Celtic trio Golden Bough comes to Valhalla | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Celtic trio Golden Bough comes to Valhalla

L.J. Bottjer

Clockwise from left, Golden Bough is Kathy Sierra, Paul Espinoza and Margie Butler.

A close Celtic connection of the musical kind can be found at the Valhalla Summer Music Festival this Friday night, June 24.

“Being closer to the audience gives an intimate feeling,” said Paul Espinoza of the musical group the Golden Bough who has played the Valhalla Boathouse for more than two decades.

The singer-songwriter added when the venue’s doors open halfway through the concert to reveal Lake Tahoe in the light of a setting sun the effect is “mystical and enchanting.”

Beguiling audiences has been a hallmark of the group that is celebrating more than 30 years together.

Their musical journey began back in the early 1970s when Espinoza with his multiple talents in the guitar, accordion, harmonica and mandolin first met with harpist Margie Butler. Among Butler’s accomplishments was playing with Linda Ronstadt on her classic “Dedicated to the One I Love.”

Although it was not until 1976 when they began performing together it was a partnership that led them to settle in San Francisco and seek out the world.

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A true dedication to the music of Ireland and Scotland and also Wales and Brittany along the French Coast meant eventually traveling to those countries even if their wallets did not allow for first class touring.

“We hitchhiked during our first trip,” said Espinoza. “But the Irish Times newspaper did hear about us and wrote a story about a California group doing Celtic music.”

Eventually, the gigs, and pay, improved.

In Germany where government-sponsored concerts brought a variety of music to small towns, Golden Bough found themselves playing to an audience of less than 50 people. Expressing dismay at their seemingly inability to gather a crowd their apprehension disappeared when the promoter exclaimed, “Are you kidding? This is the biggest crowd we have ever had.”

Another tour had them barreling through the inky blackness of a mist covered Scotland trying to catch the ferry for Belfast, Northern Ireland. The spookiness of the landscape kept the group from sleeping as their imaginations heaved up images of werewolves and such.

Sleep deprived upon their morning arrival in Belfast they were informed by the sponsor, Guinness beer, the welcome van needed to pick up another passenger enroute to the press event at the brewery.

The van stopped and in climbed Michael Palin, Monty Python alum and now famed world explorer.

Espinoza recalled the episode’s surrealism increased when the entire group gathered at the brewery at 10 a.m. and kicked off the event with several pints of the brewery’s best.

Such stories and experiences, along with the violin skills of Kathy Sierra, who joined the group in 2001, add layers of riches to the group’s performances.

Mostly, they are storytellers with songs such as “Donald, where’s your trews (trousers)?” to plaintive ballads speaking of loss or longing for one’s original home.

From the plucking of their triad of instruments the music of Golden Bough can let an audience member’s own heart strings reverberate. Then a sudden arc to the bow and a shift in finger positioning gladdens the soul with the sweet joy of listening to music in the mountains.