By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
Burke was a central member of the Bothy Band, one of the most influential Celtic bands of the '70s, and played on Arlo Guthrie's classic Washington County album. More recently, Burke has been working with bluegrass legend Tim O'Brien in his Crossing outfit, playing the music that has moved back and forth across the Atlantic. "The Irish part of it I find very accessible and easy," Burke says, "but so much of it involves American folk songs with a bluegrass twist or a blues twist or an old-timey element. Trying to blend all those things satisfactorily and not make one incongruous with another has been a challenge I've enjoyed lately. I had never done more than dabble with it, but, playing with Tim, I'm learning what the pieces mean, where they come from. The styles are all quite distinct, once you get to know them. When you don't know them, it all sounds like the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou?"
It may be commonplace to speak of music "you have to hear live," but with Celtic music, especially the kind represented at the spring tionol, the music would barely exist without both live performances and the living interaction of masters and those wanting to learn from them. That dynamic is what gives Celtic music its amazing reach, joyful force and stunning variety. "It means so much it almost means nothing -- 'Celtic music,' that is," Burke says. "If someone tells you he plays jazz, it doesn't really give you that much of an idea of what he's gonna play."
For three days and nights, the Mississippi River Celtic Music Festival will do more than just give you an idea of the music. It's as close to the soul of the sound as most of us can hope to come.