Celtic Duo in the Intimate Gathering Place

by Molly Gilmore

Left to right: Dick Hensold and Patsy O’Brien

On April 11, Olympia music lovers will have the chance to hear bagpipes at close range. Internationally known piper Dick Hensold and singer/guitarist Patsy O’Brien are playing April 11 in the intimate Gathering Place at New Traditions Fair Trade.

Don’t worry about your hearing. The bagpipes in question are not the Great Highland kind whose sound carries for miles but rather the smaller and quieter Northumbrian smallpipes and Scottish reel pipes. “Please note that none of the various bagpipes used in this concert are very loud,” a description on the New Traditions website (http://www.newtraditionsfairtrade.com) emphasizes.

The pipes that Hensold of St. Paul, Minn., will play in Olympia are not only less often heard of but also less often heard, particularly in the U.S. “This is a rare chance to hear this instrument,” the master piper said of the smallpipes. There are only three or four musicians in the U.S. who perform on those pipes. “It’s a very difficult instrument,” he said. “I play Highland pipes, and it’s certainly harder than those.”

He and O’Brien — who’s been called “Ireland’s best-kept musical secret” and who developed his guitar skills playing in sessions in Dublin — will play a mix of traditional tunes (instrumentals), songs (with lyrics) and Henson’s original compositions in a traditional style.

After studying early music and playing recorder in college, Hensold started piping in his mid-20s — and while he still plays recorder, among other instruments, pipes are his passion. “Celtic music is unlimited in terms of its expressive capabilities, and it’s also unlimited in terms of its rhythmic capabilities,” he said. “What inspires me is hearing musicians go from an incredibly expressive slow tune into a dance tune that just knocks your socks off. There’s this huge contrast of emotion.”

He’s particularly inspired by the music of Cape Breton, Novia Scotia, Canada, where Scottish music is played in the traditional way — much more so than in Scotland itself. “it’s very rhythmic,” he said. “It’s super dance oriented.” There’s not much room to dance in New Traditions, but Hensold said he won’t be surprised to see people out of their seats. “Even when there’s not room, people get up and dance,” he said.

Though it closed its café at the end of 2022, New Traditions continues to host concerts and other events, and small plates, desserts and beverages are still available during shows.

Attendance at events stayed low for a long time after COVID closures and is finally rebounding, said New Traditions owner Jody “Zhu Zhu” Mackey. “Our customers really paid attention to COVID,” she said. “This year, people are showing up for our concerts this year, and we are filling our calendar with them, just like we did before — at least as much as we did before.”

Among the upcoming concerts are Emma’s Revolution, a queer folk band playing April 14; Choro das 3, a Brazilian trio playing April 19; and popular Northwest gypsy jazz combo Pearl Django, playing May 4. (Check out the full list on the website (https://newtraditionsfairtrade.com/pages/events).

The Gathering Place, as the former café space within the store is now called, can accommodate about 75 people, and it’s busy many days each month with events including poetry readings, music jams, Heartsparkle Players performances and private get-togethers.

“We’re having quinceañeras and birthday parties and retirement celebrations and memorial services,” she said. “It’s really beautiful. and then of course there are classes and political events. There are four (participatory) singing events that happen every month. We are building community in so many ways, and each of those is helping us to stay as Traditions the Gathering Place. It’s really nice not just in how it’s starting to support itself but in how its working for the community. It makes me really happy.”

Celtic music has been one of the venue’s mainstays since Dick Meyer founded it in 1996, Mackey said, and she’s grateful to be able to continue the tradition. She has fond memories of the Hensold and O’Brien’s previous visit about five years ago. “People really enjoyed it,” she said.

Dick Hensold & Patsy O’Brien

7 p.m. April 11

The Gathering Place at New Traditions Fair Trade, 300 5th Ave. SW, Olympia


https://newtraditionsfairtrade.com | 360-705-2819

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