Julia Lane is an award-winning Celtic harper, singer, and folklorist. A founding member of Castlebay, she has toured the east coast from Cape Breton to Florida, and internationally in the UK, Ireland – even Kosovo. Julia has done extensive research into traditional songs collected in Maine and arranged many of them for a contemporary audience. She has also written and recorded original songs and harp solos. She composed incidental music for “Sang O’ the Solway,” a two-hour concert piece commissioned by the Galloway & Dumfries Art Association, wrote the book and music for an historical play with music, “The Grand Design.” She has appeared as a guest artist on recordings on both sides of the Atlantic.
Folk singers often try to one-up each other with obscure details and pastimes. No slouch in that regard, Kray Van Kirk, who will be playing our house concert series on Friday, May 19th, has not one but two obscure distinctions. First, he holds a Ph.D. in fisheries population dynamics modeling. If that’s not obscure enough, he does a spot-on impression of Japan’s nineteenth century blind swordsman, Zatoichi.
A fine finger-style guitarist with a precise baritone, Van Kirk obtained his doctorate from the University of Alaska. Coming off five years of living in his van and playing music across the US and Canada, he thought that a career in the sciences might be a bit more secure than playing music for a living, especially as a single parent. Eventually, however, he realized that healing the world was primarily a matter of the heart, not the head, and he put aside his computer, picked up his guitar, and set out again.
When Van Kirk reached Scotland and the prestigious Fringe Festival, the Daily Fringe Review wrote “The evening’s act was Kray Van Kirk, whose 12-string guitar and soaring vocals were spellbinding; the Alaskan singer-songwriter, in his Edinburgh debut, was not the reason I arrived early, but was certainly why I stayed late.”
Van Kirk, however, is not your average crying-in-your-coffee singer songwriter. “We need a renewal of myth and wonder and hope,” he says.
This is where the Zatoichi impression comes in handy. Shintaro Katsu played the blind but fictional wandering masseuse as a bumbling nobody in movies from 1962 to 1989. Prior to unleashing his unrivaled swordsmanship, he closes his eyes, cocks his head to one side and listens intently, as does Van Kirk. “We are driven by myth and the seasons of the heart. We need new stories and new myths so that everyone, absolutely everyone, regardless of creed, color, gender, sexuality or anything else, can listen and look and see themselves on the Hero’s Quest.”
Thus his songs: ‘Thunderbird’ resurrects the Phoenix in an empty desert diner in the American Southwest (yes, the Phoenix drives a Thunderbird), ‘The Queen of Elfland’ plucks Thomas the Rhymer from the English-Scottish border in 1250 and drops him and the Queen into a subway car, ‘The Library Song’ has Superman moonlighting as a librarian, and ‘The Midnight Commander’ celebrates an insane old man leading the city of New York to take up arms (and underwear) against hatred.
Of this charming, Quixotic, and decidedly eclectic performer, the Borderline Folk Club in New York wrote “it is what every singer-songwriter should aspire to.”
Elise Witt’s concerts of Global, Local & Homemade Songs™ and her Impromptu Glorious Chorus™ workshops create and connect singing communities around the globe. Her songs are available for choruses and choirs through the Elise Witt Choral Series and for solo and community singing in All Singing: The Elise Witt Songbook, as well as on 12 CDs.
She currently serves as Director of Music Programs at the Global Village Project, a special purpose middle school for teenage refugee girls in Decatur GA, where she uses singing to help students learn English, share their cultures, gain self confidence, and learn to navigate their new world.
Tom Kastle has been a singer and folk musician for decades, traveling the world, collecting and performing maritime songs and stories, and captaining sailing ships on the Great Lakes. These days, Tom lives in Madison and his passions are even more diverse and include a recording of original songs based mostly on traditional fiddle tunes, film projects like Francisco Torres’ Delight In the Mountain, with Richard Riehle and Tom Wopat, an opera role, and television where he hosted a short documentary that was nominated for an Emmy Award. Add in musical director and composer credits, and recent theatrical roles ranging from musicals to Shakespeare, playing a political pundit with the legendary Ed Asner in God Help Us! and a one man play based on the life of Joe Hill and you have an artist living a vivid life, indeed!
“With his solo recording and original songs, Tom Kastle shows further dimensions to his talent and range of material. His resonant voice, heartfelt lyrics, and solid instrumentation proves he is a more “grounded” talent, as capable as writing about the open road as he is about the open waters.” — Lilli Kuzma: Folk Festival WDCB-FM Radio
“What do you say about a guy who can command a tall ship and all her crew, whose songs can make an Irishman cry tears of pure Tullamore Dew?” — Bryan Bowers
“I heard Tom Kastle sing his song, ‘Whose House? Our House!’…. Timely. Inspiring. A great gathering song sung with power and presence.” — Holly Near
Kyla Tilley is a Canadian prog-folk singer-songwriter known for her emotionally turbulent live performances, her gymnastic guitar playing, and her fabulous shoe collection.
Using whatever words she likes, Kyla constructs tales true and tall of fantastic exploits, mundane tasks, and moderate misadventure which she delivers with a mix of vocal fusillades, chaotic finger-picking, and kaleidoscopic rhythms.
Twelve such songs can be found on Kyla’s sophomore album Bloom & Grow. A mercurial collection of songs about personal growth, self-acceptance, and the obstacles that get in the way of an individual’s desire to leave something of themselves for the ages.
Kyla lives in a small town in Newfoundland and Labrador where you will find her strolling on the beach, hiking in the woods, and broadcasting glimpses into her songwriting sessions live on Twitch, where her stalwart followers are encouraged to heckle, cheer, and distract, as Kyla wrestles words, cajoles melodies, and hammers out guitar parts.
Kyla’s endeavours over the years have ranged from country to metal with many digressions in-between. She appeared in the documentary “Water Street” with country/folk band Bareback; performed at the Sound Symposium with experimental music group Sound Circus; had a song recorded by Canadian Idol finalist Jenny Gear; played art galleries and events as a solo classical guitarist and with the bass and guitar duo Cat’s Paw; performed with violinist Ed Hudson in folk duo Tea & Bread, which melded Kyla’s original material with Ed’s love of British folk song. She’s composed cat-walk music and provided guitar solos for comedian and fashion diva Cara Winsor-Hehir, and is one half of progressive death metal duo Molt. As Mistress Pandemonium, she was the riff-generating half of Newfoundland heavy metal band Endearing Perversion. She spent a decade singing a mixture of folk and classical music in Montreal’s La Chorale Harmonia community choir including 2 stints on the board.
Kyla Tilley singer-songwriter began releasing music in 2018 with Whimseys, a 5 song EP of some of her more whimsical numbers performed simply with guitar and voice, and Loose Summer, a mostly instrumental composition for a fashion show featuring 5 short episodes of airy guitar, flute, bottles and found percussion. These were followed in the summer of 2019 with New Shoes, Kyla’s first full length album, then Vagarys in 2020, another 5 song EP of odder fare, this time with bass and drums thrown into the mix.
Joel Simpson has been a self-employed musician since 2001. Growing up in a musical family, Joel started playing guitar as well as singing/songwriting at a young age. His passion for music led him to earn a music business degree from Elmhurst University, and found Randomosity Records in Downers Grove, Illinois. He splits his time between private instruction, music production, and music performance. Joel is proficient on voice and many string instruments. His production work focuses on folk and jazz. Joel has recorded with Lee Murdock, Ashley & Simpson, The Chancey Brothers and many more.
Saskia Tomkins is a master musician on Violin/Fiddle, Viola, Cello and Nyckelharpa, who moved to Canada from England in 2007. She is classically trained with a folk background and a B.A.hons. in Music (Jazz). Saskia won All Britain Champion Irish Fiddler and in October 2022, was given an award for her services to Irish music in Canada by Comhaltus Canada.
Over the years, Saskia has worked with many musicians, including: Jimmy Bowskill, The Chieftains, Kim Doolittle, Tim Edey, Tim Garland, “Jabbour”, Robb Johnson, Sonja Kristina (Curved Air), Ron Korb, James McKenty, David Newland, Donald Quan, “Sin E” Ted Staunton , “Sultans of String”, “Uriah Heep”, Lotus Wight (Sam Allison), Ken Whiteley, “Al-pha-X” and Astrid Young, her husband Steáfán Hannigan and son Oisín Hannigan, and a plethora of other amazing musicians, actors and dancers!
Her theatre work includes: Originating the “Celtic-ifying” of the Broadway hit “Come From Away” in it’s first 2 years of development; touring with The English Shakespeare Company and Michael Bogdanov; 8 seasons with 4th Line Theatre, Ontario; and working with dancers at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London UK;
Saskia’s current personal projects include and Irish instrumental duo: Steáfán & Saskia with husband Steáfán Hannigan, the instrumental jazz/roots duo: 2ish, with Brandon Scott Besharah; the Celtic crossover group: Cáirdeas and the jazz trio: Marsala and the Imports. She frequently plays Nyckelharpa with Sultans of String and fiddle/ viola in the Maple Leaf Jug Band. Saskia is principal 2nd violin for Quinte Symphony Orchestra, and also teaches at Upbeat! an El Systema organisation in Peterborough, Ontario.
She loves to do session work, collaborate with others, be on the road, and share her skills at workshops. Currently working on the P2 thing to be able to tour in the USA.
Sharon Abreu (“Ah-BRAY’oo”)
Sharon Abreu is a singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, teacher, and student of life. She was singing harmony with her family around the dinner table by the age of 3. Sharon grew up with many musical influences, from classical and opera to Broadway to folk, pop and rock, and she enjoys mixing those up in her concerts. She performs as a solo artist and also as half of the acoustic Irthlingz Duo with her partner Michael Hurwicz. She has performed at venues as diverse as the Northwest Folklife Festival, the Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival, and the United Nations.
Sharon was studying classical singing in New York City when she attended a pumpkin festival in the West Village and ended up joining the sponsoring organization, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. Through her work with Clearwater, she started using her voice and songs for environmental education and ended up singing in concert with legendary folksinger Pete Seeger.
Sharon has sung lead roles in operas including The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute. She’s been a soloist in performances of major choral works including Bach’s Magnificat and B Minor Mass and Mozart’s Requiem and Vespers. Sharon starred in a sold-out run of the musical The Taffetas at the Orcas Center and in summer stock at the Ferry Terminal in Bellingham, Washington. Sharon has provided music for major international Earth summits at the United Nations in New York and the World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa. And she was honored to sing for Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai in Berkeley, California in 2006.
In 2007, she prepared New York City high school students to perform her climate change musical revue Penguins on Thin Ice for the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development, receiving a standing ovation from a full auditorium of international delegates.
In 2016, Sharon performed her one-woman musical show The Climate Monologues in the Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival, the United Solo Theatre Festival in New York, and for The MarshStream Theatre Festival online in 2021. She received the “Spirit of Nature, Ecology & Society” Environmental Justice Award for her performance of The Climate Monologues, at the Culture of Climate Change Colloquium at the City University of New York in 2011. Sharon composed and recorded the songs for Zero Waste Washington’s public school education program.
Sharon teaches voice, violin and piano, and she has been the vocal coach for musicals including Billy Elliot and Mamma Mia. For 2-1/2 years, she was a Musician-in-Residence with the Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival, bringing music and singing to local preschools. She is featured in Professor Mark Pedelty’s books, Ecomusicology (2012) and A Song to Save the Salish Sea: Environmentalist Musicians in the Pacific Northwest (2016).
Sharon has been a member of the Local 1000 North American Traveling Musicians Union, American Federation of Musicians, AFL-CIO since 1997.
Alana is a Toronto-based fiddler specializing in combining Irish, Cape Breton and Scottish styles to create her own sound. She performs both solo and in a duo with her father, Leigh Cline.
Alana & Leigh Cline specialize in telling the history and stories behind tunes and musical styles, and many of their tunes are from the 1700s and 1800s. They also specialize in performances and workshops comparing different Celtic fiddle musical traditions. They include occasional Balkan tunes in their sets.
Having performed in Canada and the US, a small selection of performances include the Great American Irish Festival, Celtic Island Music Festival, Trenton Scottish Irish Festival, Irish Real Life Festival, Chris Langan Weekend, City of Toronto’s Canada Day Celebrations, The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, Music Niagara, Toronto Public Library, Burlington Public Library, folk clubs, and at private corporate events for Tourism Ireland, Corus Entertainment, Enterprise Ireland, Maple Leaf Foods, and Discover Halifax. Alana & Leigh have a self-titled CD.
Alana first started playing at the age of 8 under the tutelage of Cape Breton fiddler Sandy MacIntyre. She studied privately with All-Ireland Fiddle Champion Maeve Donnelly over a period of two years, and also studied the North-East Scottish fiddle style with Paul Anderson, whose teaching lineage goes back directly to Niel Gow and the Golden Age of Scottish fiddle music.
Alana has augmented her playing style with private lessons from Irish fiddlers Kevin Burke, Liz Carroll, Tony DeMarco and Patrick Ourceau. In 2008 Alana became the first Canadian to be accepted to the auditioned Meitheal School of Irish Traditional Music in Limerick, Ireland with Paul O’Shaughnessy of Altan as one of her instructors. She has also studied fiddle at the Gaelic College of Celtic Arts in St. Ann’s, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
“A quartet the likes of which I haven’t seen since… Coope, Boyes and Simpson, the Watersons, or The Voice Squad. Just absolutely phenomenal!” -BBC Traveling Folk
Windborne combines bold and innovative harmonies, styles from a variety of cultures with traditions of harmony singing, and a vocal blend that comes from longtime friendship and years of singing together. They also carry on the alliance of folk music and social activism, breathing new life into songs of change from the past that still ring true in modern times.
“The best musical discovery of the year…Stunningly powerful vocal harmony… Windborne sets a new bar for folk harmony singing today” -Brian O’Donovan, WGBH-NPR
Hear Windborne in action:
Song of the Lower Classes – a protest song from the Chartists in England in the 1840s, a grassroots movement for voting rights
Stabat Mater (Corsica) live in Mont-Saint-Michel – a traditional setting of the Stabat Mater text from southern Corsica. A clip of this video went viral on TikTok in 2021, getting over 2 million views!
The Song of Hard Times – Windborne’s arrangement and expansion of a song from the 1930s, found in the archives at the Library of Congress
Instagram / TikTok: @WindborneSingers
MORE ABOUT WINDBORNE:
Internationally acclaimed vocal ensemble Windborne is a group of vocal chameleons who specialize in close harmony singing, shifting effortlessly between drastically different styles of traditional music within the same concert. Their musical knowledge spans many cultures, but they remain deeply rooted in American folk singing traditions – a typical concert program includes music ranging from American labor anthems and English ballads to ancient Corsican polyphony and traditional Quebecois tunes.
Hailed as “the most exciting vocal group in a generation,” Lynn Mahoney Rowan, Will Thomas Rowan, Lauren Breunig, and Jeremy Carter-Gordon share a vibrant energy onstage – their connection to each other and to the music clearly evident. They educate as they entertain, telling stories about the music and explaining the characteristics and stylistic elements of the traditions in which they sing.
But there’s another, crucial dimension to Windborne. They are adherents to folk music’s longtime association with social activism, in particular its ties to the labor and civil rights movements and others that champion the poor, the working class, and the disenfranchised. Breathing new life into old songs, they seek out music from movements over the past 400 years and sing them for the struggles of today’s world. They believe deeply in the power of music to change hearts.
In addition to performing in New England and around the world, Windborne has taught workshops in schools, community centers, singing camps, and universities. Seasoned teachers and song-leaders, they delight groups young and old with enthusiastic, clear, and nuanced instruction for musicians of all levels of experience. Singers not only learn the notes of a song, but also work on the varied vocal styles, language pronunciation, and gain an understanding of the song in its original cultural context.
In 2014, Windborne was one of 10 groups selected by American Music Abroad and the US Department of State to tour as cultural ambassadors through music. They traveled to Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Angola, touring with internationally known artists, performing at sold-out national theaters, and collaborating with traditional musicians in each country. They also taught music and dance workshops to schoolchildren, English-language learners, dance schools, choirs, and music conservatories.