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Players are primed for St. Pat’s Celtic music marathon

Valley resident and local musician Stewart Burrows has been playing Celtic music in the region for over two decades. And this year, he’s got around 15 gigs in the Valley and surrounding areas from the weekend before St Patrick’s Day until the weekend itself is over. Joining him is his frequent stage partner, Alice Packard.

Burrows is of Scots Irish descent and claims Celtic music as “the music of my people.” His instruments of choice are guitar and vocals. Part of his love for Celtic music started during his time at university; “I went to college down in the Maritimes. I saw Great Big Sea a bunch of times; they were kind of nascent when I was in university. And it seemed like a fun way to make a living.” At this time, Irish pubs were rising in popularity and seemed to be popping up on every corner, which also contributed to his desire to play this kind of music. “In the early to mid90skind of like brew pubs are right now Irish pubs were everywhere. Everybody who wanted to open an establishment in the 90s opened an Irish pub.”

Packard is a fiddle player who grew up in Boston, where she spent time as a kid learning to play classical violin. Being from an area with such strong Irish roots, she’s no stranger to big celebrations on St. Patrick’s Day. She now lives in Huntingdon and has shifted her musical focus to be more centered on Celtic music. Though she says, “I haven’t spent much of my life as a professional musician,” she has been performing with Burrows quite frequently for the past year. She jokes that even with all the shows happening this year, “Coming from Boston, it seems very lowkey here.” In Boston, Celtic music is popular all year long, compared to its definite spike in popularity here in March.

Together, Burrows and Packard will be playing for about 19 hours straight on St. Patrick’s Day, including spending part of the night at the Vieux Moulin in Ormstown. Their gigs start at 7 a.m.and run until 2 a.m. the following day. This is fairly standard for Burrows, but it will be Packard’s first year playing with such an extreme schedule. Though it can be a stressful and exhausting time of the year, Burrows says that the moments onstage are always a blast. He jokes that throughout his many years as a Celtic musician on St. Paddy’s Day, he’s racked up some experiences: “Not all stories are good for mixed company; I’ve had some wonderful adventures on the day!”

It feels as though Celtic music and St. Patrick’s Day are always popular celebrations in the Valley. Packard explains: “I think that there’s a fair group of people here in the Valley that seem to really take pride in their heritage.” Burrows echoes this and adds that “It’s the music of the people that come from here. Historically this is a Celtic area, at least in terms of the anglophonespeaking population. And Quebec is considered one of the Celtic nations as well. So, we have it from all sides. It’s the music of the history of the Valley.

Both Packard and Burrows are looking forward to seeing what the crowds will be like this year. Last year, St. Patrick’s Day fell right as restrictions were lifting, and crowds were huge; but Burrows expects them to be even bigger this year. “It was an absolute madhouse last year. This year there’ll be more people out, because not everybody was ready to go out last year.” Both Burrows and Packard are expecting the night to be filled with excited crowds, more than ready to celebrate.

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