As part of the West Michigan trio’s busy week — including SpeakEZ Lounge’s return of Local Spins Wednesday – Selkie visited with Local Spins on WYCE, which also debuted a host of Michigan-made tracks.
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Multi-instrumentalists Jim Spalink and Michele Venegas of Selkie didn’t grow up in the Celtic music tradition, but they long ago became spellbound by Irish music.
Spalink first was drawn to 1970s Celtic fusion outfits such as Clannad, Fairport Convention and Silly Wizard because “all that stuff just captivated me.”
Venegas embraced the music of some Irish groups in high school, but it wasn’t until Grand Rapids musician and neighbor David Molinari asked her to play violin in his band that she fell completely under the Celtic spell.
“It was like I caught fire. I have never played so much in my life, and I fell in love with it,” she recalled. “That began my journey.”
After a subdued two-year period overshadowed by the COVID pandemic, Irish music once again is catching fire in 2022, starting today (March 12) with parades and weekend celebrations taking place across West Michigan ahead of St. Patrick’s Day.
As part of the traditional Celtic trio Selkie – along with accordionist, flutist and singer Cara Lieurance of Kalamazoo – Venegas and Spalink are more than eager to get back out in front of live audiences.
“It feels good to do it and you can also sense that people listening have been starved for it,” said Spalink, who plays bouzouki, guitar and Irish harp.
A spinoff from the longstanding Celtic and world music quartet An Dro (which performed and recorded with world-class percussionist Carolyn Koebel) – which played its final show in 2021 – Selkie has taken a more traditional turn with its live gigs since forming in 2019.
“Some of the stuff we play now is 1,000 years old,” Spalink said, who provided live recordings of Selkie’s performance of vintage Celtic tunes for this week’s edition of Local Spins on WYCE.
“Our goal in the band is to have fun. But we strive and challenge each other to constantly study and improve our understanding and performance of traditional Celtic music. … Exploring the Celtic tradition has a component of pleasurable addiction to it.”
That said, the West Michigan trio does include some original music in its sets. “We like to say that our original stuff is traditional music that hasn’t become old enough yet,” Spalink joked.
A BUSY WEEK OF LIVE CELTIC MUSIC, PART OF A LIFELONG MUSICAL PURSUIT
The band’s hectic schedule this coming week includes three performances today (March 12): 9 a.m. at Saugatuck Brewing in Douglas, 12:30 p.m. at The Curragh Irish Pub in Holland and 5:30 p.m. at Quinn & Tuite’s Irish Pub in Grand Rapids – followed by a 12:30 p.m. Sunday appearance at Cedar Springs Brewing.
On Wednesday (March 16), Selkie will fire up the first Local Spins Wednesday show in two years at SpeakEZ Lounge in downtown Grand Rapids starting at 8 p.m. (Coincidentally, An Dro was the last band to play the SpeakEZ series before the 2020 COVID shutdown.)
Selkie also plays two St. Patrick’s Day shows on Thursday: 11:30 a.m. at Fresh Food Co. in Allendale, and 5:30 p.m. at The Curragh in Holland.
View a full roster of St. Patrick’s week concerts and celebrations in the Local Spins Concert Calendar.
Spalink and Venegas stressed that Selkie is just the latest iteration of various groups and lineup changes that are common in Michigan’s Irish music scene.
“The Celtic music community in Michigan is a very small group of people. We’re sort of incestuous,” said Venegas, who plays fiddle, tenor banjo and guitar. “We’ve likely all played with one another at some time or another.”
Added Spalink: “It morphs. I’ve had to keep changing the name it seems because every time you add another musician who has a completely different background … it changes the whole spirit of the music.”
As for Selkie’s future, Spalink expects to add “more vocal harmonies as well as forays into electronic elements” into its shows along with the usual jigs and reels. Studio recordings also are likely.
“It is a lifelong pursuit to learn new tunes and churn set lists accordingly,” Spalink said. “We’re also giving back to the (Irish music) sessions as experienced players, as much as we’re learning from them, which is rewarding.”
In addition to Selkie’s music, this week’s edition of Local Spins on WYCE – which showcases regional music at 11 a.m. Fridays at WYCE (88.1 FM) and online at wyce.org – spotlighted music by Small Foreign Faction, Moon Orchids, Stevie Wonder (Selkie’s musicians’ pick), Cal in Red, The Eat It Up Trio, Katie Pederson, Djangophonique, Dynaflo and Greta Van Fleet (which played Kalamazoo on Thursday, with a DeltaPlex Arena tour stop tonight). Listen to the radio show podcast here.
PODCAST: Local Spins on WYCE (3/11/22)
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