Sail away

Atlantic Crossing brings its traditional New England-flavored music to a modern audience.

By Crystal Schelle / Weekender Staff Writer
March 15, 2007

SHEPHERDSTOWN — For two weeks a year, members of Atlantic Crossing will venture from their Vermont home to bring their New England-influenced music to the masses.

Those who aren’t venturing north anytime soon, though, can hear the band perform in the Eastern Panhandle for one evening. Atlantic Crossing will perform at 7 p.m. Sunday as part of Blue Moon Sundays at Blue Moon Cafe in Shepherdstown.

Band member Viveka Fox says the quartet, which also includes Peter Macfarlane, Rick Klein and Brian Perkins, came together in the mid-1990s.

“A large group of us would go out into the concert scene in Vermont,” she says in a telephone interview from Burlington, Vt.

Although they all have other jobs outside of music (Klein is a freelance woodworker and carpenter, Macfarlane and Perkins teach music and Fox teaches a fencing club), music is their common bond.

The group of about 10 would morph into pick-up bands, jam together or perform for contra dances. Soon just the four came together, bringing their own musical background. Fox grew up playing American, Scottish and Irish music, Macfarlane, who is from United Kingdom, played regularly for Scottish dances and weddings. While, Fox says, Klein and Perkins “come from a rock ‘n’ roll” background.

But whatever their differences, the foursome was attracted to the same music that has its roots firmly in New England, as well as its outreaches of Quebec, Maritime Canada and the British Isles.

“We have a very, very traditionalstring band feeling without being completely stuck in the past,” says Macfarlane, who plays fiddle, low whistle and is a vocalist for the group.

For the band, Fox plays fiddle, which she sees “more as a rhythmic instrument, rather than a lyrical instrument.”

She also performs the bodhram, an Irish goat-skin drum. “I always liked it,” she says.

Fox got her first bodhram after working for another local musician. “We bartered for it,” she says.

Instead of payment, Fox received the drum.

After playing at various festivals, contra dances and concerts, Atlantic Crossing cut their first album, “Wind Against the Tide,” in 1998. The group followed that with three more albums, 2000’s “Full and Away,” 2003’s “Groundswell” and the latest album, 2006’s “Turning the Compass.”

Both Fox and Macfarlane say “Turning the Compass” is more of a coming-of-age for the group.

“We’re more sophisticated,” she says.

Fox contributes many songs on “Turning the Compass,” although all do some songwriting duties. “Turning the Compass” isn’t a deviation from their previous work, just more of coming home. Atlantic Crossing’s last two albums have included a background of Irish and contra dance. “Turning the Compass” is more local to the area, she says.

“For me, it’s about storytelling,” Fox says about songwriting. “I’ve always considered myself a storyteller.”

When it comes to what to write about, Fox looks to Vermont and the area. “I’m attracted to local legends, especially legends local to here,” she says. “... I look for a great story to tell.”

She found that with the retelling of the true story of canal-schooner Troy that disappeared in a gale in 1825 on Lake Champlain. The result was “The Wreck of the Troy.”

Five men and boys, who were onboard the Troy, disappeared. It was just a little line in a book that piqued her interest. “It’s such a great story,” she says.

Atlantic Crossing ended up pairing with the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum’s canal schooner project in order to find the ship. “The lake is littered with shipwrecks,” Fox says.

The wreckage had been searched for several times, but this time the museum decided to try again. And Atlantic Crossing became involved.

“We had a lot of fun finding it,” Fox says.

When the museum was able to locate it, Atlantic Crossing was asked to perform the song when the ship was raised.

Macfarlane also contributes songs to the group, mostly what he calls “tunes.” For him, songwriting comes in the form of his guitar, where he’ll play a chord sequence or finds a harmony that gets stuck in his head.

“It’s impossible to predict,” he says about when to write. “You wait a lot.”

Macfarlane doesn’t believe in forcing the music. “It doesn’t happen that way,” he says, warning that forcing music can make it stale. That’s also why he’s not constantly thinking about music because, he says, it can reflect in the music itself.

Fox says although New England influences the band, she says it’s hard to say what the quintessential Atlantic Crossing song is. “We play in all different veins of music — jazz, dance music, traditional ... lots of things,” she says.

Macfarlane agrees. “Different people have different favorites,” he says. “What’s en vogue is the opening track on ‘Tracking the Compass,’ but it’s not the only one.” The first track is “Montebello set.”

On “Turning the Compass,” Atlantic Crossing made a point to produce more of their own work on the album. Well-known and respected producer Pete Sutherland was in the control room in the past, but the band felt it was time to go it alone. Instead, Sutherland was kept on this time as a consultant and the band decided to put an even more personal stamp on the album.

“In the studio we made the decisions,” Marfarlane says.

But fans of Atlantic Crossing shouldn’t be afraid that they’ve left behind their soulful sound. “I don’t think we’ve changed much. We’ve focused more on the area and the history of the area,” he says.

And Macfarlane says those who enjoy the style of music Atlantic Crossing plays will enjoy the band. “There’s a lot of interplay between the instruments,” he says. “It’s very intimate in the style of performances we can communicate with the audience. That’s why we’ll do better at small venues.”

This isn’t the first time the band has been in Shepherdstown; they have performed for contra dances. But Macfarlane says the Blue Moon Sunday concert is where people can really hear the band play.

“At contra dances usually play real jigs and waltzes we do much more beside that,” he says. “Concerts allow us to do a wider aspect of music and a wide aspect of musicality.”

It’s also a place where music lovers can discover something new. “The repertoire is a little bit obscure — there are songs some have never heard — but they may be a little familiar,” Fox says.

But it’s all worth it. “We have a good time. And have a lot of energy,” she says.

Macfarlane says it’s up to the audience to make up their minds if they’re good musicians, but he wants to involve them with the music. “It’s not just us behind the mike and everything else just beyond the lights,” he says.

—Staff writer Crystal Schelle can be reached at 263-8931, ext. 213, or cschelle@journal-news.net.

Concert | Want to go?
What: Blue Moon Sundays hosts Atlantic Crossing
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Blue Moon Cafe is located on North Princess Street, at the corner of Princess and High streets, in Shepherdstown
Cost: $10 at the door

For more information: Contact Cheryl Mansley at (304) 702-0554 or bluemoonsundays@earthlink.net, or visit online www.bluemoonshepherdstown.com

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This page last updated on November 3, 2007.