Thursday, January 21, 2010

Burns Gig Gets Local Ink

Three of us had a chat last week with Davis Enterprise music critic Landon Christensen, and here's the upshot, from the entertainment section of today's paper:

"Put on your kilt, lace up your ghillies and come celebrate the 251st birthday of 'Scotland's favorite son' - the Bard of Ayrshire himself - Robert Burns.

"The fifth annual Robert Burns Night performance will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. Monday at the Little Prague Bohemian Restaurant, 330 G St., Davis. Admission is free to this all-ages shows, but it'll fill up quickly; for reservations, call (530) 756-1107 or visit

"Fans can expect an evening of whiskey tasting, haggis, poetry and music. In the words of the old bard, 'O, my luve is like a melodie, that's sweetly play'd in tune.'

"The local Celtic band Riggity Jig - Lee Riggs, flute and penny whistle; David Riggs, fiddle; Jim Coats, mandolin; Josh Ray, guitar; and Pat Olson, bodhran - will provide the sweet melodies. In true Scots fashion, Glaswegian Tom McKeith will read many favorite Robert Burns poems.

"'He's from Clydebank, outside of Glasgow,' David Riggs said, 'He's been here for 40 years.

"'And we still can't understand a word he says!' Lee laughed.

"This lively banter continued as I conversed with the Riggs brothers and Coats, during an interview in Little Prague's comfortable surroundings. I quickly learned how the band gels so well.

"'It's more about the chemistry of the band members than the musicianship,' David explained. 'We all have to carry our parts, but we also have to get along. It's not a commercial venture, so its more important that we all have fun together.'

"And how did it all begin?

"'Jim and I had played in a bluegrass band together,' David said, 'and this seemed like a natural regression.'

"Riggity Jig debuted a decade years ago, with its first show at Davis' Pence Gallery. All these years later, they're still going strong.

"So, are the members from Scotland or Ireland?

"'Actually,' David said, 'we were born in County Yolo.'

"'Dave and I are products of Davis school music programs,' Lee added. 'We both started out in elementary school. In high school, I was in jazz choir, marching band and concert band. I now sing with church choirs.'

"Both brothers never strayed too far away from home, at least not for long.

"'I went to UC Davis,' Lee said. 'David went away for school and came back.'

"Riggity Jig plays a lot of local events: the Yolo County Fair, private parties and family weddings

"And wakes.

"'A wake isn't all that mournful,' Coats said, 'and Irish and Scottish music isn't all that cheerful, so it evens out.'

"'Sometimes we'll do several shows in a row: boom, boom, boom,' Lee said, 'then nothing. But we do this Robert Burns show every year.'

"'We also do a St. Patrick's Day show every year,' David said. 'Once, a Sacramento bar wanted us to play two times a month. We turned it down because we didn't want to oversaturate the audience.'

"'Either that, or we'd get good,' Lee laughed.

"'In the olden days,' he continued, 'musicians would play in the kitchen. That's what our practices are like. David lives in Woodland, Jim in Knights Landing, I'm in Davis and the others are in Sacramento. We go to each other's houses to practice: Move the cat off the couch, turn off the TV.

"'It can be difficult, because everyone's involved in other music groups, jobs and families.'

"How do they come up with their songlists?

"'You listen to it a cool tune,' Lee said, 'and figure out how to put your own spin on it.'
'Imitation is the most sincere form of exploitation,' Coats added.

"'We haven't written our own tunes,' Lee continued. 'We've done different arrangements. Sometimes, with our guitar player, we don't know what'll happen next; suddenly, we're changing keys. That's the magic of live performance: Everybody's surprised.'

"And how are the vocal chores divided?

"'I sing some lead vocals,' Coats said, 'and our guitar player sings some leads. Lee sings backup, and we sometimes have guest vocals.'

"'My niece sang with us for several years,' Lee said. 'But she just left for college.'

"The Robert Burns Night celebration will include, among other things, a free haggis tasting. Haggis is a dish containing minced sheep heart, liver and lungs with onion, oatmeal and spices, mixed with stock and boiled in the animal's stomach. For three hours.

"'The haggis gets bigger every year,' David said. 'The first year, we had a two-pound haggis. It's dense, it looked like a softball. It was gone quickly. Since then, we've gotten a bigger one each year. This year, it's a four-pounder.

"'It's free for everyone to try.'


"'The nicest thing anybody usually says about haggis is, there's nothing wrong with it.' Coats chuckled. 'It's probably better for you than eating Sacramento river fish twice a week.'

"The evening's whisky tasting will appeal to connoisseurs and novices alike.

"'All scotch is whiskey,' David explained, 'but not all whiskey is scotch. It has to be made in Scotland, and follow quality standards, in order to be scotch. It's different than Irish whiskey, Canadian or Johnny Walker. You can have a $300 bottle of Johnny Walker, and be happy with it, but it's still not scotch.'

"For those unfamiliar with scotch, this tasting will be a 'good place to start,' Lee said. 'Some are super-smooth. Some are like licking charcoal, and some have a peat moss, herbal, raspy flavor.

"'One year, a friend had a 100-year-old scotch that was so smooth it was like drinking satin.

"'You can have the same scotch - a 10-year-old, 30-year-old and 50-year-old - and because of the different aging, you wouldn't know they're related.'

"Coats agreed: 'This is a great place to develop your taste.'

"But while they all seem to know a great deal about scotch, Lee hastened to add that, as with most bands, 'We mostly drink beer.'

"Besides Haggis and scotch, the annual menu usually includes salmon, lamb stew, lamb curry and Scotch egg.

"'A Scotch egg is a hard boiled egg, surrounded by sausage and deep fried,' Lee explained, 'It's excellent and not greasy.'

"Coats furnished additional detail: 'Imagine a cut-away of the Earth that includes the core, and then imagine that the layers are made out of fat. That's a Scotch egg.'

"As a typical Robert Burns evening progresses, the event turns into quite the celebration.

"'People come up and dance,' Lee said. 'Little kids do step-dancing; several people have their shoes ready to go.'

"'It's like a tap shoe,' Coats said. 'It makes noise on the concrete. It sounds cool; you almost have to wear safety goggles and watch the sparks fly.'

"And how flexible is the song list?

"'People will ask us to play certain songs,' Lee said, mostly things like 'Danny Boy.' Sometimes they'll ask for something we don't know, but we try!'

"'We love it when people dance,' Coats added. 'We'd be happy if more people came up and danced.'

"'That type of spontaneity is fun for everyone,' David agreed.

"Lee remembered one particular performance: 'For Burns Night, one huge table had two dozen knitters. It became a rhythm section that sounded like tap-dancing squirrels.

"'These days, more folks come wearing kilts.'

"'The utili-kilt is the big thing now,' Coats said. 'I'm saving up to get one, but a proper kilt is expensive: around $200.'

"'You could get a polyester one,' Lee quipped.

"In Scotland itself, Robert Burns Night is a big deal.

"'In Scotland, he's on par or above Shakespeare,' Coats said. 'He wrote remarkable stuff.'

"Burns (1759-96) is regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic movement. After his death, he became an inspiration to the founders of liberalism. His poem and song 'Auld Lang Syne' often is sung at Hogmanay (the final day of the year).

"'For a lot of Scottish people, or people of Scottish descent, this event is a nice connection to home,' Lee said. 'They do the whole kilt regalia: plaid over the shoulder, the whole bit. It's fun; there's a connection with people we don't know. They come for the music and have a Czech/Scottish fusion meal. It means a lot to them.'

"'It's nice way to feel a connection to things back home,' David agreed.

"- Stay up-to-the-minute with local live music by visiting and clicking on 'Club Crawl.' "

1 comment:

Lee Riggs said...

We are having a piper too! Local lad Erik Leiken will be joining us for the whole evening.