Bandleader invites audiences to celebrate Christmas with The Celts
What: Christmas with the Celts
When: 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 19, and Thursday, Dec. 20
Where: The Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St.
Ric Blair, founder of The Celts, a musical and Irish group that will perform Dec. 19 and 20 at the Egyptian Theatre, wrote a song, called “The Greatest Gift,” about his favorite childhood Christmas – though one that didn’t go according to plan.
“My twin brother and I were five at the time and my parents went shopping and bought all of our Christmas gifts,” Blair said. “They got back to the car and realized they forgot one gift. So they went back to buy it. While they were in the store, someone had broken into the car, and stole all the other gifts.”
When Christmas arrived, Blair and his brother found one gift, a toy Army truck, under the tree.
“We were children, and as many kids do, we expected more, and went back to bed crying,” he said. “A few minutes later, we looked through the crack in the door and saw our mom and dad sitting on the couch with their heads were down.”
The brothers decided to go hug their parents and tell them they loved them.
“That was the best Christmas we ever had, because it was all about love and not about the stuff,” Blair said. “But I’ll tell you what, man, we loved that truck.”
Love and the birth of Jesus Christ are the main messages Blair and The Celts spread during their Christmas concerts. That has been the main idea from the time The Celts began performing their seasonal shows at churches in 2004.
“While this concert is meant to entertain, it also is meant to bring a message of hope,” Blair said. “Life can be harsh, and this music and entertainment can provide a reprieve.”
The performance mixes traditional Irish and Scottish carols played with acoustic instruments that are sometimes highlighted with modern synth and drum loops.
“I’ve always loved hybrids, and that comes from me not being a purist,” Blair said.
The group does feature musicians who are purists, as far as their love for traditional Celtic music, according to Blair.
“There is a place for that preservation of history, which I do appreciate, but the thing is as much as I wanted to preserve the music, I also wanted to create new things by blending the styles,” he said. “I wanted to meld the wisdom of the ancient story and music with the benefits of the modern technology.”
Still, Blair, said, there is also something else that draws people to Celtic music, especially at this time of the year.
“Last night we were in a minivan going to the hotel from performing a show, and Fiachra Sean O’Regan, our piper, started to sing some ancient sean-nós songs,” Blair said.
Sean-nós (pronounced shawn nos), which means ‘in the old style,’ is a form of traditional Irish a cappella solo in Gaelic.
“Fiachra Sean would sing a song in Gaelic and then give the English interpretation, and then he would go onto the next melody,” Blair said. “The songs were about unrequited love and things like that, but they were so comforting. It spoke directly to the soul. It spoke to my DNA that comes from my Irish mother and Scottish father.”
Blair discovered his love for Celtic music while studying jazz at the University of Cincinnati.
“A friend of mine invited me to a see a Celtic band at a local bar,” he said. “When I got there, people were literally dancing on the tables.”
The Celtic melodies and rhythms fueled Blair’s burning love of music.
“Both my parents were great singers,” he said. “Mom also played the piano and dad played the comb, which he did with cigarette paper.”
People play the comb by loosley wrapping paper around it and humming through it like a kazoo.
Blair’s neighborhood was also filled with musicians.
“To the right of our home was an amazing Beatles cover band, and the next house over was a singer-songwriter who taught me how to write music,” he said. “In the house next to her lived a hillbilly guitar player who introduced me to the music of Chet Atkins.”
Blair also had access to professional musicians who would often visit a music store a block away from his home.
“It was the largest music instrument shop in the entire Midwest states,” he said. “So I was struck with the curse right away.”
Blair said he is ready for the Park City concerts.
“That’s a great place to end a tour, because it’s so ‘Christmas-y,’” he said.
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