The power of preposterous ideas
March 17, 2014
by Ivan Raconteur

I don’t suppose any of us enjoy admitting we are wrong, but in one recent case, I don’t mind admitting, for the record, I was completely and unequivocally wrong, and I’m glad I was.

When I received a group e-mail message from Julie Guggemos of the Winsted Arts Council on a recent Sunday evening, two thoughts occurred to me in quick succession.

In her message, Julie explained how she had discovered the traditional Irish folk band, Dervish, was going to be in the area, and she had contacted them about playing a concert in Winsted.

I was familiar with Dervish. I knew their music, and I had seen them perform live in the past. My first thought was that it would be a delightful treat to have a band of this world-class caliber perform in one of our local cities.

My second thought was there was no way Julie and the Winsted Arts Council would be able to pull off a monumental feat like booking this band and making all the necessary arrangements in the time available, which was less than two weeks.

This second thought turned out to be completely and deliciously wrong.

It may have been a preposterous idea, but the concert did happen, and it was a blast.

For those who have never been exposed to traditional Irish music, I should explain that this is not the kind of event at which people go to sit quietly like a bunch of fossils in a museum. This music grew out of Irish pubs, where people went to share stories and music, and experience some good craic (or “crack,” which roughly means to have an enjoyable time and entertaining conversation).

Audience participation, including clapping, stamping one’s feet, singing along, and even spontaneous dancing, is not only allowed, but encouraged.

I suspect there were a few people who experienced that for the first time Wednesday at the Blue Note.

The members of Dervish have been performing together for a quarter of a century, and they still love what they do. They aren’t just going through the motions – they still bring it every time they perform, even when the gig happens to be in a small town in McLeod County which they surely had never heard of two weeks ago.

Front woman Cathy Jordan was engaging as always, making jokes, telling stories, and guiding the audience on a musical adventure.

In addition to her soaring and sometimes haunting vocals, Jordan plays bodhran and bones.

Band members Liam Kelly (flute and whistles), Brian McDonagh (mandola, mandolin), Tom Morrow (fiddle, viola), Shane Mitchell (accordion), and Michael Holmes (bouzouki) were in fine form, demonstrating their remarkable musical ability.

The band has performed in hundreds of cities and dozens of countries around the world, and I suspect they added a few new members to their legion of fans last week.

Dervish brought the crowd to its feet, and as I looked across the sea of smiling faces, from young children to great-grandparents, I was convinced the event was an unqualified success.

Perhaps the most important thing I took away from the show was not about talented people performing wonderful music, but about people who embrace ridiculous ideas.

Julie and Chip Guggemos fit that description, as do other members of the arts council.

As a matter of fact, we are fortunate to have an abundance of people in this area who embrace ideas that others might consider ridiculous or unlikely.

What makes these people special is that they deal in possibilities.

Instead of focusing on the reasons something cannot be done, they ask “why not?”

If, for example, Julie, after her initial flash of enthusiasm, had stopped and considered all the reasons why it was impossible to book a world-renowned band in a small town with no time for planning or publicity, we might have excused her abandoning the idea as simply common sense. Had she done so, however, she would have deprived a lot of people of a real cultural treat.

Instead, she rolled up her sleeves and got busy figuring out what it would take to make the event possible, recruiting people to help, and finding sponsors to turn her ridiculous idea into reality.

That kind of enthusiasm is contagious.

It took a lot of people working together to make Wednesday’s concert possible, particularly given the limited time they had to work with, but they got it done. It also took the support of people in Winsted and the surrounding communities to rally ‘round and attend an event in the middle of the week.

Perhaps it required a leap of faith on all sides. The sponsors had to believe the event was both possible and worth doing. The band had to believe a few inexperienced amateurs could pull off the organization. The audience members had to be willing, on short notice, to try something that for many of them was likely a new experience.

When we deal in possibilities, there is no telling what we might accomplish.

I’m glad there are people who are willing to take risks and dare to attempt daunting tasks.

As Wednesday’s concert proved, if we embrace possibilities, the most preposterous ideas can sometimes generate the most pleasant results.

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