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Photo by Jeanne RiceKeysers is the fiddler and/or singer for the American Wake, Silet Planet and Epic Detour. >My fiddle. My No. 1 prized possession. It's a German violin, about 120 years old. I found it at a yard sale in Northridge when I was 13. It was all beat up and unplayable, but I was attracted to the deep red color. We talked the old lady who was selling it into giving it to us cheap, and it's turned out to be the most lucrative purchase of my life. It plays beautifully, looks beautiful, and gets a warm tone that I've never been able to get on another violin—even the very expensive ones. I don't really play the instrument so much as it sings for me. It's weird, but I can actually connect with it emotionally sometimes—like I know what it wants to do, so I do it.
>Mark O'Connor. This guy was winning major fiddle championships around the country when he was, like, 12. I used to spend hours in front of a stereo, playing vinyl recordings of his award-winning numbers, trying my best to mimic most of what he did, but to this day, I still can't play half the stuff he can play in his sleep. For anyone interested, he's put out a few books on fiddle technique and has scored music for fiddle and guitar accompaniment that comes with a recording, so you can play along.
>Gallagher's in Huntington Beach. The stage in this pub isn't very big, but the atmosphere and the crowd are second to none. Entertainment is scheduled just about every night and includes reggae on Wednesdays, comedy on Thursdays, the American Wake on Saturdays and the Fenians on Sundays. Not to mention that the Gallagher Girls are a beautiful bunch and the pints of Guinness are the tastiest. This place is right in the middle of Huntington Beach's party center on PCH and Main Street, and on weekend nights, Gallagher's always goes off!
>The Mulligans. These guys are the granddaddies of the local Irish music scene and have been doing it for the past 30 years or so. Their Best of the Mulligans CD was a gift from a neighbor when I first moved to Long Beach from Palmdale. Their versions of traditional songs have pretty much been the standard for the rest of us local Irish bands to build on. You can catch them all over the place during the summer festival season, playing places like the Orange International Street Fair and the Orange County Irish Faire. They also play local pubs. Definitely worth looking into.
>Billy Hill & the Hillbillies. They can be seen most often playing Disneyland's Golden Horseshoe in Frontierland. They're a four-piece band, but they all play everything from guitar and bass to fiddle and mandolin. The lead singer does an Elvis bit, but it's funny as hell. The bassist slings his upright bass over his shoulder and plays slap leads like some electric rock star, the lead mandolin player does an orchestral version of the William Tell Overture by himself. . . . They just rock! If you're ever at Disneyland on a hot summer day and have an hour around lunch time that you'd like to kill, find yourself a seat at the Golden Horseshoe—you won't be disappointed.
>Wide Open Spaces and Fly by the Dixie Chicks. As far as country music goes, you can't get much better than them. When they first came out, I thought they were going to be a big gimmick, like the Spice Girls of the South, but they turned out to be extremely talented. Martie Seidel, the fiddler, is one of my new idols—she shreds on lead riffs but has a certain elegance along with her energy. Their stuff is enjoyable for anyone willing to give it a chance.
>Great Big Sea. A Newfoundland band that plays a combination of Celtic rock and traditional folk. What hooked me—besides excellent songwriting—was their vocal harmonies: everyone in the band sings, which means they have four-part harmonies. They have a low bass singer who adds an underlying hum and bottom end to all the choruses. And the killer part is that they sound incredible live. It's rare to find a band with four-part harmonies anymore, let alone one that sounds this consistently clean. Their latest album, Road Rage, is a live one, and it's on my favorites list. You can find their stuff online at www.greatbigsea.com.