Rumor has it that, in the old days, musicians could walk into any pub anywhere in Ireland and get into an impromptu jam session that might go on all night, in between sipping lots of “the black stuff” – Guinness or any of the other fine stouts produced by the Irish. Although much of that tradition has died out, O’Regan says such unscheduled artistic occurrences are still known to happen.
“In Connemara in particular, there’s a lot of music organized for tourism but there are still pubs where you can turn up and you don’t know what’s going to be there. And people have started having sessions at their houses again – a few people get together and have a few drinks and play some music together. That’s great.”
Before he started with the uilleann pipes, O’Regan tried his hand – and lungs – at playing the tin whistle and the banjo. He says his initial musical training helped him master his eventual choice of instrument.
“I think playing the whistle had a lot of benefits because there’s a lot to take on with the pipes, a lot of coordination and stuff like that, aside from actually learning the tunes, so it’s a great benefit to have learned the tunes already from the whistle,” he explains.
Lavoie and O’Regan’s performance will include some material from their eponymous CD, which was released last year. “It will be live and more lively,” says O’Regan. “There’ll be some surprises at the show, I can tell you.”
Besides the on-stage entertainment there will be regular jam sessions in the various nooks and crannies of the Nof Ginosar hotel, as well as dance workshops, sing-alongs, tai-chi and all sorts of activities for all ages.
For tickets and more information about the Jacob’s Ladder Winter Weekend: www.jlfestival.com and (04) 685-0403 (Sun.-Thu. 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.). For accommodation information: (04) 670-0320. There will also be free camping for ticketholders.