Review: Cork Midsummer Festival's Bowerbird Night 1

The 2012 edition of the Midsummer Festival draws to a close this weekend after treating the inhabitants of Cork - and visitors alike - to eleven absorbing days of theatre, art, dance and music. The main attraction for many was always going to be this weekend's Bowerbird, a gathering of some of the finest folkies walking the planet. And boy is it off to one hell of a start.

Co-curator and host for the night Adrian Crowley first welcomes London-born harpist Serafina Steer to the hallowed altar/stage. Suitably dressed in angelic white, the self-confessed Irishophile - due to her attempt at reading the Joycean masterpiece Ulysses now stretching on for at least two years -'s sharp wit, dexterous harping abilities, whimsical tone and general all-round loveliness quickly has all in attendance tucked neatly within a heavenly pocket. 'The Night Before Mutiny', a "sea shanty about a whore", plucked deftly from 2010 EP Bloody Hell and 'Skinny Dipping', a new arrangement composed specially for Christmas, despite containing no references to the holiday period or even the season of Winter are just two highlights of the English folkie's opening set. For those who missed tonight's performance, Steer will also open Bowerbird's second night.

In the blink of an eye, the night's MC Adrian Crowley is not only back on stage but hoisting a beautiful crimson electric upon his shoulder. No stranger to the Christchurch (click here for a recap on the Galwegian's October visit), the tone of Crowley's instrument seems forged in a fire fit for these ethereal surroundings alone. Opening with 'Long Distance Swimmer', it is clear that if Ireland possesses a Bill Callahan-esque figure, then he is playing second on the bill tonight. Oddly, the songwriter humbly asks the crowd to remind him to recount a story about beards later in the set before continuing with a billowing version of 'The Beekeeper's Wife', the reverb-soaked picking accentuated by the hall's natural acoustics. And back to the "beard" story. A misdirected outsider reminded our host for the night of his son's shock at seeing his father's new beard a few years back. "Dad, it's like you're wearing a mask." Looking to deal with the situation immediately, dad rises early to shave and surprise his son who sleepily replied "Dad, it's like you're wearing a mask." Adrian Crowley tells the story better as he plays immaculately. Another Triskel knockout performance from the Galway man.

Mr. Amidon is another of tonight's performers who is not new to the venue having played a mesmerising set back in September (click here for a review). Like a master illusionist, the Vermontian misdirects all in attendance with a squalling, meandering fiddle piece that flickers brilliance here and there before cheekily welcoming everyone to Cork. It is such an introduction that amplifies the impact of tender ballad 'Bright Sunny South' before conducting crowd-sung harmonies during the majestic 'Way Go, Lily'. The trusty banjo makes an appearance as a pattern involving Kirsten Dunst's choice of movies is connected with 2012 and the apocalypse. Sam has taken it upon himself to point out the hollywood actresses road from Spiderman to Elizabeth Town to Melancholia is not purely coincidence. A false start to his most famous recording, 'Saro', only adds to the excitement as a capo is eventually moved to the correct fret and the singer's voice slips into key. To top it all off, the multi-instrumentalist plays the same tune again, but this time accompanied by the fiddle in true Kentuckian style.

A true legend has been drafted in to close the first wonderful night that has been Bowerbird. It is extraordinary to think Andy Irvine, the man who will spend the next hour enthralling the Christchurch crowd with his superb guitar and bouzouki playing, unmistakable voice and peerless storytelling, recently turned 70 years of age. At times it was as if tonight was a midweek screening of an independent movie as striking images and stories of Mother Jones, Slovenian lovers, the trad nirvana that was O'Donoghue's in the sixties and hardcore Norwegian drinking are projected towards the pews. From the second a guitar was touched, there was no any doubt why closing duties were reserved for the former Sweeney's Man.

A magical night.

- See review of night 2 here