CHESTERFEST: Old Time, Celtic music traditions to merge at Sept. 24’s ChesterFest

Two area musical groups will bring a glimpse of Appalachia and the British Isles to Chester on Saturday, Sept. 24: The Old Towne Celtic Players, a session group out of Petersburg, and the Cary Street Ramblers, a band bringing Richmond sounds from the mountains, will be adding quite a bit of twang to this year’s ChesterFest.

“It’s music you don’t hear everywhere – lots of people in this part of Virginia hear lots of Bluegrass and Old Time,” said Kathy Whittle, the whistle player for The Old Towne Celtic Players. “But for people who have never heard it, they may not know that they like it. And it’s truly an opportunity to hear something new.”

Numerous acoustic instruments also make up The Old Towne Celtic Players: fiddles, guitars, harps, banjos and an assortment of more obscure ones like the bodhran.  

Playing traditional Irish music, the group’s dozen or so members (their ages ranging from 17-70) play the kind of music often heard in Irish Pubs around the world, Whittle said. However, they don’t consider themselves a formal band.  

“We play more session tunes as opposed to fixed-performance,” said Jeff Brown, who plays the four-string Tenor banjo for The Old Towne Celtic Players (and the five-string, claw-hammer banjo with The Cary Street Ramblers).

The group meets at Longstreet’s Deli in Petersburg throughout the month, utilizing as many group members as possible, to play extended Celtic jams. They also play at Brickhouse Run, an English-style Pub in Old Towne Petersburg, on the fourth Saturday of every month, and have had jam sessions at various Petersburg Area Art League events.

The Cary Street Ramblers, on the other end of the spectrum, is a more performance-based Old Time musical group, playing most recently at this year’s Church Hill Irish Festival in late March.
 “Old Time music is Appalachian string-band tunes and songs that came to this country with early settlers,” said Tripp Johnson,  a founding member of group, “and have been passed from player to player ever since.”

Their instruments consist of: the fiddle, banjo, mandolin, guitar and up-right bass; and their six members – all in their 40s and 50s – perform an Old-Time jam at Cary Street Café on Sundays.

“In this age of electronics, people find it refreshing to listen to acoustic music,” said Johnson’s wife, Jenny, also a co-founder of the group. “We play high-energy, foot-stompin’, can’t-help-but-dance-to Old Time Appalachian string band music. We often find that listeners, who at first did know what Old Time music is, feel a real connection to our past ancestry.”

The two groups will perform back to back at ChesterFest on Saturday, Sept. 24; the first song by the Ramblers will start at approximately 1 p.m. As this fall marks their first ChesterFest performance, both bands are look forward to sharing the cultures their music keeps alive.

Both groups can be found on Facebook. For more information, call the Village News office at 751-0421.

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