A night of Irish music

The Emerald Isle meets the Garden Isle tonight when Kauai’s own Irish music band, Whiskey-O, performs with special guest Sylvia Woods, a world-class Celtic harpist for an evening of Irish music. 

The bash starts at 7 p.m. in the Church of the Pacific in Princeville.

“It should be a really fantastic concert,” said John Gilleran of Whiskey-O. “We will do sing-a-longs, jigs, reels and some instrumental music with Sylvia.”

Whiskey-O formed three years ago with five musicians under the leadership of “Shanty” Bob Smith, a renowned concertina player (the Irish squeezebox). The band also includes accomplished musicians John Gilleran, the guitarist and singer; violinists Terra Jean Otto and Mario Boesl; and Don Forbes on the recorder.

“Bob pulled the band together after playing Irish music for 25 years,” said Gilleran.

Whiskey-O quickly grew in popularity while performing every other Sunday afternoon at the Feral Pig restaurant and Pub at Harbor Mall in Nawiliwili. The band provides traditional and modern Scotch-Irish songs, and includes sing-alongs and pirate songs.

Gilleran said they play lyrical Irish waltzes as well as exciting, foot-stomping music such as the kind played during the dancing scene in the movie “Titanic.”

In addition to the pub performances, Gilleran said Whiskey-O wanted to do something special, so the event will be a chance to perform at a venue with great acoustics and room for dancing.

“We definitely want people to participate,” he said.

Woods is considered to be among the 45 most influential harpists of the past century and won the All Ireland harp competition in 1980. She has performed on NPR’s “A Prairie Home Companion,” on film soundtracks under the direction of Maurice Jarre, and with the most famous Irish group of them all, The Chieftains.

Woods started her career playing with an Irish music band but said she hasn’t been part of that scene since 1980. She has since written more than 30 books on the harp and composes harp music for everything from Disney themes and Beatles songs to Christmas songs.

She caught a few performances of Whiskey-O and said it brought her back to her childhood.

“I met Bob when he was playing at events in Hanalei and he invited me to come play with the band,” Woods said. “I think it should be really fun.”

Sylvia Woods will perform with the band on some of their songs in addition to her harp solos. She selected works from her first album “The Harp of Brandiswhiere,” a suite for Celtic harp.

She will also play songs of Turlough O’Carolan, a blind 16th century harpist whose melodic pieces continue to be performed to this day. She will play his first and last compositions, and another about an island where it is always spring — which reminds her of Kauai.

The harp is a beautiful instrument that sounds good no matter how you play it, Woods said. Most people think of the concert harp, or pedal harp that they see in the orchestras but there is also a smaller folk harp, or Celtic harp.

“I specialize in the smaller folk or Celtic harp,” Woods said.

The harp is the national instrument of Ireland and appears on its currency and flag. After disappearing from music for nearly 300 years, Woods said the smaller harps have enjoyed a renaissance since the 1970s.

Woods has performed at benefit concerts for the Waldorf School in Kilauea. Recently, she brought eight harps to an Island School art day and gave students a lesson.

Woods started coming to Kauai in the 1980s and lived part time in Hanalei before becoming a full-time resident this year in Princeville. 

Tickets are $12 in advance at Kauai Music and Sound or $15 at the door. 

Info: Smith at 651-5819 or email shantybob@yahoo.com.


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