Celtic Band Ashelin Rocks the House At WCCC

By Ralph Ackley, Jr.

There are times in one’s life where words just don’t suffice.  Efforts to dig up the right adjective or qualifying superlative to describe something as beautiful as Ashelin’s performance last Saturday evening at the Washington County Technical College totally falls short with one notable exception, a word that doesn’t want to vacate the recesses of my mind----“porcelain”.  The voices of Ashelin were and are absolutely porcelain, like a delicately molded curio or statue encased in protective plexiglass.  The only difference is that unlike statues and curios, these girls take their talent out of seclusion and showcase it for all to enjoy.

That’s how I can best describe the incredible harmony and precision vocals of the five Palmer sisters from Newfoundland.

The girls, Cassy, Joesie, Kaliyan, Shaelin, and Thea, shared that they “Absolutely love it here!” They had just come down through from New Brunswick early last week and then headed up into Berlin, New Hampshire for a concert on Wednesday, June 11th, arriving in Calais last Friday to play and sing their hearts out.  

This time, the new venue was a bit of a risk for Calais Celtic Concert Series organizer, Tom MacDonald.  He knew they’d bring a huge crowd since the group has been one of the top requested bands to return to the area but he just didn’t know if there would be enough room or if the acoustics would be good enough to match the subtle harmonies of the band.  MacDonald’s doubts and fears were soon allayed as Ashelin filled the 18,800 square foot auditorium with a stirring a cappella number so echoingly and hauntingly beautiful that it literally kept the audience spellbound.

The interplay of many genres and musical styles as well as the creative ebb and flow of song selections kept the crowd more than entertained but inspired as well.  One moment, reflective and pensive sounds, lyrics and melodies would be emanating from their skillfully played instruments and then, the next moment, they’d strike up a rousing Irish tune.  They performed traditional Irish tunes such as the Woman from Wexford. Ashelin seemed as comfortable doing covers of songs from country and western stars like Dolly Parton’s Jolene to classic pop songs like California Dreaming by The Mommas and the Papas as well as their own original creations.   

They took some time out to be interview after a rousing, standing ovation and subsequent encore performance of a traditional Irish tune. 

The Palmer sisters have been playing forever it seems.  Their first performance was in 1997 when the five girls were between the ages of 2 and 7.

“We first started in the living room, and then we would go to church on Sundays and get up and do a song.  Then we started going around to hospitals and playing for people there and then folk festivals and that’s sort of how it transpired.”  

Boldly and proudly Irish, their ancestors hail from Wexford.  The sisters grew up in Conception Bay South, Newfoundland.  They have had many found memories of life in the country where they were born and raised.  They’ve chronicled part of this childhood and their emotions about it in one of their original songs entitled “Dead End Road” from their debut cd The Road Not Taken.  Their parents are huge supporters of their career as are other family members and friends from back home.  

When asked about their musical influences, they mentioned classic rockers like Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Crosby, Stills and Nash as well as more contemporary groups like the Black Keys, Fleet Foxes, and Monsters and Men.  

“We like a lot of the older stuff like the song by Crosby, Stills and Nash entitled ‘Sweet Judy Blue Eyes’”.  They also love the old hymns that remind them of their grandfather who was a Pentecostal preacher from Newfoundland.  Bluegrass tunes are also a favorite genre.  They love doing the cover of Alison Krauss’s Down to the River to Pray.

When asked if their exquisite harmony was just natural or did they have to really work at it, they responded: 

“We totally feed off the audience.  I mean that’s what drives the whole thing. For arranging our songs, we really feed off each other and each other’s dynamic. Sometimes, someone will take the lead and kind of follow and we find our place.  When we took singing lessons, our teacher would just pick out parts for us but then we grew into different, higher levels of being able to sing more difficult parts just as we grew.”

As to their education, they are currently out of school now and concentrating exclusively on their music, touring and working from their new digs near Halifax, Nova Scotia.  Their next cd will be released in 2015.  Check out their website at http://www.ashelin.com/ and keep up with this summer’s Calais Celtic Concert series by visiting their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Calais-Celtic-Concert-Series or calling Tom MacDonald for more information at 214-2067.