Old Bay Ceili Band seasons their music with Irish spirit

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Entertainment,Music,Marie Gullard

The Old Bay Ceili Band plays straight-up, traditional dance music -- not rebel songs or pub tunes or even back-up sounds for step dancing. And when they perform this Tuesday on the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage, audiences will probably do one or both of two things -- clap along to the strong rhythmic pulses of the instruments or, if so moved, stand up and dance in the aisles.

This, to be sure, is exactly the kind of response the band is looking for. Inspired by the golden era of Irish-American dance halls, the group makes its music in a traditional fashion that varies in different styles. There are jigs, reels, hornpipe and polkas. Polkas?

"Yes, there are Irish polkas and they are played at a quicker pace than reels," explained Ceili Band drummer Josh Dukes. "The fine thing about ceili bands is that they were specifically set up for dances. You will have 40, 50, even 100 dancers get together, and [in] three to four hours they'll dance these different sets. We'll even play a couple waltzes now and then."

The band took its name from the famous Maryland-produced crab seasoning, and also in deference to the Chesapeake Bay because most of the group hales from Maryland. Members include Sean McComiskey on the button accordion, Jim Eagan and Danny Noveck on fiddles, flute players Laura Byrne and Brendan Bell, Matt Mulqueen on the piano, Bob Smith on banjo and, of course, Dukes on the ceili drums, which consist of a bass drum, a snare drum and a wood block. All of the members are highly skilled and professional players, who have performed across the United States and in Ireland. Whether playing for a local dance or lighting up a festival stage, the Old Bay Ceili Band continues to be in demand at the Dublin Irish Festival, the Maryland Irish Festival and the Richmond Folk Festival.

Onstage
Old Bay Ceili Band
» Where: Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, 2700 F St. NW
» When: 6 p.m. Tuesday
» Info: Free; 202-467-4600, 800-444-1324; kennedy-center.org

It was in Richmond where the group recently debuted its first recording, "Crabs in the Skillet." While the title is delightfully linked to the band's name, Dukes points out that "Crabs in the Skillet" is also a traditional Irish tune they are fond of playing -- one they will no doubt reprise for the ceili dancers at Millennium on Tuesday.

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