Coig’s Return to the Celtic Classic in Pennsylvania


Held over the final weekend in September, the PA Celtic Classic has quickly become one of our favorite annual events.  With our fondness for traditional music, this prestigious event boasts one of the largest gatherings of all things Gaelic here in the historic city of Bethlehem.  Last summer we enjoyed our first live music encounter at this event with Nova Scotia’s Coig, whose fabulous musicianship and unrivalled energy earned them a consecutive invitation to return again this year.  And being only a couple of hours away from our part of the State, we made it a priority to return and enjoy their music once more.

Spending just one day at the event this time around, we caught two performances from this quartet; an early afternoon set on the Grand Pavilion main stage, and then later in the day, in the luxury of the air-conditioned Ice House.  Welcomed to the Grand Pavilion for a hot and humid 1:30pm set, Chrissy Crowley (violin/viola) quickly expressed delight in being back.  “Last year when we played here, we had to do the drive home to Nova Scotia straight as soon as we were finished,” she shared.  “So this year we’re very thankful that we only have to drive to Bath, Maine.  And speaking of being thankful, we’re so happy that these suckers had us a second year in a row.  Thank you Celtic Classic.”

Joining Chrissy on stage were Rachel Davis (violin/viola/vocals), Jason Roach (keyboards) and Darren McMullen (guitar/mandolin/banjo/bouzouki/whistle/vocals), and with the very recent release of “Ashlar,” their third full-length studio album, Coig were naturally keen to share their new music during both sets.  Prior to performing “Time & Tide,” the opening track from “Ashlar,” Chrissy would explain the origins of this instrumental composition.  “It’s basically a bunch of jigs that Rachel and I wrote, then we go into a reel by Shane Cook, also from Canada,” she shared.  “And then we finish off with Time & Tide, and this is actually a fishing boat that my brother is a deck-hand on.  I decided last year I was going to be a deck-hand for a day, and it only lasted the day.  You can’t wear pantyhose and lipstick on a boat, so it’s no fun, right?”

As is customary for Coig, both sets mixed stunning instrumental jigs and reels with a few vocal tracks, including Darren’s popular cover of the Peter Gabriel hit, “Solsbury Hill.”  During the Ice House set, he would also share “Home from the Forest,” an outstanding cover of one of the lesser known Gordon Lightfoot tracks, as found on the new album.  Rachel would enjoy her vocal moments under the spotlight too, encouraging audiences to join in and learn some traditional songs, dazzling everybody with her firm grasp of the Gaelic language.  “And as I told the crew last night, as a traditional musician, I feel as though this is a close as I’m ever going to get to rap,” she joked after teaching those around the Grand Pavilion stage some lines from “Am Bothan a bh’ aig Fionnghalla.” “So I’m feeling at my coolest right now.  It doesn’t get any cooler from me today, so I’m going to milk this for all it’s worth.”

Darren was happy to crack a few jokes and pranks too, often sending wise cracks to his stage companions, and mock-thanking the Ice House audience for enjoying the pre-show sound check.  “I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking ‘more banjo,’ right?” he asked with a sly smile on the main stage prior to a performance of “D Jigs.”  “Oh, maybe that’s NOT what you are thinking, but maybe it was close.”

If awards were to be handed out for the best lines, Chrissy easily took the honors during the Ice House set.  Following a reference she made during the sound check about how we really do not want to hear her sing, she was encountering some technical issues after performing “Oak Tree Set.”  “My fiddle just started screaming in my monitor, I don’t know if I hit something,” she stated, for the benefit of the sound crew.  “But I am not the most talented fiddler in this band, so I cannot have it this loud.  It already sounds like a dying cat.”  The audience lapped it up, prompting her to continue.  “I’m really selling my musicality today, eh?” she joked.  “Hi everybody, I’m Chrissy. I have self confidence issues.”  And as the laughter calmed down, she spoke on behalf of the band once again.  “Actually, I can say you guys have made me feel like a million, million bucks this weekend, and we are all thrilled to be invited back again.”

With their wonderful interpretation of both traditional and modern Gaelic music, Coig once again earned the full appreciation of their audience(s) on Saturday.  Hopefully this enthusiasm shall be rewarded with a third consecutive invitation back to Bethlehem next summer.  I offered my gratitude to the Ice House master of ceremonies as we exited, and posed this very question.  Fingers crossed that the feedback was noted, and that Coig can return to entertain us at another Celtic Classic.

Set List (Grand Pavilion):

  1. Unknown Title
  2. Time & Tide
  3. Deep Down in the River
  4. Uncle Leo’s Jigs
  5. Solsbury Hill (Peter Gabriel cover)
  6. Franzke en Francais
  7. Am Bothan a bh’ aig Fionnghalla
  8. D Jigs
  9. The P.F.P. Set

Set List (Ice House):

  1. Oak Tree Set
  2. Hashtag Jigs
  3. Nach Muladach Muladach Duine Leis Fhein
  4. Farewell Trion
  5. From the Old Tapes
  6. Home from the Forest (Gordon Lightfoot cover)
  7. Miracle at Glencoe
  8. Mystery Groove
  9. The P.F.P. Set

The British guy that crossed the ocean and crash landed in central Pennsylvania (to quote Greg Keelor, “And I wonder what am I doing here?”). As the youngest of four siblings, exposure to music from a very early age nurtured my passion and appreciation for many musical genres. Continuing to discover some amazingly diverse and talented musicians based in Canada, I gravitate to live music experiences and remain devoted to spreading the word about such a vibrant music scene.

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