With Ceili Rain, Bob Halligan Jr.'s Gone from Tape Deck to Cyberspace

Oct 28, 2015

Bob Halligan Jr. has seen the music world change so much in the 20 years since he started the band Ceili Rain.

I reminded him as we sat talking about music about how the first time he played me a song from the band that inspires the world with its soaring spiritual lyrics and Celtic rock sound, he popped a cassette tape into a deck.

He told me about how last week, he played a concert by Skype. 

Bob Halligan Jr. has lived through a musical revolution since he started his band Ceili Rain 20 years ago.
 "It's a long time," the Syracuse native said with more than a bit of wonder and pride in his voice as we discussed the good in his world, something that comes naturally for the man who teaches music to young people as an adjunct professor up on the Syracuse University hill as a way to keep a voice in the future and can hear hit songs he's written played on vinyl on records by stars as far-flung as pop idol Cher, heavy metal heroes Judas Priest and country standout Kathy Mattea as an ode to his past.

Ceili Rain, still a great joy with eight albums in since he began the band when he lived in the outskirts of Nashville, has managed to stick around, he says, because of loyal fans.

"We've had some loyal people who enjoyed it," says Halligan, who moved back to his hometown 12 years ago with wife Linda and son Liam and says he doesn't regret it a bit. "Each of those persons is a loyal radio station for you, telling the world about you.

"And I think the spiritual element of the music make it stick," he says.

Yes, the fans stick with him, allowing new-school methods such as crowd-funding to work for him.

"The record-company thing went away," he says. "And you have to cater to those fans who play the music for their friends. You struggle with feeling like a beggar. But you deal with people partnering with you and buying in advance and getting a copy (of the new album) when you're finished," Halligan says.

Musicians have also taken to awarding other perks for different levels of that funding on these sites.

But the Skype concert is a different story. It almost was a house concert when Bob and Linda were considering a drive down to Virginia. But when that fell through, he took to technology instead.

To a camera and over cyberspace he played five Ceili Rain songs solo, keyboards and voice, by request.

"It was for a fan in Reading, Pa., for his 40th birthday," Halligan says. "He has a daughter named Ceili, spelled just like the band, the ninth we've come across. It was just the family and me."

Halligan will next be joined by the whole Ceili Rain crew in the Syracuse area for a show March 19 at the Oswego Music Hall.

On Dec. 17-19, fans can see his band mate, Syracuse fiddler Joe Davoli, as they contribute two Ceili Rain songs to the rekindling of the Winter Solstice concert spearheaded by a trio of organizer Peter Constantine, music director Bryant Murphy and veteran musician Joe Whiting at St. Paul's Cathedral in Syracuse. And on Feb. 12, Halligan will showcase a new one-man show he's calling "Paul the Beatle" at the Auburn Public Theater.

Halligan is a veteran of playing Paul McCartney across the country in Beatles tribute shows, and he thinks his new idea will be perfect "in Vegas or internationally or anywhere."

"I got asked to do a gig where I do one hour on Paul McCartney," he explains. "I thought, 'Wouldn't it be cool to go out in the suit from the Ed Sullivan (Show) thing and say how he always thought he was the leader and play songs from that, and go aside and come back as John (Lennon) and do a few songs and show people that he was the leader and come back in the dream period as Paul and do that and then come back with "Hey Jude" and then say "I realized I had to sock away some ideas for when the band breaks up and play some excerpts and ask the crowd does this work ...' 

"Three different wigs, four or five different outfits, all on stage, no time do I go off," he says. "All because the one gig I was asked to do was canceled." 

Coming to the Syracuse Polish Home on Halloween Night, Professor Louie. (Photo by Tom Honan)
 Speaking of Joe Whiting, he pairs with Professor Louie for a Halloween show at 8 p.m. at the Syracuse Polish Home. Tickets are $22, $18 for Polish Home members. Professor Louie is the Woodstock guy who leads the band which, indeed, used to back up The Band. I saw the wizard on the keyboards at the Snowplow Blues Fest at the Palace Theater on James Street this winter, and he's something. And Whiting's a real man on vocals and sax, touting work from a new CD. Food from their popular kitchen will be available. And costumes are encouraged.

See more about music and life at my blog, markbialczak.com.