I love the Barra MacNeils, a family group from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Their version of Bing Crosby’s “Christmas in Killarney” is so lively. The Barra MacNeils, along with people like The Rankins, Rita MacNeil, Leahy, Barrage and other Canadian groups make wonderful sounding Celtic music. But what is Celtic music?
Perhaps the easiest way to describe Celtic music is to say this: it’s a folky fiddle-based music, sometimes incorporating the pennywhistle, brought over to Canada and the U.S. from Ireland and Scotland. Much of today’s bluegrass and Country music has Celtic influences.
When Western Europeans came to “the new world,” they brought with them their families, fiddles and voices. It was common for families to spend what little free time they had using music as a way to enjoy life and party.
If we think back to the last century, the 1960s saw groups like Fairport Convention, Pentangle, Steeleye Span and Horslips find popularity in American music, though I admit they’re not known by me; in the 1970s, the band that really paved the way for Celtic music in the U.S. was Clannad, which I am familiar with. Clannad begat a whole slew of other Irish/Scottish-influenced artists and bands that have since become somewhat familiar to American ears– the soothing sounds of Enya, the pop-rock of The Corrs, the arena rock of U2, and the PBS staple known as “Riverdance.”
One of Celtic music’s biggest successes is The Chieftains. Together since 1962, the band bridges the gap between old Irish tunes and modern day audiences. The Chieftains have collaborated with many other artists, such as The Rolling Stones, The Decemberists, and Bon Iver, in order to expand the genre’s stable of fans.
In addition to mainstream success, Celtic-influenced bands with edgier, punkish sounds like The Pogues, Flogging Molly, Black 47, and Dropkick Murphys often perform for large crowds at bars and outdoor venues in cities across America. You could call those bands Celtic punk, Celtic rock, or Celtic alternative.
So, to sum up, Celtic music = Irish/Scottish + fiddle + pennywhistle.
And there certainly are a lot of Celtic-influenced bands in popular music today, so type in some of the aforementioned names on YouTube to discover them.