Christian "Junior" Stevens
at Port City Blue,
Portland, Maine (19 September 2012)

Early into the hour-plus long set, Christian "Junior" Stevens posed the question: can he entertain a room full of people with just accordion tunes for over an hour? The answer, given the complexity of his playing, his mad skills and his shy humour, is a resounding YES.

Joking afterwards that he was nervous playing these tunes, Junior opened with a set of barn dances on the concertina; he then quickly switched to the accordion for a more comfortable set of reels. Throughout the evening, the audience gently teased Junior ("now time for jigs!") while warmly supporting him. The jigs were lively, the waltzes that followed were well received, and I particularly enjoyed a two-movement tune from the 1600s, composed by Turlough O'Carolan, named "Mrs. Judge."

Junior mentioned he was terrified playing for a room full of friends and musicians, but that was not reflected in his playing. A set of reels on the concertina (including "Farewell to Ireland" and ending with "Sean sa Cheo") was bright, lively and ornamented. The "weird slides" that followed caused the teasing to end and the applause to rise in volume. The crowd was fully engaged and enjoying their night out.

After two jokes to fulfill a promise of pathetic stage banter, Junior dedicated "The Piper's Chair" to event organizer Tom Rota. Peder O'Riada's slow air "An Draighean" was infused with emotion; the following set of reels (including "Humours of Ballyconnell" and one by his personal hero, Finbar Dwyer) was the most gorgeous playing of the evening. A cracking set of polkas rounded out the performance.

The audience demanded an encore and was rewarded with two reels: "Cooley's Morning Dew" and Bobby Gardner's version of "The Wind that Shakes the Barley." The buzz was palpable; again, a fantastic Irish night at Blue!

I've been watching Christian "Junior" Stevens play for half his life now, from backroom bar sessions to larger stages across the state, but this was the first time I'd seen him perform solo ("solo no one can hear," read the promotional plug). I hope it won't be the last.

by Michelle Doyle
27 October 2012

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