New York band brings Celtic music to Nome
The music sounded a little different during Nome’s annual summer event: for the first time in the history of the concert, the headliner was a Celtic band. Warbelow Range, a quartet from New York City, performed mainly traditional Irish songs during their performance in Nome. The group came to town after playing at the Summer Arts Festival in Fairbanks, the hometown of the band’s violinist and fiddle player Caitlin Warbelow.
The main concert, held on Wednesday evening, opened with dancing from the Nome-St. Lawrence Island Dance Group.
During their performance, Warbelow Range engaged with the audience by educating them about the different types of Celtic songs, including jigs and reels. They also explained the interesting names of some of the pieces, such as “Porthole of the Kelp” (the term for the pocket of air in seaweed). While the song names may be obscure, the band’s enthusiasm for their music was not. A source of entertainment was a friendly competition between Dan Lowery on the flute and Warbelow: as they do in many concerts, they played a song together as fast as they could to see who would finish first.
Warbelow Range’s Nome performance fits with Warbelow’s goal for her music. She and Lowry, who plays both flute and guitar for the band, are currently performing in the Broadway musical “Come From Away.” However, Warbelow said, her favorite concert experiences do not come from big stages, but rather from “bringing the joy of music” to small communities. Warbelow herself found a love for Celtic music as a child. Originally trained as a classical violinist, she heard the Irish music and “liked that better than the classical music I was being forced to play.” Warbelow explained that she has returned to Fairbanks to teach and perform for at the Summer Arts Festival for the past 10 years. This year, the band came with her.
Along with Warbelow and Lowry, other members include Alan Murray on the Irish bouzouki (an instrument similar to the mandolin) and Kyle Sanna on the guitar. In typical New York style, the musicians’ hometowns are wide-ranging—from Scotland to Texas to Fairbanks. The official band is relatively young; Warbelow said they formally became a group about a year ago. However, they have all known each other for several years and have been playing together in different contexts. Warbelow Range recently put out their first album, which is self-entitled.
The band’s name comes in part from Warbelow, who has lived in New York for about 10 years. When coming up with a name for the group, she deemed “The Caitlin Warbelow Band” too boring. Because she wanted something that would evoke Alaska, Warbelow chose range, as in mountain range. More than just being Alaskan and a reference to the band’s interests, “we’re all outdoorsy” Warbelow said, the name has a more abstract meaning. Just as a group of mountains makes a whole larger than their parts—a range—when musicians play together the product “makes something bigger.”
In Nome, the range expanded to include local artists. Nome Arts Council member and event organizer Carol Gales said, this is one of the goals of the summer music festivals: showcasing local talent while exposing the town to new artists. The full schedule of activities for the week included an open jam session and an open mic night as well as a community dance with Warbelow Range and instrument workshops for both kids and adults. Local bands, including Landbridge Tollbooth, the Usual Suspects and the Bering Strait Jackets held their own concerts throughout the week.
Though the underlying theme has remained intact, Nome’s Summer Music Festival has undergone some changes in the past few years. Starting in 2001, the concert was known as the Nome Midnight Sun Folk Fest and occurred on summer solstice weekend. A few years ago, it was held later in the summer and became known as the Nome Salmonberry Jam Folk Fest. The event took a one-year hiatus last year. According to Gales, the 2018 status was uncertain until the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival contacted the Nome Arts Council about bringing Warbelow Range to Nome. Since the event did not occur during the summer solstice weekend it is not the Midnight Sun Folk Fest, and since it does not coincide with the local vendors selling food and crafts as it did during Salmonberry Jam Folk Fest, the event was given a new name. “We wanted to bill it as something different,” Gales said.
The funding for Warbelow Range’s trip came from the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival, the Nome Arts Council and a grant from the Rasmuson Foundation.