Thursday, 16 June 2016

The Willis Clan Ireland tour 2016

It was just one year ago this month that I first saw/heard The Willis Clan at McGrory's in Culdaff, Co. Donegal. They had just recently recenly released their album Heaven. I'd listened to their music, I'd read about the family. I had arranged to meet and talk with the mother, Brenda, prior to the gig at McGrory's that night. They completely blew me away. Brenda first of all in her mothering, managing and sheer dedication to her family, and then the 12 children themselves. Musical talent, dancing talent, storytelling talent and more, at its very best.
And now The Willis Clan are once more in Ireland for their 2016 tour, at the present time.
"The Willis Clan is a family of amazing musicians, dancers, athletes, writers, and artists. Living near Nashville Tennessee, they merge their Irish roots with other music and dance genres to create a unique blend of the old and new. 
God has blessed us greatly and we enjoy a rich and rewarding life. It is also a lot of hard work. With twelve children, just keeping their names straight can be a challenge. All twelve children's names start with the letter 'J'. (Jessica, Jerimiah, Jennifer, Jeanette, Jackson, Jedi, Jasmine, Juliette, Jamie, Joy Anna, Jaeger and Jada).  
We like to enjoy the full specturm of life. We do music, dance, art, crafts, writing, as well as horses. wrestling, homemade cooking, swimming in the creek, and snuggling up before our fireplace warming our log cabin. We even have a front porch swing.
We also work hard to become excellent at the things we do. Our children have won regional and national dance titles and placed in world competitons for both music and dance. The boys have won state titles in folk style, freestyle, and Greco-Roman wrestling.
We have choseen to take paths less travelled and love it. We hope to share a little of this joy and adventure with everybody we meet."
When you are in the presence of this family you really do experience that very joy and adventure.
Each of the twelve children are equally talented in all that they do. From the older children right down to the little Jaeger and Jada.
In April this year I was fortunate to catch up with Brenda when the family were in Ireland doing promotional work for the current tour alongside playing at Croke Park, speaking at the 'Sister's Summit' and adventuring around Ireland.
I asked Brenda if the dynamics were changing now within the family as they were growing and maturing. She told me, "The children have some wonderful ideas of their own. The kids are branching out into other areas (between flying planes, writing country music, a new jewellery range - the list is endless). Jenny is working on a new country album. The younger children are being inspired by the older ones."
When you see this family on stage, it is clear to see that the younger ones are indeed inspired by the older siblings. The awe and delight on their faces says it all.
This family are always on the go. If it's on stage in Nashville or other part of the US, or in the family kitchen at home, there really is no rest. But at all times there is harmony and family fun at the core.
Following them on Facebook and Instagram, I am continually in awe of all they do.
In April the family had just released their single Momma, written by Jessica. Although clearly inspired by Brenda herself this song really is universal. Any child can relate to it and it just brings a tear to your eye with emotion.
Toby and Brenda are not just parents to these twelve children, they're friends, companions, managers and strong influential mentors.Their influence is evident in each child. One can't help but fall in love with all fourteen family members. Personally I favour Jeager. Now to convince him that 'I'm the one!'
I wondered if Brenda and Toby ever get time on their own just to relax and enjoy being a couple. Brenda told me, "We love being around the kids. We enjoy each other and the children. At night when they go to bed, we have our time." I think if ever a couple deserved
some 'our time', it's Brenda and Toby.
The Willis Clan are no strangers to Ireland and it's a delight to see that this current tour is becoming an annual one. And yet these tours are no ordinary ones. They are 'fan tours' and a number of fans travel with the family. To find out all the current Ireland tour dates check out The Willis Clan tour dates.
Here in Donegal it will be an absolute delight to see the gang once more at McGrory's  on Friday 1st July. If you're in the area, do NOT miss this one. You really won't be disappointed.


Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Footloose, The Musical - explodes onto the Derry stage

As a teenager in the 1980's I was a real rebellious one. I loved being opinionated and standing up for what I believed in. Maybe at times I went too far and drove my parents wild, but that was who I was at that time. I loved my rock music: mother didn't, but heck I played it anyway! What can you not love about being rebellious? It's powerful, it's personal and it's anti-rule! And I had an idol - Ren McCormack!
Footloose the musical has all of the rebellion I loved and more. As I sat in the Millennium Forum in Derry last night, all my teenage rebellious streaks came flooding back. And the memories were tenfold. This four-time Tony award-winning show had Derry singing, dancing and rocking in its seats. The musical was made all the more fascinating in that every cast member played an instrument.
Contagious songs like 'Holding out for a Hero', 'Let's Hear it for the Boy' and the infamous Kenny Loggins anthem, 'Footloose' made this show a dream relived from my teenage years.
Luke Baker was Ren McCormack, the city kid who moves to Americas rural Bomont after his parents split up. His Dad walked out on he and his Mum, and Ren is left dealing with much more than the usual teenage angst. Baker was flawless in his performance and delivered with charisma and much sex appeal.
Hannah Price, playing Ariel, alongside her girlfriends, nail the characterisation of the 80's girl gang and all that it entailed. The singing was again flawless and dancing only to be admired.
And of course it was wonderful to see our very own Marueen Nolan play Vi Moore. The Nolans are very much rooted in our home country and it's always a delight to see one of the sisters on the Derry stage. Maureen clearly felt very much at home last night and it showed at the end of the show.
Alas, who can take it from Lee Brennan in his performance as Willard. The lovable, country bumpkin, Brennan stole the Derry hearts last night and took over the stage with his new found dancing confidence - and he did get the girl in the end. Willard we loved you!
On a more serious note I got a lot more from last night's performance than just the fun memories, music and dance. The scene where Ren confronts Rev Moore about losing his son, about Ren's Dad walking out, and about guilt, hurt, grief and all the other emotions, really made me stop and think. I realised that we all need to stop and reconsider sometimes. We have all lost someone, through death or separation. We have all dealt with emotions and we have all sometimes forgotten that there are other people to consider. Ren and Rev Shaw teach us so much in this confrontational scene and it's one I overlooked as a teenager. Now as a mother, wife and grown up teenager (I wish!), life is all so very different from the one that my 18 year old eyes saw. 
This show really is a classic. It's timeless and it really did bring me down an eighties memory lane last night. I was dancing, I was singing and I was laughing a lot. Thanks Footloose for awakening the wonderful memories and for an absolutely great night's entertainment. I left the show, like many others, feeling that I was now ready to change the world. Just as I was at 18!
Footloose the musical runs at Derry's Millennium Forum until Saturday 4th June.