Hadrian's Wall
at Mount Hope Estate
& Winery, Cornwall, PA
(11 July 1999)

It didn't take long for a few dozen people, mostly bare-footed and wearing kilts, to abandon their seats on hard benches and soft grass and find a spot on the jousting field for dancing.

Jousting field? Indeed. For one weekend, the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire grounds at Mount Hope Estate & Winery was instead being used as a showcase for the new, hopefully annual Scottish & Irish Fling. Although actors still wandered the grounds in Renaissance garb and accents, the new format allowed organizers to step outside the usual "period" constraints of the faire and hire bands which plug in.

Entertainers throughout the weekend included Philadelphia singer Charlie Zahm and band Misty Isle, plus the Canadian duo Worthley and Clark and a dance-and-comedy troupe, the Tartan Terrors. (You must see their "Highland Swing"!) There was, of course, a bagpipe band, the Quittapahilla Highlanders. And each day also ended with a headline act in the sprawling jousting arena.

On Saturday, people left in a steady stream during a performance of Neil Anderson's new band, Full Circle. I suppose the threatening clouds might have had something to do with it, but since most of the people there had weathered a downpour earlier in the day, I'm thinking there were other reasons. My own theory -- sheer disappointment. People accustomed to Anderson's work with Seven Nations were no doubt expecting something a little better than Full Circle seemed capable of delivering, Anderson's excellent piping skills notwithstanding.

But Sunday's headliner fared better. Hadrian's Wall, a kilted quartet down from Glengarry, Ontario, put on a rockin', gung-ho, 90-minute show, filling the field with their electric Scots-Canadian sound and, as I mentioned earlier, a few dozen enthusiastic dancers.

The always-smiling band never lost sight of the traditional roots which inspired them, but each song had its own Hadrian's Wall flair. The lively set, beneath a bright blue sky not even hinting at rain, included tunes from all three of the band's albums, Hadrian's Wall, Glengarry and, their latest, Courtin' in the Kitchen. The play list included "Killiecrankie," "The Jolly Piper," a rollicking "Donald Where's Your Trousers," "Barrett's Privateers," "Jock Stewart," "The Irish Rover" and "The Martintown Song." The band also cranked out a grand "Loch Lomond," half traditional and half kickin', and their "Drunken Mix" was a high point among high points.

Another major crowd pleaser was the impromptu "Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire" song, which dealt mostly with the band's lack of underwear. (Hey, it rhymes with "faire.")

OK, I'm not sure why lead singer/guitarist Neil Emberg kept up a running commentary on singer/bassist Terry O'Farrell's apparent flatulence -- perhaps it's an aspect of Canadian humor I wasn't previously aware of -- but at least it didn't detract from their playing. Besides that sparring pair, the band consists of Nelson MacPherson on accordion and vocals and drummer Richard Irwin. Bruce Blaney, the semi-regular piper who appears on two of their albums and often tours with them as well, wasn't along for this ride.

Even so, Hadrian's Wall had the crowd on its side throughout Sunday's performance, consistently providing great tunes and good wit without pause for breath. They could have probably played twice as long without losing their audience.

This is certainly a band to watch for in your neighborhood.

[ by Tom Knapp ]