Big Blow and the Bushwackers

Snow Hill Celtic Festival, Courtesy of Bob Savage
Photo courtesy Bob Savage

Bush League Performance Reviews

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These are currently quick reviews of the Big Blow performances which Bushleaguers have attended. If you have attended a performance and would like to submit a review, please mail it to

At the Washington Folklife Festival, June 1996 at Glen Echo (JCST).
Big Blow were on for about half an hour, and did four numbers. They played with energy and enthusiasm, changed silly hats often ("As you can see, we're a Hat Band"), and played steel drum, musical saw, tuba, mandolin, mandola, various flutes, half a dozen different drums, saxophone, trombone, acordian, and of course lots of didjeridus.

Children's Concert July 1996 at the Fairlington Rec Center (JCST).
The show lasted about an hour, and consisted mostly of English and American traditional ballads, with a sprinkling of more modern tunes. The usual collection of instruments was employed with the usual energy, and with the usual hat changes. Shakers were passed out to the kids in the audience, and employed with vigor. During the last number, the kids were encouraged to go up on stage while the band wandered around in the audience playing various instruments, then ended up sitting in the bleachers applauding the kids. Our 2-, 4-, and 6-year-olds loved it.

At Quiet Waters Park, August 1996 in Annapolis (JCST).
Big Blow was the second half of a double-bill with the Lone Starlet Band, and played about an hour and a half. They played a wide variety of music, including several Don Plehn compositions. Highlights included "Two in the Bush" (the only tune they've played at all three concerts we've attended), a mean cover of "Istanbul", and "Never Seal", in which the band used various instruments to paint a auditory picture of the sea. Especially popular with the audience were the conga line led by Don Plehn playing his accordian, and the didj jam, where the band roamed through the field playing various didjs. I got 1 of my 15 minutes of fame when band member Ted Watkin pointed me out as learning to play didj.

At the Ellicott Theater, September 1996 (JCST).
It was Don Plehn night: many members of his family were in the audience, and many of his compositions were featured. The quaint old theater itself was interesting, but a bit too small to contain the band's energy. In particular, the drums were too loud, and the band members weren't able to roam the audience as freely as usual. Although there was no room for a proper conga line (to the disapointment of our 2 and 4 year olds), during the livelier numbers a mini-mosh formed in the aisle. I especially liked "Take a Hammer", and Ted Watkin was kind enough to dedicate a musical-saw version of "Over the Rainbow" to us. Our 4-year-old was made deliriously happy when, in respose to a frenzied chant from the moshers, the band played "Sty" as the second encore.

At the Snow Hill Celtic Festival , Furnace Town, Snow Hill Maryland, October 1996 (BCS).

The final act of the night was the real crowd pleasers. Big Blow and the Bushwakers brought a level of energy to the area that revived even the most tired spectators. Using numerous instruments, conventional and home-made, this band performed a style of music that was all their own. During their show,Ted Porter and Don Plehn would leave the stage area to walk and dance through the spectators. The stage area at Furnace Town was a very appropriate setting for the band, having the woods for a backdrop and a hill in front for the spectators to kick back on as the band played. Percussionist Mick Haensler found that the outdoor pavilion was just what was needed to add his personnel touch to "Shawnee Town" by maintaining his drum beat on the rafters, support beams and microphone stands. Several times, members would sit with the children and talk with them as they continued to play their music. Their act was as much a show as a concert.
As the band started to wind down, a large bon-fire was ignited off to the side of the stage so everyone present was able to move around the fire for the Ceilidhe, which was an informal ancient Celtic gathering to sing around the fire.

At the Dogfish Head Micro Brewery, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware October 18th 1996 (BCS).

Each year, the City of Rehoboth Beach has their annual Jazz Festival Weekend. Over 20 different jazz groups perform at various bars, restaurants and the Convention Center. Big Blow and The Bushwackers brought their own unique style of "Celtic Jazz" to the Dogfish Head. Playing to an adult audience, the band was able to alter their music to the group. "Fiddler A Dram" became "Pee In The Cup". Although the audience was basically "brain dead", this song did cause a positive reaction from them. I refer to them as "brain dead" because when we attempted to liven up the place by stomping on the floor and pounding on the table, those nearby just sat and looked at us, like we were from outer space. With what seems to be typical of Big Blo, band members again took to the audience with their assortment of instruments. At one point, Ted Watkins ended up on his back, on the floor, playing his washboard, minutes later, he was back in the audience with a didjiridu, placing the end of the didj on the tables in front of individuals, so they could listen to the unique sound of the didj. Ted Porter ended up playing one tune on his mandolin as he headed down the narrow hallway to the bathroom. No one followed him, so we're unsure if he stayed in the hall or went into the bathroom and played, but I doubt if alot of the brain dead even knew he was continuing to play, even though he was no longer in the room with them. Before the song was over, Ted had returned to the audience, and then went downstairs to the restaurant area, entertaining those who had not gone to the show upstairs.

At New Year's Eve Eastern Shore, Dec 31 1996, Salisbury, Maryland(BCS).

What a way to bring in the New Year. Even though the temperatures were near freezing, the energy of Big Blow and the Bushwackers helped warm the audience up. Starting out the evening, the band played three 45 minute sets. This time, the audience was more prepared. Rain sticks, rythm sticks & maracas appeared. The band was in its usual form, fit to fight and rarin to go. Photographs were prohibited by the Wicomico Arts Council {sponsors} so it is up to our memory {which is somewhat foggy} to remember what was going on. Ted Porter and Don Plehn were their normal {is this correct?} form, moving through the audience during each set. At 11:30, the band started it's final set outside in the courtyard. Temperatures were in the high 20's, but the excitement of the band kept the people moving and a little warmer. After the midnight countdown, the band wrapped up their set and everyone headed for warmer locations. The New Years Eastern Shore celebration was one of the best New Years celebrations I have been to in a long time, but the band made the trip to Salisbury worth the time.

At the Ellicott Theater, January 1997 (JCST).
After a long drought, we went back to the ET for another dose of Bushwacking. The performance was being filmed for Howard County cable, and that seemed to change the chemistry of the performance, narrowing the focus, and reducing the spontainaity a bit. The drums were too loud again this time, to the point where the lyrics of many of Don Plehn's compositions became unintelligible. It was still a great show. The band played many of the tunes we've come to recognize, with a liberal sprinkling of new ones, including several to be included on Off Kilter. Dozens of PVC practice didjs were passed around, and the didj jam was enthusiastically entered into from all sides. "Two in the Bush" and "Fiddler a Dram" were welcome old friends, and we're beginning to look forward to "Jai-Jai". Kathleen's favorite of the night was "U Got 2 P In D Cup", a natural companion to "White Collar Hollar".
The band were called back for several encores, and were kind enough to play "Sty" as a birthday present for our 5-year-old, who instantly became the happiest (and bounciest) 5-year-old in the theater, and possibly the world.

At the Ashbury Methodist Church, Salisbury, March 1997 (BCS, a long version is available).

With the audience lights dimmed and the spotlights illuminating the front of the church, Ted, Ted, Tim & Mick entered, walking down the isles towards their stage area playing Sawney Bean, as Don, backlit and wearing a chainmail hood, began singing from the shadows of the rear balcony. Soon the band was up to its usual level of energy and heads were rockin back and forth in time with the music. Questions were asked periodically, and correct answers won a small prize thrown by Ted Watkins. Early in the set, Tim brought out the black Monster Bell Didj (with about a 12 inch bell). Ted Porter's daughter and son joined in on "Dido Bendigo". By the end of the night, the Bushwackers had played all 11 songs from their new release, as well as numerous others from previous releases. After the final song band members and supporters met and discussed upcoming events, as band members signed the new CDs.

At the Ellicot Theater CD Release Party , March 1997 (JCST), a long version is available).

This performance was being filmed, and the band seemed very conscious of it. The stage was set as a castle with flats from a play, which contributed atmosphere. The opener was the new arrangement of "Please the Ploughboy", and the tunes from the new EP were featured throughout the evening. The band may have been a bit tired from the Salisbury show, which was done without mikes. Unlike previous performances, no shakers or didjs were passed around, and audience participation was more limited than usual, with no more than a half dozen people dancing during even the liveliest numbers. During the encore Ben Griffith and Neil Gladd were called up to the stage to play didj and mandolin with the band during the didj jam and "Two in the Bush".

At the Globe Theater, Berlin MD, May 1997 (BCS), a long version is available).

From the first song Big Blow and the Bushwackers were at their true form. Because of the limited stage area, the band members weren't able to jump around like they usually do, but kept the audience lively using their wide variety of bizarre instruments, including a small megaphone. Michelle Haines and Kaitlyn Wright (a 7 year old from Salisbury MD), joined in on a song. Sparky, Ted Watkins's ventriloquist manikin did a jig and finished his dance on Ted's shoulder. Mick & Don would periodically stir up the Society for Creative Anachronism group "Canton Of Spiaggia Levantina" (from Salisbury) by shouting over to those SCA members in the "peanut gallery". The only problem that we could see was the same one that we have seen at all other shows: it came to a close.

At Mason District Park, June 1997 (JCST), a long version is not yet available).

This was a 1-hour show at a very nice outdoor ampitheater. The band were in good spirits and fine form. Given the short time available, the tunes played were a sort of Greatest Hits selection, and very well received by the audience, especially the many children (who loved the egg shakers).

At Snow Hill Celtic Festival, Sep 1997 (BCS)

Photo courtesy of Bob Savage

This is with out a doubt the best location on the Del-Mar-Va Peninsula for a Big Blow and the Bushwackers concert. Plenty of people, plenty of room to dance and hoop and hollar! Organized Insanity at its best. Due to Mick being in Ireland for his honeymoon, percussionist Myron Bretholz joined in with the group on the Irish Bodhran. Bretholz fit right in and was soon providing the same wisecracks that Mick has been known for. The only thing missed at this concert was Micks solo on the pavilion and any other stationary objects during Bendigo. As the band performed it's last few songs, the Bonfire was lit next to the old furnace for the crowd to gather around, giving this show an overall A+

At Pemberton Park, Oct 1997(BCS)
If show is at 5, like this year, plan to be there by 4:15. This way, if you get lost, like we did, you won't be late. Don't rely on locals to give you the correct directions. Even the second time you ask. Show was outstanding. Members of the local SCA chapter were on hand again to help distribute items, and stir up the crowd some. Band was up to it's usual antics. Can't wait until the Celtic Festival in two weeks. Advertisements on local television and radio station features music from Big Blow and the Bushwackers when they mention the festival.

Photo courtesy of Bob Savage

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© 1996, 1997 Jon Stewart-Taylor, all rights reserved. Send comments or questions to Jon Stewart-Taylor Last modified: Fri May 29 16:23:39 EDT 1998