More than 100 folk music fans from Pennsylvania sat enraptured on Sunday night (11th October) as they listened to the magical vocals and musical talents of the Hebrides’ very own Julie Fowlis.
Sponsored by the local Susquehanna Folk Music Society, the gig at the intimate Abbey Bar in the city of Harrisburg marked the fourth night of Julie Fowlis’ latest US tour, which began on 8th October. “We started off in Vermont, it’s beautiful with the autumn colours. We’ve been before, and it’s always nice to go back to places that you’ve enjoyed visiting the first time round,” Julie explained in a quiet moment during the band’s sound check.
“I love the experience of touring in America, it’s very very different to touring anywhere else. The audiences are different, even the practicalities are different, like the big highways and the enormous hotels, everything’s to the max, supersized - the whole experience is like having the volume turned up!”
The award-winning singer was joined on the stage by her band, which features her husband, Éamon Doorley, on Irish bouzouki, Duncan Chisholm on fiddle, and Tony Byrne on guitar. Julie also demonstrated her skills as an instrumentalist, deftly playing the bagpipes, the flute, and the Indian shruti box at various points throughout the 90-minute show.
She was softly spoken and friendly as she chatted to the audience before each set, explaining why she finds certain songs particularly moving, and outlining the cultural context behind the lyrics, whether that was the proud proclamations of the Clan Macdonald, a musical interpretation of a Sorley Maclean poem, or the simple but soothing sounds of a Gaelic lullaby.
“I’m just continually inspired by other singers, and the old songs in particular, they’re so amazing,” said Julie before the show. “I mean they’ve lasted five and six and seven hundred years, you know it’s not for nothing that they’ve survived, they’re strong melodies, and they’re strong stories, and they obviously speak to people on some level.”
Given the two standing ovations Julie and her band received from the crowd in Pennsylvania, it seemed the old Gaelic songs had a similar effect on a new American audience last weekend, and will continue to do so as Julie continues her tour across ten US states over the next three weeks.
Gaelic superstar Julie Fowlis with award-winning writer Katie Macleod