Sarah Blair began playing Irish fiddle in Providence, Rhode Island’s thriving traditional Irish music scene. She honed her playing as a sought-after session leader in Boston and in the world of American contra dancing. With her band The Sevens and with other ensembles, Sarah has played at festivals, concerts, and dance weeks from Alaska to Quebec to Florida. Her most unusual gig was filling in for fiddler Liz Carroll for a portion of The Eagles’ singer Don Henley’s 2000 tour. In 2001, the Sevens were featured on NPR in an interview with Noah Adams. She is included in “Handy with the Stick: Fiddler Magazine’s Best of Irish fiddling,” a forthcoming book profiling top Irish fiddlers by Brendan Taaffe.
“Flower of the Red Mill,” Sarah’s debut solo fiddle recording, features duets and trios with some of her closest musical cronies: Paul Groff on concertina and guitar, Ben Power on flute, Benedict Koehler on uilleann pipes, Hilari Farrington on harp, and Colin McCaffrey on guitar. She plays tunes with special associations for her — tunes learned from recordings of heroes such as Andy McGann and Matt Cranitch, from influential friends such as Jimmy Devine and David “Papper” Papazian, and tunes that call to mind particularly memorable sessions of music. There are three original tunes on the recording: Sarah composed “The Hope Jig” while awaiting the arrival from India of her younger son, Adam. Paul Groff composed “Jimmy on the Liner” in honor of his friend, flute and whistle player Jimmy Hogan. Sarah is particularly happy to have been able to include “Lament for the Yew Trees,” an air composed by piper Chris Langan (RIP) that she learned from David Papazian. This beautiful air has not been recorded until now and should become part of the repertoire of slow airs.
Much of Sarah’s time is spent teaching fiddle at home in Montpelier, Vermont, and at workshops and camps. Teaching is a tremendous privilege for her, as she tries to bring her students to an understanding not simply of the sound, style, and techniques of traditional Irish fiddle playing — although that is of course a huge undertaking — but also the context of the music: the background of players and tunes, repertoire, important recordings, dancing, and singing.
Sarah plays in The Sevens with flute and banjo player Mark Roberts, guitarist and singer Flynn Cohen, percussionist Mark “Pokey” Hellenberg, and bassist Stuart Kenney. The Sevens frequently play for contra dancing at dance weekends and festivals such as Falcon Ridge, The Champlain Valley Festival, and the Lake Eden Arts Festival. In February 2007, they released their second CD, “Valiant.”