Celtic Harvest carries Irish spirit to Smyrna Opera House

From left, the members of Celtic Harvest are Mike Nielsen, Jan Crumpley, Jim McGiffin and Kathy Doyle. They play the Smyrna Opera House Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. (Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller)

SMYRNA — For the past 21 years, Celtic Harvest has delighted audiences throughout the Delmarva region with its performances of traditional and original material of Celtic music.

That rich tradition continues Saturday night with a show at the Smyrna Opera House.

The group of five musicians, who have been involved with the Delaware Folk music scene since 1997, credits their bond and love for music for the group’s success throughout the years.

“This is fun to us,” said Jan Crumpley, who plays the concertina, flute and whistle for the band. “For the past 21 years we’ve been getting together every Sunday to just sing and have jam sessions. We’re a family.”

The group members include Kathy Doyle (piano and vocals), Bob Frazier (guitar and vocals), Jim McGiffin (bass, and banjo) and Mike Nielsen (harp and bouzouki).

Celtic music is defined as music that originates from the countries of Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and that unique sound is what originally brought the group members together.

“We all found out we shared a love for Celtic music through the Delaware Friends of Folk,” Mr. Nielsen said.

Delaware Friends of Folk is a nonprofit organization dedicated to furthering the cause of folk music and folk musicians. They sponsor a folk festival ever year.

From left, members of Celtic Harvest rehearse in Dover. They are Jan Crumpley on whistle, Mike Nielsen on bouzouki and Jim McGiffin on tenor banjo. (Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller)

“That was the start of it. Different musicians are involved and we would run into each other at the jam sessions they would have. I met everyone there and that’s where we started to form a bond and decided to form the group,” Mr. Nielsen said.

The group plays traditional Celtic music and their own original material.

“This music exists in certain parts of the world. We try to draw the music from all these different places for our sets to show the different flavors of Celtic music,” Mr. Nielsen said.

Mr. McGiffin said they knew they had something special when they constantly kept getting booked at the same venues.

“One of our first gigs was in Westminster (assisted-living center) in Dover,” Mr. McGiffin said. “That was one of our first gigs and we played there a lot of times. People asked us back a lot. Before the Grey Fox was there, it used to be W.T. Smithers, and the owner of that loved Irish music. So she would have us in there three times a year.

“People responded to us well. They enjoyed the music — that’s when I knew this was going to be something.”

But in 2003 one of their original members, Kelly Crumpley passed away, which left the group wondering if they were going to continue performing.

“We were deciding what we wanted to do as a band as Kelly was our fiddle player,” Mr. McGiffin said. “Then we thought to ourselves that we know this guitar player who lives down the street, so we asked him if he was interested and that’s when Bob joined the band and we became a quintet.”

It was during that time their bond grew even stronger.

“We rehearse every Sunday,” Mrs. Doyle said. “We get together and have jam sessions and try to get together as much as we can. We truly enjoy each other. Now we try to rehearse as much as possible since we have a lot of shows coming up.”

One of the group’s busiest times of year is March because of St. Patrick’s Day.

“March is our toughest month,” Mr. McGiffin said. “The week around St. Patrick’s Day we’ll have 10 to 11 gigs that week. We find a way to balance it out as much as we can. St. Patrick’s Day is on a Sunday this year and we’re performing at a church after the Smyrna event on Saturday. It will be tough, but we’re used to it.”

Mr. McGiffin said they love to perform.

“We love being out there,” Mr. McGiffin said. “My wife Kathy is a beautiful singer, but the only person that knew that was me, so we helped her not become as nervous about performing.”

Mrs. Doyle said she still gets nervous when she performs.

“It all goes away once we begin, or when I start playing or singing,” Mrs. Doyle said. “We rehearse these songs a million times so if we make a mistake we just laugh it off or for the most part. If we do make a mistake, the only people that know is us.”

The group knows over 100 songs and draws inspiration anywhere they can.

“We kind of feel out what people want to hear during the performance,” Ms. Crumpley said. “We play a variety of songs. We even go to concerts together. If we hear a band that we like, we tell ourselves that we’re going to learn that song for our sets.”

The group works off each other even when they come up with the original songs.

“Bob and I have written three songs together,” Mr. McGiffin said. “He called me one day randomly and told me he had a song that he came up with, but the words were terrible. He told me his idea and I helped with the words. I’ve done that with him too. We just all work well with each other because we’ve been together for so long.”

The art of music is what keeps them bonded. Getting a chance to perform a mix of their original songs and popular songs people are accustomed to hearing from them is why they’re excited about their upcoming performance at the Smyrna Opera House.

“We love that place,” Mr. McGiffin said. “The crowd is lovely and the people who come enjoy what we do. It will be a lot of fun.”

Mrs. Doyle plays the piano while her bandmates rehearse. The group has gotten together to practice every Sunday for the past 21 years.

“We’ll get to play some crowd pleasers — that’s for them. But we also get to do some stuff that they’ve never heard before and they’re responsive to it,” he added. “We play some songs that stretch them a little, but at the same time we play songs that they’re comfortable with.”

Mr. Nielsen said he believes that sense of comfortability that they have with their audience is why they’ve been able to perform for so long.

“We really work hard to connect with our audience,” Mr. Nielsen said. “We talk and interact with them during our sets. We make ourselves accessible and we make it feel like we’re friends with them. We established a bond and a rapport with the people that are listening to us. That’s very important.”

Through it all, Celtic Harvest has no plans to slow down anytime soon.

“We’re going to play until we can’t anymore,” Mr. McGiffin said. “It’s all about having fun. When we stop having fun that’s when we’ll stop playing.”

Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. Smyrna show are $16 general admission, $14 Smyrna Opera House members, senior citizens (65-plus), military and $8 for children 12 and under.

They can be purchased at SmyrnaOperaHouse.org, by calling 653-4236 or visiting the box office at 7 W. South St.

Arshon Howard is a freelance writer living in Dover.

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