Picture the Harris Center for the Arts stage filled with 50 fiddlers backed by piano, drums, cellos, guitars, harps and even a harmonica, projecting a sound lively as a dance band, as majestic as a symphony orchestra. Front this merry group of music-makers with Scottish master fiddler Alasdair Fraser — whose humor, passion and charismatic playing set the tone — and you’ll have a rough idea what it’s like to attend a concert with The San Francisco Scottish Fiddlers.
It’s an evening packed with tunes, songs, and dances. This group has been known to create such a two-way sense of fun and joy between musicians and audience that people spontaneously get out of their seats and dance in the aisles whether or not they know the steps to the jigs and reels pouring forth from the stage.
Founded in 1986 by Fraser and friends, the group has grown to more than 200 members from all over Northern California, the United States and beyond. Varying widely in age and backgrounds, the fiddlers are drawn together by their love of Celtic traditional music. Prized in the group is the ability to play by ear, to feel the music deep in one’s soul and be enough in the moment to follow spontaneous changes of direction during performances.
Many members know hundreds of tunes by heart and love nothing better than to get together and play. They can be heard individually and in small groups throughout the year at contra dances, pub sessions and Scottish festivals. The large group (sometimes more than 100) gets together annually for performances which range from a spring concert series in the San Francisco Bay Area, tours of Northern California (1995) and Alaska (1999) to big concerts in impressive settings such as Anchorage’s Atwood Hall (1999) and the Lake Tahoe Summer Music Festival (2004).
Fraser, musical director of the group, ranks among the finest interpreters of Scotland’s music; his playing has earned worldwide critical acclaim. He maintains a busy performing schedule with musicians such as cellist Natalie Haas, guitarist Tony McManus and pianists Paul Machlis and Muriel Johnstone. He is the director of the Valley of the Moon Scottish Fiddling School in California, where he teaches every summer, and has been artist-in-residence at the prestigious Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow for the past several years. His music is widely available on CD, and can also be heard on movie soundtracks from “Titanic,” “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Wyatt Earp,” “Spitfire Grill” and “Treasure Planet.”
Alasdair Fraser and the San Francisco Scottish Fiddlers will perform at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 16. Tickets are priced at $19 to $29 with premium seats available for $39; students/children 12 and younger pay $12. Tickets are available online at harriscenter.net or from Harris Center ticket office at (916) 608-6888 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and two hours before show time. Parking is included in the price of the ticket. Harris Center is located on the west side of Folsom Lake College campus in Folsom, facing East Bidwell Street.