Scottish band wows a packed house

 

Last updated 4/23/2024 at 9:49am

Photo by T. Lee Brown

Folk group Breabach lights up The Belfry with traditional and contemporary music.

It's a mild Wednesday evening. Warm sun stripes the sidewalk outside an old church in Sisters. "This show is sold out," reads a sandwich-board sign.

The church in question is The Belfry, a music venue and creative community center. The show is Breabach, a contemporary Scottish folk group claiming "deep roots in Highland and Island tradition with the innovative musical ferment of their Glasgow base."

The audience gets drinks and waits in anticipation. As the five performers begin to play, a delighted hush falls over the Belfry crowd. Breabach's talent and love of the music is evident from the first note.

Acoustic guitar, fiddle, bouzouki, highland bagpipe, and other pipes and whistles fill the stage. Every musician is skilled and appears deeply comfortable onstage, absorbed in the music, enjoying each other and the crowd.

They all sing. They all lead up stories and patter between songs. The ease of the musicians' interrelationship, the cumulative effect of their ensemble, brings a hypnotic fluidity to the show.

The female vocalist, Megan Henderson, has a voice both angelic and firm. When the men join in on harmonies, the church walls vibrate. She remarks on their recent whirlwind tour of California and Alaska. It was all grand, but Sisters "has the edge, because you have the alpaca farm."

Themes of nature, regeneration, and rebirth weave throughout the music, also available on the band's new album "Fàs." Springtime animates the music; an awareness of current environmental issues can be heard.

"Eadar an Dà Bhràigh" celebrates the resurgence of wildlife and trees in a nature preserve near their home in Scotland. The tune "Fridays for Future" was named by fiddler, vocalist, and dancer Henderson after she took part in a climate strike march together with guitarist Ewan Robertson and their daughter.

A family from Redmond sits near the pipers. Daughter Annaliese Greenwood, age "10 almost 11," appreciates the music.

"I like it," she explains, "because I like bagpipe music." She clarifies that she has never heard bagpipe music before. "It makes me feel happy."

Her 8-year-old brother August weighs in: "I liked the bagpipes and the flutes best," he says.

Their dad, Wilhelm Greenwood, says, "I like listening to music from around the world. It's special to listen to a band from Scotland."

He's pleased to experience Breabach on a special night out for his wife's birthday.

"The music makes you want to put on your tap shoes and do a little dance," he says.

Outside during the "interval," as the Scots call it, a Leo moon rises in the twilight. Spring has come to Sisters Country. The snow in town has melted. The sun has set; its tangerine glow still illuminates the town and the contours of Black Crater in the distance.

Heading back inside, audience members chat in the entryway. A portrait of beloved local Jack Nagel, who passed a few months back, sits on a table, lit by a single candle.

The show begins again. Brad Tisdel of show presenter SFF Presents - the Artist Formerly Known as Sisters Folk Festival - acts as emcee, noting that as part of their appearance in Sisters, Breabach will connect with youth in Melissa Stolasz's Outlaws Strings group at Sisters Middle School.

Rhythmic thumping, dancing, and five-part harmonies round out the second set. A couple sits in back, savoring the performance. Sisters residents Jason Todd and his wife have been to Scotland, "like a lot of people who are here."

He describes the band as "great. I love the dueling bagpipes. That's something I haven't seen before."

The couple occasionally attends events at The Belfry or festivals.

"We're kind of homebodies, but this brings people out, brings people together," he says. "It's an amazing venue."

The show's sound is largely clear and well balanced, the audience pronounced in their appreciation: clapping, hollering. With a seated audience there is little in the way of dancing; people seem energized nonetheless. The lighting occasionally distracts from the performance. Mostly, though, the show feels, looks, and sounds excellent.

After the encore, members of Breabach sign CDs. Conal McDonagh, who plays pipes and whistle, says, "It was lovely to be here. We had a great drive down here today from Seattle, and like, just looking at the scenery was brilliant. Yeah. Almost reminded us of home, but more volcanoes I suppose."

Adds James Lindsay, who plays double bass, "We've had such a great time here playing at The Belfry, for a great crowd. What a great community spirit you've got here in Sisters."

As they prepare to head out, the band say they hope to play Sisters again. SFF workers fold up chairs. Bar staff clear out glasses and cans.

Audience members walk out into a cold, clear night sparkling with stars. Some carry tired children; others walk slowly on quiet streets, admiring the dark sky. Some will be back for the Big Ponderoo or Sisters Folk Festival. Some may find their feet tapping in weeks to come, carrying the sound of Breabach beyond The Belfry, into the woods, kitchens, and trails of Sisters Country.

 

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