The veteran Northern California Celtic band Golden Bough took a hiatus a few years back for a very simple reason – success.
“We are not quitting forever,” singer-guitarist Paul Espinoza told me at the time. “Mainly, we want to get a break from being on the road – it’s been a pretty breakneck pace – and take some time to do some other things, other interests … spend more time with family.
“Each of us has individual projects,” he added. “We’re certainly not taking a break from music.”
Golden Bough returned from that break refreshed and these days the group is as busy as ever. You can catch them live November 28-29 at the Sonora Christmas Crafts and Music Festival, December 13 at Los Gatos United Methodist Church and December 19 at the Old First Concert Series in San Francisco. In addition to Espinoza, the group features wife Margie Butler (vocals, harp) and Kathy Sierra (violin).
Suffice it to say, audiences can expect to hear plenty of traditional Celtic holiday music. Golden Bough’s connection to the holiday has extended included recording the albums “Winter’s Dance” (1985) and “Christmas In A Celtic Land” (1996).
“We’re there doing our show and getting people in the Christmas spirit, so to speak, but it does the same thing for us,” Espinoza told me before the hiatus. “It’s what makes Christmas for us.”
Golden Bough got its start in the 1970s playing a mix of traditional Celtic tunes and similar sounding originals in San Francisco’s Irish bars. While personnel came and went, the group slowly built a regional audience. The act has released more than a dozen albums to date.
“Early on, it was a lot harder,” Espinoza said, noting the lack of public interest in the music of Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall and Wales. “But we just kind of stuck with it, playing everywhere. There started being a lot more young people showing up at festivals and concerts in the late ’80s.”
It would be the mid-’90s, however, before Celtic music truly found an audience in the United States, thanks in no small part to the popularity of “Riverdance” and its copycats.
“It just kind of took off,” he said. “Groups were popping up all over the place, plus a lot of people who were not necessarily Celtic musicians put out Celtic albums. It just got really flooded and it got really hard.”
While the years had seen Golden Bough graduate from pubs to festivals and concert halls, the boom of the ’90s meant even more time touring.
“The music itself and the interaction with fans is the high point, but there’s a whole lot of behind-the-scenes work,” Espinoza said. “You play for maybe two hours and it’s time to break it all down and pack it all up. You just have to keep at it and be persistent about it.”
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