Clear as folk: Reflections on Celtic Concert Series, culture, & community

Nov 3, 17 • 5enses, FeatureNo Comments

David McNabb. Courtesy photo.

By Robert Blood

[Editor’s note: The following interview was culled from conversations between the reporter and David McNabb, the director of Prescott’s Celtic Concert Series. Contact him at 928-771-1218 or McNabbPrescott@AOL.Com.]

How did you end up organizing Celtic concerts in Prescott?

I started back in L.A. I was at Pepperdine University back in the 1970s and I was president of the Scottish club. There were two girls that grew up singing together there and there was a sister, though she didn’t go to Pepperdine, but after we graduated, she connected with me and started performing as the Browne Sisters with their cousin, George Cavanaugh, on guitar, and they wanted to find some places to play. I was pretty well connected with the Scottish community in Southern California, so that’s how I got started promoting Celtic concerts.

Was Scottish and Celtic culture an important part of your background prior to that?

I grew up listening to the bagpipes and traditional Scottish music and singers and going to the Scottish Highland Games, wearing the kilt, all of that. It’s always been a part of my cultural heritage. … Actually, I got married in Scotland in 1993. My wife is from the north of Scotland, above Loch Ness. We got married on a little country church on the shore of Loch Ness and had the reception at a castle in Dingwall and spent a month traveling around Scotland looking at different places. We’ve been back four times since 1993.

So, how did you end up in Prescott?

I was in Southern California, promoting the Browne Sisters and George Cavanaugh and, somehow, word got out that I was doing that. Booking agents who were working with Celtic performers started contacting me and asking to get there bands on bills. There was a Celtic Society in northern Hollywood, and they wanted to start a regular concert series and they asked me to be their concert director. I did that for six years before coming over here. Maybe it was longer — I’m not sure. So, I was running that one, which was mainly local, California acts or acts coming from other states, and then I was booking my own series with bands based in Scotland and Ireland. … When I moved to Prescott in January of 2003, I planned on stopping the concert series, but somehow one of the promoters got my number over here and asked me to put together a concert with his groups. I agreed to do that about six months after I moved here and, through that, started up the Prescott Celtic Concert Series.

What was that early reception like, some 14 years ago?

There was a pretty good Scottish community here, the Scots of Prescott. Then, I started up the Highland Games here, too, which is now in its 14th year. I used to be a Scottish athlete, too, and competed for 21 years, which was way too long. Actually, I was one of the top amateurs in the nation and I was also president of my clan society for about 35 years. So, yeah, I’ve had a lot of avenues and a pretty big background in this stuff. Anyway, we continued to put on these Celtic concerts here in Prescott, and people were receptive, and we’ve built up a group of people interested in this stuff.

What is it that defines Scottish music? How does that compare to Irish music or Celtic music at large?

Traditional Scottish music has a lot of ballads in it. It tells stories about real or imagined happenings. There are love stories, tragedies, people dying, unrequited love, and a lot of sad things. As far as instrumentation goes, there’s usually a guitar, a fiddle, an accordion, and sometimes bagpipes. Not usually, but occasionally there’s a bass and a drum kit. Sometimes there’s a bouzouki, which was introduced in the 1960s Scottish folk music scene. … I’d say Irish music tends to be faster and more repetitive and more instrumental. Scottish music tends to be slower and have more singing and more ballads. Irish culture leans more toward dancing. When we have a social gather, a cèilidh, whether it’s Scottish or Irish, it’s all ages, not just young people. The Irish cèilidhs almost always have dancing. The Scottish cèilidhs tend to be more about listening to the music and singing.

How does the music tie into the culture?

There’s the Gaelic language aspect, and the language of a people is always instrumental in perpetuating its culture and heritage. Culturally, the bagpipes are really, really important. It stirs the blood of almost any Scot I’ve ever met. The English banned it in 1746 along with tartan and the kilt and certain weapons. They weren’t just trying to stop an uprising; they were trying to wipe out a culture. … Music and dance are a huge part of preserving culture. To me, my favorite thing is the music, itself. I love to bring Celtic music here and share it with people, especially people who haven’t necessarily heard it or aren’t as familiar with it. We’re always trying to get young people interested in it, too, which is why anyone who’s under 19 gets into concerts free. The college student price is only $10, as well. For adults, it’s $20-$25 a concert, depending on the group. I always encourage people to bring their kids, grandkids, and neighbors. We just had Jim Malcolm in October. … Over the years, we’ve moved through a couple of different venues, but now we’ve found a permanent home at the Trinity Presbyterian Church. They’ve given us a strong commitment and have been very good to us.It’s a really good venue with theater-style seating because of the pews. We normally have around six concerts a year. The best way to learn about upcoming shows is to email me and asked to be added to my email list. … I should also mention that the Highland Games next year are going to be in September, the 15th and 16th I think. It got moved from the May date because of the weather. That’s another great place to hear Celtic music. The main thing is to try to get people exposed to the music. Most people, once they hear it, they really enjoy it.


Find out more about Prescott’s Celtic Concert Series and sign up for reminders by contacting David McNabb, director of the events, at 928-771-1218 or McNabbPrescott@AOL.Com.

Robert Blood is a Mayer-ish-based freelance writer and ne’er-do-well who’s working on his last book, which, incidentally, will be his first. Contact him at BloodyBobby5@Gmail.Com.

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