Folk Orchestra of Santa Barbara | Credit: Leslie Dinaberg

It’s easy to feel a wee bit Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, but the Folk Orchestra of Santa Barbara ( got us into the Celtic spirit the weekend before, with their rousingly beautiful performance of an all-Irish program at El Presidio de Santa Barbara on Saturday and Trinity Episcopal Church on Sunday.

Folk Orchestra leader Adam Phillips | Credit: Leslie Dinaberg

I saw the Saturday show at the magical and timeless El Presidio (where the Folk Orchestra has a residency), and thought more than once that I felt like I had traveled back in time to my own private Irish dreamland (with Spanish-inspired architecture). 

Led by the charismatic founder/music director, multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and all-around showman Adam Phillips, the 30-piece orchestra — complete with Irish whistles, Uilleann pipes, a harp, pastoral bagpipes, accordion, and hurdy-gurdy, among other instruments —put on a stellar performance from start to finish. 

While they are indeed an orchestra playing traditional music, there’s nothing traditional about the ambitious arrangements, exotic instruments, and pure joyous zeal the group of entirely local musicians performed with. The program ranged from “O Danny Boy,” to “Aisling An Óigfhir,” “Óró ‘Sé do Bheatha ‘Bhaile,” and “Road to Lisdoonvarna/Drowsy Maggie,” with each song more lovely than the next.

By the time Folk Orchestra played their traditional farewell song, “The Parting Glass,” which they end every show with the song’s parting lines, “Good night and joy be with you all,” it was hard to not feel joyous — and a wee bit Irish — walking out into the rest of the weekend and the real world once again.


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