First Music Festival
Since I had been to a number of Irish music workshops over the years and knew there was a lot of people playing Irish music around the continent (many of them with no other connection to Ireland except through Arthur Guinness and their local Irish pub) I tentatively suggested running a music and dance workshop at Whit 1995. Then the hurling match began – the ball was thrown back and forth: Where would we hold it? Who would come to it? Who would teach it? Would it pay for itself or would we all end up in the Debtors Prison?
In the heel of the hunt, the decision was taken to ‘risk it for the biscuit’, as we used to say back in Dear Dirty Dublin! The Cashin’s then offered the fledgling Association their beautiful house as a venue. The location alone was a great attraction, situated as it is just outside Orbey, in the heart of the south Vosges.
The next question was, who should do the teaching? So I rang an old musical friend of mine, Tom cussen, banjo-maker extraordinary, and asked him if he would come over with his group Shaskeen, one of the best known trad bands in the West of Ireland - on the condition that the members of the group would teach their respective instruments. although Tom himself at first doubted his ability to teach the instrument he made, he finally accepted his fate and the rest of the group enthusiastically agreed. So all that remained to be done was to find enough equally enthusiastic participants to make the venture pay for itself.
Many long hours were spent folding hundreds of leaflets, many tongues got dry licking and stamping hundreds of envelopes, many bottles of drinks, various and nefarious, were consumed to sustain this mighty effort (this was at a time when only the more technologically enlightened among us were communicating by email!). It has to be said that it was, at times, touch and go whether the project would ever come to fruition - indeed, there were one or two stormy meetings where strong doubts were expressed as to whether we were not getting into something too financially risky.
Then the first enrolment came, and a second and then one by one the magical forms came trickling in with their booking deposits, giving us all hope that this first big venture might, after all, be a success. As the news spread of what those eccentric Rhine Irish were up to, more and more interested would-be musicians and dancers took the plunge and signed up for a wild weekend in the Vosges. On the great day itself, about 60 adventurous souls came trooping into Les Epinettes, carrying an eclectic mixture of musical instruments and dancing shoes. The first RVIA music and dance weekend was underway!
It is very hard to describe the air of organized chaos that reigned on that weekend! We did not have the facilities we have now at Floessplatz, of course, so everything, an that means everything, from cooking, running the bar, washing up, cleaning up, dealing with participants' various queries and problems, had to be done by our overworked, somewhat bewildered but wonderfully enthusiastic committee members, ably directed by our hosts, the irrepressible Cashin family. During that first incredibly hectic weekend, I felt that if I did not get a heart attack on that weekend, then the chances were good of living forever! I remember clearly retiring from the fray at regular intervals to revitalize myself with a shot of uisce beatha (water of life, for all you tea-totallers!)kindly provided for the battle-weary troops by Cherry and Tom Cashin.
But the high point of the weekend must be the first concert that Shaskeen gave, in the spacious living room of the Cashin family. Spacious it was, but not designed to accommodate 80 to 90 people! They were sitting, standing, crouching everywhere - on benches, on the floors, on the window sills, on partner's laps, each other's shoulders. The air of expectancy was simply electric - and Shaskeen did not disappoint! From the first minutes of that memorable performance to the last encore, the whole room seemed to be moving and pulsating to the driving, centuries-old rhythms of the Celts. The concert was followed by an equally memorable ceili, where the Cashins' parquet floor took such a beating that it had to be totally resurfaced!
But from that moment on, we all knew that we had created something that would perpetuate itself - and so it has.
I am very sad to say that my very good friend George passed away following a short illness in early Dec '09. May he rest in peace.