They’re a band beyond description / Like Jehovah’s favorite choir / People joining hand in hand / While the music plays the band / Lord they’re setting us on fire.
The Grateful Dead, “The Music Never Stopped”
The Grateful Dead, “The Music Never Stopped”
The magnificently rich sound of two acoustic guitars conjures up the ancient musical landscapes of Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Brittany in the hands of Celtic guitar masters Steve Baughman and Robin Bullock. These two virtuosos together in concert, surrounded by guitars (and the occasional cittern, mandolin or banjo) and completely relaxed with their audience, form an irresistible onstage synergy. Traditional airs, jigs and reels blend with the timeless harp compositions of Ireland’s legendary bard Turlough O’Carolan, hypnotic Breton dances, rollicking Appalachian fiddle tunes and soulful meditations from both sides of the Atlantic, as two of North America’s leading Celtic guitarists join forces to create a uniquely beautiful sonic experience.
Steve and Robin met as instructors at the Swannanoa Gathering’s Guitar Week in 2000, sat down to share a few tunes informally, immediately realized that something very special was happening, and proceeded to capture that magic on their debut duo CD Celtic Guitar Summit. Honored by Acoustic Guitar Magazine with three “Editor’s Pick” awards as one of the top CDs of the year, Celtic Guitar Summit “sheds new light on O’Carolan’s enchanting melodies and on the long history of Celtic music they inspired,” according to The Washington Post. Sing Out! hailed Celtic Guitar Summit as “a shimmering collection of haunting melodies, ringing tones and consummate musicianship,” while Dirty Linen warned that the CD was “guaranteed to lower your blood pressure. Other side effects may include uncontrollable smiling or blissful humming.”
Since then, Steve and Robin have toured as a duo whenever their schedules would allow, on both coasts of the U.S. as well as in Canada and Italy, made cameo appearances on each other’s solo CDs, and finally, in 2014, teamed up in the recording studio again for their long-awaited second CD, Alone and Together, earning five-star rave reviews from Amazon to Allmusic.
Sue Richards and Robin Bullock blend the ancient and magical tones of the Celtic harp with the powerful resonance of the steel-string guitar, cittern and mandolin, drawing on Irish, Scottish, Welsh and Breton traditions to create something truly unique: beautiful and timeless, yet fresh and current. Sue and Robin have been friends and colleagues for decades, having both recorded WAMMIE Award-winning solo albums for the Maryland-based Maggie’s Music label and collaborated on many other projects over the years; now both transplants to the western North Carolina mountains, they have joined forces in a long-overdue chamber-Celtic duo.
Four-time National Scottish Harp Champion Sue Richards has performed numerous times for the Embassy of Ireland in Washington, DC, as well as for President Bill Clinton (twice!) and Queen Elizabeth II. She has served as president of the Scottish Harp Society of America (SHSA) and the Washington DC Folk Harp Society, and is now a SHSA Distinguished Judge. She has appeared on A Prairie Home Companion, sat in with The Chieftains, performed in Scotland at Celtic Connections in Glasgow and at the Edinburgh International Harp Festival, recently toured Norway and Sweden with the Harpa ensemble, and can be heard on dozens of award-winning recordings. In addition to her solo work, Sue is a founding member of the Grammy-nominated Ensemble Galilei.
Robin Bullock has been hailed as a “Celtic guitar god” by Baltimore City Paper and “one of the best folk instrumentalists in the business” by Sing Out! Magazine. His honors include the Association for Independent Music’s prestigious INDIE Award, Player’s Choice and Album of the Year Awards from Acoustic Guitar Magazine, and the Swannanoa Gathering’s Master Music Maker Award. Robin balances his solo work with his longtime role as touring sideman with Grammy Award-winning folk icon Tom Paxton, and was the sole support musician on Tom’s 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2015 “Together at Last” tours with fellow Grammy winner Janis Ian. Writing about Robin in The NPR Curious Listener’s Guide to Celtic Music, Thistle and Shamrock host Fiona Ritchie says “Bullock’s music accents the connections between Celtic and American traditional and acoustic music. That he is able to do so by playing almost any stringed instrument to perfection is his specialty.”
Dans Keff – Official Video
Danse des Deux Pommes Frites – Official Video
Carrickfergus – Institute of Musical Traditions, Rockville, MD
The duo of Aoife Clancy and Robin Bullock represents an exciting new collaboration between two of Celtic music’s most respected artists. Aoife (pronounced “Eefa”) Clancy brings a refreshing new voice to folk music, one that ranges from traditional Irish songs to ballads and contemporary folk. Aoife comes from the small town of Carrick-on-Suir, in County Tipperary, Ireland, where her musical career began at an early age. Her father Bobby Clancy, of the legendary Clancy Brothers, placed a guitar in her hands at age ten, and by age fourteen she was playing with her father in nearby pubs.
In 1995 Aoife joined the acclaimed group Cherish The Ladies, one of the most sought-after Irish American groups in history. Now with seven recordings under her belt Aoife has clearly established herself as one of the Divas of Irish and contemporary Folk Music.
“Whether she’s delivering an ancient Irish ballad, an American folk classic, or an urgent contemporary song, Aoife sings with the same gorgeous naturalism as if she were experiencing the emotions in the songs for the first time.” – Boston Globe
Aoife and Robin have been mutual fans for many years, as well as teaching colleagues at the Swannanoa Gathering’s Celtic Week. Now both residents of the western North Carolina mountains, their new duo brings forth the best in both the vocal and instrumental elements of the Irish musical tradition.
The Magical Trad and World Music of Helicon: A Hike Up the Mountain of the Muses
The INDIE Award-winning world-folk trio Helicon began life as the duo of Chris Norman and Ken Kolodner in the early 1980s. A fortuitous meeting at a festival added the prodigious talents of Robin Bullock in 1986, and Helicon was officially born. The group soon became one of a number of ensembles who were at the forefront of expanding the boundaries of traditional music in the U.S. and exploring the genre of what later became known as “world music.” Combining diverse musical backgrounds and interests, Helicon’s mission became the interpretation of traditional folk music from around the world.
The group took its name from Mount Helicon, celebrated in Greek mythology as the home of the Muses, nine goddesses who each inspired a different discipline in the arts. The Muses were often invoked at the beginning of great lyrical poems, such as the Homeric epics, to give inspiration or speak through the poet’s words. This visionary image of Helicon was later revived by the Roman poets, once more becoming an emblem of cultural inspiration during the Renaissance.
The trio Helicon pays homage to this noble lineage in their virtuosic and high-energy performances of an astoundingly varied repertoire, ranging from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales, Italy, France, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Greece, Romania, Macedonia, Ukraine, Israel, Russia, China, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Brazil, Haiti, Kenya, Australia and New Zealand along with their own original compositions, earning them praise in the Oxford Handbook of Music Education, Volume One as creating “an early form of world/traditional chamber music, another approach not yet capitalized on.”
Helicon’s 1999 CD A Winter Solstice with Helicon won the Association for Independent Music’s prestigious INDIE Award for Seasonal Recording of the Year. Their other critically acclaimed recordings include Horizons (1992), The Titan (1990) and their live debut Helicon (1987). The individual members of Helicon have over fifty solo recordings to their credit as well, making many guest appearances on each other’s CDs.
“Helicon’s brand of hypnotic Celtic-inspired dance rhythms makes a heady brew when mixed with this wide-ranging set of carols and winter songs. That Helicon’s stylized treatment can tame and blend this eclectic set is a tribute to the solid musicianship of this talented trio.” – Home Theater Hi Fi (Review of A Winter Solstice with Helicon)
Nova Scotia January/Isle of Lismore – Winter Solstice Concert, Kraushaar Auditorium, Towson, MD
Québécois Set – Winter Solstice Concert, Kraushaar Auditorium, Towson, MD
Hush My Babe (Christmas Lullaby) – Winter Solstice Concert, Kraushaar
Two O’Clock in the Morning (w/guests Charm City Junction, Elke Baker & Jonathan Srour) – Winter Solstice Concert, Kraushaar Auditorium, Towson, MD
Robin Bullock and Michel Sikiotakis were a Franco-American duo based in Paris during Robin’s years living in France (2000-2013), playing “pure drop” traditional Irish airs, jigs and reels on wooden flute, pennywhistle, guitar and bouzouki. French flute and whistle player Michel Sikiotakis is acknowledged as a leading traditional musician in Ireland, where he won the 1985 All-Ireland whistle championship. He is also a founding member of Paris’s premier traditional Irish group, Taxi Mauve, and the innovative Celtic-Berber fusion group Mugar. Robin and Michel met in an Irish pub session in Paris, the chemistry was immediate, and they went on to tour together for a decade in France, Germany, Ireland and the U.S., including such prestigious venues as the Ennis Trad Fest in County Clare, Ireland, Hôtel du Nord in Paris, and the historic Capitol Hill United Methodist Church in Washington DC.
The duo is on indefinite hiatus now that Robin has returned to the United States, but he and Michel are still fast friends, and wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a reunion if they ever found themselves on the same side of the ocean at the same time… In the meantime, their 2003 duo recording The Irish Girl, called “delightful” by Folk Roots Magazine and “highly recommended” by the All Music Guide, remains available as a download from Robin’s Bandcamp page.
“Whether flying solo or soaring with others, Bullock has an extraordinary command of timbre and dynamics…It’s easy to overlook his brilliant technique, since it’s always in service of the music.” – Guitar Player
“When you know how to spin a reel or a jig like Michel Sikiotakis…it’s not only an affair of technique but of spirit.” – Trad Magazine (France)
2016 Swannanoa Solstice Promo Video
A Swannanoa Solstice
A holiday tradition since 2003 at Asheville, North Carolina’s Diana Wortham Theatre, A Swannanoa Solstice is a celebration of the midwinter season featuring music, dance, storytelling and breathtaking visual images of winter in the mountains. Internationally renowned recording artists and multi-instrumentalists Al Petteway, Amy White, and Robin Bullock, headliners of the show since its inception, perform Celtic, Appalachian and world-influenced holiday music on guitars, mandolins, Appalachian dulcimer, Celtic harp, bouzouki, piano, and world percussion. Al is a Grammy Award winner and he and Amy as a duo are Indie Award winners, as is Robin. Joining them are four-time Grammy Award-winning musician, storyteller, historian and television host David Holt, nationally acclaimed dancers Phil Jamison and Ellie Grace, Highland bagpiper E.J. Jones and his band, and host Doug Orr, president emeritus of Warren Wilson College and founder of The Swannanoa Gathering. A two-show sellout every year, A Swannanoa Solstice is an evening of wonder, wassail, and warm merrymaking.
Another December concert tradition for Robin, along with Helicon’s Winter Solstice Concert, A Swannanoa Solstice and his annual southeast U.S. Celtic Guitar Christmas tour with Steve Baughman, is the annual holiday concert for the Institute of Musical Traditions in Rockville, MD, joining forces with the duo of Ken Kolodner and Elke Baker. Ken (hammer dulcimer and fiddle) is Robin’s longtime compadre in the Indie Award-winning trio Helicon; Elke (fiddle and viola) is a U.S. National Scottish Fiddle Champion and respected scholar of Scottish fiddle music. Ken and Elke have one CD as a duo, Out of the Wood, and the three have performed and recorded together over the years in countless different contexts; at this once-a-year occasion they come together for an evening of Celtic, Appalachian and Cape Breton dance tunes combined with beloved Christmas repertoire, sharing their instrumental mastery and deep friendship.
Institute of Musical Traditions, Rockville, MD, “Forvantan”, “Der Winter ist Vergangen”, “Polka de Soleil” & “Reel Antoinette”
Institute of Musical Traditions, Rockville, MD, Richmond Medley
Greenfire reunion at Shepherdstown (WV) Music and Dance Festival, 2007
Greenfire was a unique Celtic group that had a brief but fruitful existence in the late ’90s. Multi-instrumentalist Robin Bullock and hammer dulcimer player Ken Kolodner, longtime partners in the world-folk trio Helicon, met fiddler Laura Risk at a late-night jam at the Winnipeg Folk Festival and the three spent several memorable hours diving deep into traditional tunes together. When Ken recorded his first solo CD, Walking Stones, for the Dorian label in 1997, he recruited Laura and Robin as his “band,” and by the end of the sessions it was clear to all involved that a new group had indeed formed, one that combined the fire of Celtic traditions with the grace and precision of a chamber ensemble with their unusual instrumentation of hammer dulcimer, fiddle, and guitar or cittern.
The original incarnation of Greenfire lasted long enough to record one more CD together in 1998, Greenfire: A Celtic String Ensemble, and play a handful of concerts (including appearances with the Baltimore Choral Arts Society and members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, performing Robin’s orchestrations of Greenfire’s material) before Robin left the group to move to France in 2000. Ken and Laura carried on as Greenfire for one more CD the following year, A Roof for the Rain, with Keith Murphy and Joseph Sobel trading off on guitar and cittern, before going their separate ways.
Laura now lives in Montreal and continues an active performing, recording and teaching career, now and then crossing paths and sharing tunes with Robin at the Swannanoa Gathering’s Celtic Week. Ken remains one of the country’s busiest traditional musicians and instructors, running week-long hammer dulcimer workshops in Sandbridge, Virginia, maintaining a large roster of private students in Baltimore, touring and recording with his son Brad on banjo and fiddle (three duo CDs so far!), and reuniting with Robin every December for Helicon’s annual Winter Solstice Reunion Concert.
In 1998 bluegrass mandolin legends Butch Baldassari and John Reischman got together at Steve Kaufman’s Acoustic Kamp in Tennessee and decided to team up for a twin mandolin CD. The only question: who would be the third instrumentalist, who could complete the ensemble with cittern and/or guitar at Butch and John’s level of technical proficiency while bringing the necessary multi-stylistic expertise to cover the project’s range of Americana, Latin and Celtic repertoire? The story goes that Butch ran into Robin at a jam later that night, picked a few with him, and went back to John and said “I’ve found the third guy.”
And so it was that in early 1999 Butch, John and Robin convened in Nashville for a week and produced an acoustic masterpiece, Travellers. Bluegrass Unlimited magazine praised Travellers in a “Highlight Release” review as “a truly exceptional record…mandolin-based ensemble playing at its best, filled with grace and charm and warmth and insight. I can’t think of an instrumental CD I’ve enjoyed more recently.” Dirty Linen, the Magazine of Folk and World Music, hailed it as “perhaps the best, most unpretentious acoustic music to come around in some time…spectacular playing from each of the three…Travellers has the trappings of becoming a road-tested classic.” Years later, the founder of Northfield Mandolins would share with Robin and John at the Swannanoa Gathering that Travellers was his gold standard for mandolin tone.
However, with John living in Vancouver, Butch in Nashville and Robin (at the time) in Tripleval, France, the trio was simply too far apart for touring to be feasible; their only live performances together would take place during staff concerts at Kaufman Kamp (one track from 2002 can be heard on the CD The Best of the Kamp Koncert Series Volume 5).
Sadly, Butch passed away on January 10, 2009, at the age of 57, from cancer.
During Butch’s final months, Brian “Doc” Hull solicited previously unreleased recordings from many of Butch’s friends and fellow musicians, including Robin and John along with Ricky Skaggs, David Grisman, Sam Bush, Tim O’Brien, Tony McManus, Steve Kaufman, and many more, for a tribute CD to raise funds for Butch’s medical expenses. The resulting CD, The Road Home: A Tribute to Butch Baldassari, saw the light of day just after Butch’s passing, but he did hear the completed master, and according to Doc, upon hearing the tracks contributed by Robin and John, Butch commented that making the Travellers album had been the most creative week of his life.