A Legend Lives

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

This coming Monday is, of course, St. Patrick’s Day. If, amid all the green beer, leprechauns and general celebration every year, you find yourself wondering exactly who the patron saint of Ireland really was, then this weekend there is an event just for you.  Local Celtic band Isle of Light will be joining forces with Irish born storyteller Allen Bradford to tell the story of St. Patrick in words and music.

St. Patrick was the son of a wealthy Christian family in 5th Century Britain.  At the age of 16 he was abducted from his village and taken as a slave.  He worked tending the sheep belonging to a druid chieftain for six years before escaping back to Britain.  His experiences as a slave had strengthened his faith in God and he began training as a minister.  Eventually, he felt a calling to go back to Ireland, and he convinced his church to send him there to be a missionary.  He went there, and spent the next 29 years preaching to the Irish people, and founded over 300 churches there.  Many myths and legends have grown up around St. Patrick, including the story that he drove all of the snakes from Ireland.  No doubt you will have the chance to hear all the stories at the show, which is approximately 90 minutes in length and alternates between spoken word and musical sections.

The core of the band Isle of Lights is made up of husband and wife Jeff and Mary Kay Wilkinson.  Guitarist Jeff Wilkinson was born in Detroit, Michigan, but moved to California with his family when he was 6 years old.  He studied guitar with Celtic guitar legend William Coulter.  Mary Kay Wilkinson is a California native, growing up in Long Beach.  She studied classical violin from the age of 10, and to this day plays in orchestras in Santa Cruz.  They began playing Celtic music together in 1994, when a friend gave them a “fake book” of dance tunes.  Although the book contained music from around the world, they found themselves coming back to the Celtic tunes time and again.  From these beginnings grew the idea for a band specializing in this type of music.

The third regular member of Isle of Light is piper David Brewer, who plays three varieties of Scottish bagpipes as well as the Irish uilleann pipes, a variety of whistles and bodhran (Irish frame drum).  For two of this weekend’s shows, however, two other musicians will be sitting in.  George Grasso will be playing Irish flute and whistles, and Richard Katz uilleann pipes and bodhran.

Isle of Light has released two CDs, the most recent of which, 2002’s “Winter’s Welcome,” having a winter theme to the music.  Both CDs feature a mixture of traditional music and the Wilkinsons’ own songs, which the CD liner notes describe as “New Songs of Worship.”  The lyrics of the songs have broadly spiritual or Christian themes and fit well with the instrumentation and arrangements. The band is looking to play more widely on the Celtic festival circuit in the coming year.  In the meantime, you have three chances to catch the St. Patrick’s show this weekend.

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, March 13, 2003

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