Highland Way – A Celtic Season’s Greetings

By BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

Last week at the Burroughs High School Parker Performing Arts Center, one man took the stage and began to demonstrate his strange drum. With his charismatic Scottish brogue, he described the old instrument, made from stretched goatskin and of Irish origin.

He began to play and was joined by another drummer from off stage. Then from stage right, a third member plugged in his electric bass and joined in the tune. Moments later, Highland Way’s full kilt-clad ensemble, including an accordion, guitar and electric fiddle, had the audience deeply enthralled by a rollicking traditional Celtic jig.

From Scotland to the Pacific Coast, the Celtic band Highland Way captivates audiences with its high-energy performances. The band’s Dec. 16 performance at the BHS PAC was no exception. The performance was part of the Indian Wells Valley Concert Association’s concert series. The San Diego group is led by Brian Caldwell, originally hailing from Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city. In addition to playing the bodhran, Caldwell sang lead vocals and played guitar on several of the group’s songs.

The first set vacillated between traditional Celtic jigs and more modern (and a few original) compositions. Though difficult to understand at times, it was impossible not to love Caldwell’s folky vocalizations. But what really stood out was the virtuosic fiddling of Paul Graham Castellanos. From his rapid, precise jigging to his effusive balladry – Castellanos was in fine form for the entirety of the concert.

The band performed the popular Scottish folk ballad “Caledonia,” written by Singer-Songwriter Dougie MacLean in the 1970s. The piece featured beautiful playing from from Lead Guitarist Jim Soldi.

The group then rocketed into the familiar “Drunken Sailor” where each instrumentalist had the opportunity to show off his or her chops. Accordionist Sharon Whyte, drummer Bob Sale and bassist Glen Fisher showed the audience that they had every reason to be touring the world with their musical talents. The song had the enthusiastic audience clapping and singing along for the whole ride.

As the thunderous applause died down, Caldwell educated us in the ways of Scottish culture with “The 12 Days of Highland Way Christmas,” a humorous take on the classic Christmas carol that involved “three shots of whiskey, two Scottish kilts and a Highland Way CD.”

The group’s second set kicked off with a cover of the international ’90s hit, “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by Scottish band The Proclaimers. The set included many traditional holiday carols when the audience was invited to sing along. But the audience involvement didn’t end there.

When Caldwell asked who had worn kilts to the concert, few were expecting a trio of Ridgecrest gentlemen sitting in the back to stand and show off their Scottish garb. The three men were invited to the front of the theater to dance along to the band’s next jig, much to the audience’s and band’s appreciation.

The band closed with with “Silent Night,” and again, the audience was asked to sing along. It was a sweet and solemn way to end the night. Or it would have been if the shouts of “Encore!” hadn’t lured the band back onto the stage to appease the eager audience.

The band played one more song, “Catharsis,” which blended the modern electric instrumentation with traditional folk in a style that I can only describe as “Celtic Funk.” The final instrumental left the audience, myself included, very pleased.

Concert-goers gathered around the tables in the center of the auditorium to purchase the band’s CDs in hopes of keeping the infectious music going.

For more about the band, visit highlandway.us or the “Highland Way, the Band” Facebook page. To learn more about the IWV Concert Association, visit iwvca.tripod.com. or call 760-375-5600.

Story First Published: 2014-12-24