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The Annual Carolan Festival

It’s late June in Worcester, Vermont; home of the Annual Carolan Festival. Turlough O’Carolan, a growing favorite among folk musicians around the world, was an Irish harper in the 1600’s and 1700’s. His tunes have been adapted to many styles and instruments; all celebrated here, in his honor. I enter the barn, and approach the back door deck, where it opens up to the main tent - back-dropped by a panoramic view of glorious green mountains.

Musicians unzip or snap open their instrument cases among the chairs, and the sound of varying notes gliding off from strings carries on the breeze. There are fiddles, guitars, harps, dulcimers, bodhrans, guitars and an Irish bagpipe. They tune up for the many performances listed in the “very flexible” schedule of events handout. Potluck dishes stream in and fill shaded tables and coolers off to the left. Beach chairs are set up by the tent, as some stroll beneath it to sit in the shade, while others choose the open deck off the back of the barn.

Finally, musicians assemble and take their places on stage, as the last adjustments are made to the sound system. An open session begins the annual Carolan Festival of Worcester, Vermont – hosted by John Mallery.

A Carolan favorite SheeBeg SheeMore, headed by John Mallery, on the keyboard, is rendered harmoniously with fiddles, guitars and the recorder, played by John’s wife, Fran Mallery. For an hour, tune choices are decided upon and played out beautifully, as musicians take turns with sets. Rounds of applause and smiles of appreciation fill the gaps between songs.

Workshops including Celtic finger-style guitar and tune-centered gatherings, a lecture on the life of O’Carolan by Art Edelstein, breakouts and small sessions are followed by delicious main dishes and desserts.

More performances follow the meal including spontaneous ensembles, step dances organized by Elizabeth Hunt Schwartz, contra dancing and soloists.

Intoxicated by a long day of musical delights, all follow as John lights the bonfire at twilight. Gathered around in a circle, clasped hands lift to the sky in honor of the Feast of St. John. The bonfire blazes against a darkening sky, and a lovely day filled with the music composed by Turlough O’Carolan, comes to a close.

For more information on the Annual Carolan Festival, or to purchase John Mallery’s CDs, or a DVD of the first festival, email: johnmallery@hotmail.com .

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