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John Doyle to perform at Highland Games

By Derek Halsey (

Article Published: Jul. 10 | Modified: Jul. 13
John Doyle to perform at Highland Games

When it is July in the High Country, it is time for the annual celebration of all things Scottish, with the start of the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games.

Along with the meeting of clans, the pipe, drum and dance competitions and the highly-anticipated and uniquely Scottish sporting contests, such as the Tossing of the Sheaf, Highland Wrestling and the Turning of the Caber, the evenings will also give way to a wonderful lineup of Celtic music.

The Grandfather Mountain Highland Games will take place this week, from Thursday, July 10, with the Raising of the Clans, through Sunday, July 13, with the ending of the sports contests and the closing ceremonies. All events will take place at MacRae Meadows on Grandfather Mountain. More information can be found at or by calling (828) 733-1333.

This year’s music lineup will feature performances throughout the day on various stages, including such artists as The Red Wellies, Chambless and Muse, the Freestylers of Piping, The Good Set and Celtic fiddler Jamie Laval.

On Friday evening, from 7 to 11 p.m., Brian McNeill will host an all-star Celtic Jam that will trace the evolution of Celtic music through the centuries.

Saturday night will feature the Celtic Rock Concert from 7to 11 p.m., and on the bill will be John Doyle, Seven Nations and more. Tickets for the concert are $15 and $5 for kids 5 to 12.

John Doyle is a renowned musician from Dublin, Ireland, who was a member of one of the most acclaimed Celtic bands ever in Solas. Since going solo, he has recorded and toured with fiddler Liz Carroll, performed as a trio with Celtic music greats Michael McGoldrick and John McCusker and has released his own album on Compass Records, called “Shadow and Light.” He is also a frequent collaborator with Jerry Douglas and Aly Bain on the acclaimed BBC TV series, “The Transatlantic Sessions.”

The Grammy Award-nominated Doyle is also considered one of the best guitarists in Celtic music, and in the acoustic music world in general. His left-handed style of rhythm guitar playing is distinctive and highly sought-out by recording artists, such as Tim O’Brien, Alison Brown and others.

There has always been Celtic music roots found in the old-time and bluegrass music created in the United States, and Doyle has explored that relationship often.

“There is a connection between the music, between Irish and bluegrass and old-timey music,” Doyle said from his home in Asheville. “There is a big connect, and everybody likes to explore it, because it is like a similar language but a different dialect. What it was for me was an early National Council for the Traditional Arts tour with Seamus Egan that we were on in 1992 and ’93. I had just got off the boat, basically, from Ireland in 1991, and, in 1992, I toured with the Masters of the Banjo. There were a bunch of great musicians on the tour, like Kirk Sutphin, Carroll Best, Will Keys, J.D. Crowe and Ralph Stanley, and I got to hang out with all of these great musicians, and I started to listen to the music and see the similarities. It was pretty special.”

When Doyle performs his unique Celtic music onstage at the Highland Games Saturday, with fiddler Duncan Wickel and other guests, he will also have a local legend in mind in the form of the late Doc Watson.

“I had a few encounters with Doc,” Doyle said. “I did ‘Mountain Stage’ (radio show) with him and David Holt … years ago. So, I got to see him play before he died, and what an amazing musician he was, even at that age. He was 87 when I saw him, and he was still flying high. Pretty amazing. I met him a few years before, and we had some pleasantries. He was lovely. He’s a legend and always will be. He changed so much of the music just by being good. It’s remarkable, really, how good he was.”

For more on John Doyle, visit

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