We have proudly shared several articles on GDW about Hamilton, ON band, The Steel City Rovers (SCR), whose infectious Celtic themed music is always an absolute delight to experience live. Having already circled our calendars to see the band once again at the PA Celtic Classic in Bethlehem later this year, the cold, hard reality of having to wait so long had become wearisome; something that only a boost of Celtibilly could cure. And so, upon hearing that SCR were performing at the annual VA Scottish Games and Festival, held in the stunning northern Shenandoah Valley, we made the last minute decision to surprise them and simply turn up at show time. Having shared their MD debut performance with them in early 2018, it seemed only fitting to be there to share their VA debut too.
Fronted by Ryan McKenna (vocals/bodhran/accordion) and brother Joel (guitar/vocals), and bandmates Mark Fletcher (accordion/small pipes/bouzouki/tin whistle), Dave Neigh (fiddle/vocals) and Marcus Gazzellone (percussion), the cast would also include guest banjo player Scooter Muse for a selection of tracks. “We are so proud to be here for our debut performance in Virginia, what a great place to be,” stated Ryan. “Last March I drove down to Wytheville, VA, in a storm. I was stuck there for five days. Father Thomas Burke-Rambo helped me out. That was his real name too. Virginia is for lovers, I swear.” While we had already enjoyed witnessing Scooter add some sweet banjo licks to their music last Fall, we were eager to see the talents of the recently added percussionist, making this VA show kind of a debut for us too.
Delighting an appreciative audience with their traditional mix of both lyrical and instrumental self-composed works, SCR were as energetic as always throughout their 50 minute set. Opening with “Bouncing McKenna,” the band would share 13 tracks, including a few new pieces that were being debuted too. One such track, titled “Holy Ground,” and described by Ryan as being one, “for the fishermen gathered before they went out to sea, praying to God that they get home alive to see their best girl, the best mate, and their best pint,” featured some stellar accordion work from Mark that had the audience clapping and stomping along in no time. Not that it was difficult for this talented ensemble to earn the respect of the crowd with popular tracks such as “Guinness for Two,” “Not the Devil,” and “Moment in Time.”
Prior to “Sudden Sun Showers,” Ryan would take time to explain the origins of the song. “I’m gonna sing a love song that’s going to make you cry,” he declared. “You’ll weep when there’s sunscreen in your eyes. This one’s about when you have rain come out of a clear blue sky, which is totally not gonna happen this weekend, but it’s called a sudden sun shower, and it loves to catch you by surprise.” Rubbing his eyes later in the show, Ryan would return to the topic of sunscreen. “I’d like to thank Coppertone for making me appear emotional by making my eyes sting like they’re in a holy fire,” he stated, welcoming a packet a tissues handed to him by somebody in the crowd, appreciative of the gesture and taking a liking to the image of ‘Rudolph’ on the packaging.
With a great traditional Highland marching band beat provided by Marcus to announce the arrival of “Lock Leven,” Mark would once again shine, this time with a demonstration of his mastery of the Scottish small pipes. Dave would be granted the same opportunity too, sharing his fiddle skills on “President Garfield,” another new track. And with a pause for a ‘public service announcement,’ Ryan would share some exciting news that they posted on their website quite recently. “We’re heading to Ireland next year for the very first time ever, that we’re touring over there,” he explained. “If you’re the sort of person that likes to go on travelling vacations, you can come with us. It will be great, a craic as they say, which is spelt c r a i c, which means just fine.” With a well timed pause, Ryan would continue. “I’ve been told by our lawyers to clarify that we’re not operating ‘crack’ craic, we’re offering ‘good times’ craic,” he laughed. “Yeah, Ontario has no sense of humor about that.”
Closing with the always amazing instrumental “Summer Dance at Montmagny,” both Ryan and Joel would strike up a conversation about summer. “I haven’t seen the sun in about four months, our summer’s in September,” Ryan commenced. “The rest of the year is just all cold and desolate; a wasteland.” “Burning seal blubber to stay alive,” Joel joked, playing along with the Canadian stereotype. “Vegan seal blubber,” Ryan rebutted. “It’s tofu, we’re burning tofu to stay alive up there.” Performing their customary synchronized moves during this final number, the band sent a very happily entertained crowd back out of the performance tent to enjoy the Highland games taking place. We enjoyed our spontaneous time with one of Hamilton’s finest, and very much look forward to their third consecutive appearance at one of the largest gatherings of Celtic music on the East Coast in a few weeks time.
- Bouncing McKenna
- Magic Cabinet
- Sudden Sun Showers
- Holy Ground (trad.)
- Bold O’Donahughe (trad.)
- Lock Leven
- President Garfield (working title)
- Moment in Time
- Guinness for Two
- Andrew’s Hall
- Not The Devil
- Summer Dance at Montmagny
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.