Studio Visit appears first in print, in Sunday editions of The News-Gazette. Here, Melissa Merli visits with musician Dean Karres. In the March 18 newspaper, we'll have a studio visit with singer Sherrika Ellison.
Q: Why do you like Irish and Celtic music so much?
A: I'm mainly a percussionist. When I eventually heard real, honest-to-goodness Celtic music, I already had the rhythms in my head.
Q: When was that?
A: I was probably in my late teens. Probably the first time I heard Celtic music then was through the "Thistle & Shamrock" show. I grew up in South Carolina, and "Thistle & Shamrock" was being produced out of Charlotte, N.C. It was really a couple of decades later that I stumbled upon Irish music for real, in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Q: When did you start playing it?
A: A couple of months after moving there. I was waiting for the furniture and my wife and stepchild to join me. I heard there was going to be a live Irish music session in a restaurant in Colorado Springs. I decided I had nothing better to do and went there to be entertained, or at least have dinner. Eventually, the musicians arrived, and I got a couple of spoons and started playing with them, under the table. One of the musicians came over to me and I thought he'd tell me to be quiet, but he said, "Why don't you join us?" From then on, I played with them regularly.
Q: What instruments do you play now?
A: The penny whistle, bodhran (Irish drum), uilleann pipes and snare and woodblock.
Q: What groups do you play with?
A: I play in the local (Irish music) session at Bentley's on Wednesday evenings. I play with Jake Schumacher and a few other people, depending on availability, in a group called The Rushes and with the same group of people but in different configurations in a group called the Turnstones.
Q: When and why did you start the Piper's Hut Concert Series?
A: The concert series started in late 2004, with the first concert in January 2005. I've lived in several communities across the United States, especially in the Midwest and Mountain West, and every community had an entity that has folk music or a community-based concert series or something music-related. Sometime after I moved here in 2003, a group of musicians played at The Iron Post. That might have been one of the first Celtic music performances I saw here in town, and I wanted more of them.
Since no one else was bringing these groups in, I started looking into it. I talked to friends in other communities that have concert series, and I started contacting agents. Almost instantly, it took on a life of its own. I've had more than 50 concerts.
Q: Are they well-attended?
A: Considering the size of the community, yes. They could certainly be better attended. For any concert promoter, it's about getting the word out. These are family-friendly shows that a lot of people haven't found out about yet.
Q: Where do you have them?
A: It just depends on venue availability. I've had shows here in my living room. I've had a few at Techline's showroom, a few at the Heartland Gallery and in the last year at the Independent Media Center in downtown Urbana.
Q: What kind of bands do you bring here?
A: These are all touring Irish musicians, though I've had a couple of Scottish performers.
Q: Are they from Ireland?
A: Not in every case, but there are some phenomenal Irish musicians based in the U.S.
We've had truly phenomenal people here. The third concert I put on was with Tommy Peoples, a legendary fiddle player. We had another legendary performer here; his name is Seamus Tansey. That might have been one of the first and one of the last times he played in the U.S. He plays the flute and sings and is a raconteur.
Editor's note: The Turnstones, who play old-style Irish music with modern twists, will perform from 2 to 3:30 p.m. March 18 at the Urbana Free Library. For more on Piper's Hut, visit http://www.pipers-hut.com/.