Savannah Music Festival Review: Martin Hayes & Dennis Cahill 

BEFORE TODAY, I couldn't remember a concert since the late Paco de Lucia performed at the Savannah Music Festival in 2012 where I felt so enveloped in the consuming presence and pure genius of a complete master of his instrument.

I got that feeling again this Friday lunch hour at a performance by legendary Irish fiddler Martin Hayes.

“Sometimes I just play the tune,” said Hayes after he and longtime musical partner Dennis Cahill’s first round of airs and reels at the Morris Center.

And that sums up the essence of Hayes’ genius: He never plays a note that doesn’t need to be played, and he lets the music and melody drive him instead of the other way around.

click to enlarge Hayes, left, with Cahill
  • Hayes, left, with Cahill

Fresh off Thursday night’s performance with Irish “supergroup” The Gloaming, Hayes joked at this much more informal daytime gig, “It’s a bit early for this kind of stuff.”

In traditional fashion, Hayes and guitarist Cahill huddled closely together as they played seated, making frequent eye contact, playing almost as much for each other as for the audience. At a couple of points the butt of Hayes’ fiddle came within a few inches of Cahill’s face.

Also in traditional fashion, the performance was not a series of songs but rather a trio of medleys, the traditional jigs and reels, etc., seamlessly morphing each into the other.

Or as Hayes put it, looking up from a set list that the pair followed very loosely and spontaneously: “You don’t really need to know the names of all these. Just think of it as an indistinguishable wash of melody.”

And indeed that is the sense you get: An organic flow of Celtic traditional melody, backed by Cahill’s spare, percussive, and impeccably timed rhythm guitar.

Hayes has a tremendous sense of dynamics, starting out gingerly, with very minimal bow attack. As the tunes progress, the pair become more and more focused and intense, the volume level and intensity rise, until by the end Hayes’ long curly locks are bouncing around as he fiddles.

Because Hayes’ taste level is so high, and his ornamentation so unpretentious, when he does offer a trill or hammer-on, the effect is that much more telling.

While far too short at an hour, this performance was clearly one of a very, very few one sees in the course of a lifetime where you can honestly say you’ve seen something done as well and as beautifully as it possibly ever could.


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About The Author

Jim Morekis

Jim Morekis

A native Savannahian, Jim has been editor-in-chief of Connect Savannah for ten years. The University of Georgia graduate is also a travel writer, authoring regional guides in the Moon handbook series... more

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