Irish Tradition is Alive and Well Thanks to Sioux Falls Ceili Band, McNally’s
Bill Peterson holds history in his hands. Or more specifically, in his fiddle.
The Canton man is a living library of traditional string music, from the deep traditions of Northern Europe, to their country cousins in the Appalachians. In March, that means a lot of jigs and reels from Ireland.
Peterson is the fiddler and front man for the Sioux Falls Ceili Band, among other musical pursuits. The five-piece traditional group has a standing gig the first and third Thursday of every month at McNally’s Irish Pub, located at 69th Street and Louise Avenue in Sioux Falls.
The city’s premier Irish bar will celebrate 11 years of business in May. For Peterson, the band is one of the main venues for his mission to gather and preserve the songs of our ancestors.
“When you learn a tune, or a song, it’s your friend for life,” says Peterson, who’s healthy head of graying hair and mustache suggest and old-world wisdom. “Once in a while you call that friend up and bring it back.”
A “ceili” -- pronounced KAY-lee – is a traditional Irish or Scottish folk event with singing and dancing.
The current version of the Sioux Falls band is a five-piece. In addition to Peterson’s fiddle, Charley Smith plays guitar, Jill Groth is on tin-whistle, Tom Parliman plays bagpipes, bodhran and mandolin, and Carol Skallerud plays the flute.
The set list is primarily instrumental, with Groth, Skallerud and Smith adding vocals to a few selections.
The roots of the Ceili Band go back to the folk and country movement of the late 1970s. In Sioux Falls, the Red Willow Band and Rocky Mountain Oysters were crafting fiddle-infused music with a prairie feel.
Charley Smith was one of those musicians.
The Oysters lived off bluegrass and folk with a few Irish tunes thrown in. On the side, Smith expanded the Irish catalogue, eventually forming what was the early version of the Ceili Band with Peterson, Parliman, Groth and other musicians.
“We all owe a debt to Charley,” says Peterson.
In the corner bars across the Emerald Isle, and in the hotspots of Irish-American immigration across the United States, you’ll find musicians tucked into booths or cramped corners playing favorites from the Celtic catalogue.
The music doesn’t dominate; it rolls along in the air, mixing with the conversations, celebrations and toasts of neighborhoods coming together.
That’s the feeling you get at McNally’s during a Ceili Band appearance, where Peterson admits they are “wallpaper music” versus a concert atmosphere.
“The music I’m into is really home music,” says Peterson. “That’s the biggest joy, is just playing music with your friends.”
The band and the bar have found a great formula where the music adds to the atmosphere without overwhelming the experience.
“I love the Ceili Band,” says McNally’s owner, Nicki Ellerbroek. “Lively sounds of traditional music take people back to the Emerald Isle. For those who haven’t been, we want to provide a taste of that at McNally’s. We strive to provide things that a sports bar with an Irish name doesn’t. We focus on the Craic and ceili rather than TV.”
Jerry and Amy Hauff live in the McNally’s neighborhood. The couple stops in whenever their schedule of work and raising kids allows.
“Although I’m very German, I’m in love with Irish music,” says Amy. “I love the feeling of the music. It’s serene. It can be happy or emotional, almost make you cry.”
Live, traditional music is a perfect setting for a casual night out, says Jim. “You can still talk and sit and have a drink,” he says. “This is a great bar.”
The Sioux Falls Ceili Band is hosting “breakfast gigs” at McNally’s Irish Pub on March 17-18 to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Follow the Facebook events here.
Ceili Band Schedule for March
- 15th: Grand Living at Lake Lorraine Retirement Center, 3 to 5 p.m.
- 16th: Prince of Peace Retirement Center, 3 to 4 p.m.
- 16th: McNally’s Irish Pub, 7 to 9 p.m.
- 17th: McNally’s Irish Pub, 9 to 11 a.m. breakfast gig
- 17th: Touchmark Retirement Center, 2 to 4 p.m.
- 17th: Old Courthouse Museum, 5:30 to 7 p.m.
- 18th: McNally’s Irish Pub, 9 to 11 a.m. breakfast gig
- 23rd: Ceili at Old Courthouse Museum, 6:30 to 8:30 pm
This story is sponsored by McNally’s Irish Pub.