2018-04-12 / News

Library to come alive with luck of the Irish

Ed McGuirl, Slackwater String Band will take the stage Sunday
BY RYAN GIBBS


Ed McGuirl, from left, Tom Perrotti and Mike Fischman performing Celtic music as the Slackwater String Band during a gig last year in the library. Evidenced by the hardware behind them, the trio play an arsenal of instruments during their concerts. Ed McGuirl, from left, Tom Perrotti and Mike Fischman performing Celtic music as the Slackwater String Band during a gig last year in the library. Evidenced by the hardware behind them, the trio play an arsenal of instruments during their concerts. While April 15 is the traditional deadline for filing taxes, since it falls on a Sunday this year, the federal government has extended the deadline by 48 hours.

To reward taxpayers breathing a deep sigh of relief, a folk concert has been scheduled at the library.

“We’re happy to entertain you while you have a tax break,” said Ed McGuirl, a West Street resident.

The Slackwater String Band, a trio that includes McGuirl, will perform its eclectic acoustic mix of music Sunday starting at 3 p.m. From traditional Celtic tunes to country blues, the men and their arsenal of instruments will stage the finale of the library’s winter concert series.

“We’re pretty diverse,” Mc- Guirl said, “but it all goes under the category of folk.”

Aside from McGuirl, a former harbor commissioner, the band includes Tom Perrotti and Mike Fischman, and all three men are heavily involved with the folk music scene in Rhode Island. McGuirl is a former Providence Phoenix award winner, Fischman hosts the “Bluegrass Breakdown” radio show on WRIU and Perrotti is the director of education at Common Fence Music.

Along with their storied backgrounds, the men are known for their smorgasbord of instruments. For example, McGuirl plays guitar, resonator, mandolin, fiddle, penny whistle and concertina. A native of Providence, he has lived in Jamestown for four decades, which also is when he became interested in Celtic music. He was playing “old-timey music” at the time but got caught in the Irish wave that swept across the state.

“I was listening to a lot of it,” he said. “There was a big resurgence in the mid-’70s of interest in traditional Irish music. I just started playing different instruments.”

From 1977-87, McGuirl was a member of the Greencastle Band, a prolific Celtic ensemble that traveled throughout New England. Following that stint, he began collaborating with Fischman, a Rhode Island transplant who moved from Long Island, N.Y. in 1985. The duo was billed as the Folk Support Group.

McGuirl and Fischman, a 2016 inductee into the Rhode Island Bluegrass Alliance Hall of Fame, partnered with Perrotti to found the Slackwater String Band in 2012. They first met through “A Gathering of Fiddles and Fisherman,” an annual open-mic show at Common Fence that celebrates the sea. The concert is performed in the style of a traditional Irish jam session called a “seisiun,” which is musicians playing “together in a relaxed, informal setting, while in the process generally beefing up the mystical cultural mantra that hums along uninterruptedly beneath all manifestations of Irishness worldwide,” according to the “Field Guide to the Irish Music Session.” For the past five years, the trio also has acted as the Portsmouth venue’s house band, serenading the crowd during anniversary shows and acting “as a warm-up band for some of the bigger acts.”

The set list for their show Sunday will include original songs, along with covers from Hank Williams and Leadbelly. They also perform a few numbers in a genre called mento, which is an acoustic forerunner to reggae.

“We’ve kind of Americanized it and we came up with our own name: Ameri-mento” McGuirl said. “We just sort of take some songs and spin them our own way. It was fun to take reggae music and do it more in an acoustic style. It’s very easy listening and it’s a beat that everybody reacts to.”

One of the mento songs in their repertoire is a McGuirl original called “Raining in Rhode Island,” a love song he wrote for his wife, Laura Clarke. Another original McGuirl song in the set list is a blues number called “Don’t Forget your Hat.” He wrote it in 2011 for a compilation album called “Singing About Providence,” which was prepared to celebrate the 375th anniversary of the city’s founding.

“It’s about Roger Williams leaving Massachusetts and coming to Rhode Island, the separation of church and state, and him getting along with Conanicus,” he said.

Aside from the Slackwater String Band, McGuirl performs as a solo artist and also collaborates with his neighbors. In February, for example, he performed at the library alongside Vanity 6 member Brenda Bennett and novelist Neal Yeomans. That show had a positive reception, which McGuirl hopes to re-create this weekend.

“The library is just a great venue,” he said. “It’s local, it’s family-friendly and it’s a listening crowd. People really enjoy themselves.”

Although McGuirl has been moonlighting as a musician since 1971, by day he is a substance abuse counselor. Both he and his wife have an adult child from previous marriages, with one grandson. When McGuirl’s not working or strumming, he enjoys tai chi, a Chinese martial art practiced for defense training and health benefits.

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