Northern Roots Traditional Music Festival returns for eighth year

BRATTLEBORO — Southeastern Vermont's Northern Roots Traditional Music Festival kicks off Saturday, Jan. 31.

Now in its eighth year, the Brattleboro Music Center's annual festival brings together local and regional musicians representing the best of various northern musical traditions.

This year's festival features more than 20 musicians and the rich traditions of New England, French Canada, England, Ireland, Scandinavia, and Scotland.

The festival is a celebrated opportunity for Brattleboro's community of traditional musicians to come together to share their music with each other and the community at large.

The festival also draws on the wealth of talent in the region, with players from across New England coming to perform, teach, and participate in informal sessions.

On tap at this daylong event are workshops, performances, pub sessions, a dance band, and a family dance, all of which culminate in an evening performance honoring the best of the northern musical traditions.

Among the musicians featured in this year's evening performance and daytime workshops are local favorites Lissa Scheckenburger (fiddle) and Corey DiMario (tenor guitar and bass); maritime song aficionado Nicole Singer from Northampton, Mass. Mark Roberts returns to the festival with his Irish flute expertise and help from Irish fiddler Laurel Martin and Kieran Jordan, renowned Irish step dancer and set dance leader.

For the first time, Northern Roots will bounce with the jubilant sounds of The Old Swanabees from Western Massachusetts, a six-piece English cèilidh band with brass.

Also returning for this year's evening performance is the ever-changing, crowd-pleasing Traddleboro ensemble. With a name reflecting the rich presence of traditional players in Brattleboro, Traddleboro is a shifting conglomeration of local musicians who each year create and perform a set of music specifically for the Northern Roots Festival.

This year's Traddleboro ensemble includes expert fiddler Ethan Hazzard-Watkins joining husband and wife Flynn Cohen and Liz Simmons, two great singers and guitar players.

The daytime schedule includes many participatory workshops, covering Irish fiddle style, an Irish flute workshop, accompanying Irish tunes on guitar, five-string banjo for Irish music, harmony singing, a sea songs workshop, French Canadian tunes for all instruments, and a dance band prep.

Also new to the festival: two introductory dance sessions with Kieran Jordan: Sean-nós dance, a form of solo step dancing and set dancing (the Irish version of square dancing). Both sessions are open to beginners and great fun.

Daytime performances include a demonstration of solo step dance styles from several regions and separate panels of flute and fiddle styles.

Another festival debut: a session of listening to recordings of traditional music with analysis and guided listening by Corey DiMario.

Peter and Mary Alice Amidon return with a family concert that promises to engage traditional music followers of all ages. This is followed, naturally, by a family dance.

Welcoming all musicians and rounding out the daytime activities are a slow jam, Irish and French Canadian sessions, and a pub sing.

Most of the action takes place at New England Youth Theatre on Flat Street, with multiple teaching sessions occurring simultaneously throughout the building. Performances also occupy the main theater; the family dance is on the stage.

McNeill's Brewery, only a couple of blocks away, provides the perfect setting for a rollicking afternoon of jam sessions and a traditional pub sing.

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