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The State of the Commonwealth: 2021 Year-End Edition

2021 has grown old and grey and will soon be stepping down to let his new-born younger brother, 2022, have his time to walk among us on our puny planet. So it’s time to look back on the year that was for The Secret Commonwealth, and look eagerly forward to what the next year may bring!

So, let’s just get this out of the way up front: from a musician’s perspective, 2021 was only a slight improvement over 2020, and really mainly for the glimmer of hope it gave us that the world of live performances in social gatherings could be slowly, cautiously coming back to something more approaching “normal”. As venues, festivals and the like began opening their doors, performing artists either jumped headlong into the sweating bodies, tread carefully only into spacious, open-aired situations that allowed for safer distancing, or stayed dormant altogether. Each band, and each individual, had to make that decision as their own conscience and judgement dictated.

For us, the bummer that this pandemic has been dealt us a blow right off the bat, as we could find no satisfactorily safe way to do a St. Patrick’s Day show, and thus our 28th anniversary was spent, for the first time since our debut show on March 17th of 1993, without playing live music. It was, to say the least, strange and somewhat heartbreaking; however, we did redirect our extended TSC family to a livestream we did for our 25th anniversary, so they could get a TSC fix if they so needed. What’s that, you say? You could use one, too? Well, then simply follow this here link:

The month of May brought the salve that our starving musical souls craved, in the form of the Tennessee Renaissance Festival. The TRF had, of course, been canceled in 2020 but now they were giving it a go and asked our troupe to once again provide entertainment for the crowds. I’m not sure anyone was 100% sure how things were going to go, but the excitement in the air was palpable as patrons and performers alike felt the sun on their faces and saw real, live smiles beaming back at them. That feeling when we stood before a live audience for the first time in fourteen months and kicked into “If the Sea Was Made of Ale”? Mere words cannot express, my friends.

We were then able to bookend the summer with another outdoor festival show, one that we always greatly enjoy, the Middle Tennessee Highland Games. Held on the lovely grounds of Percy Warner Park, we opened and closed the day with performances. About fifteen minutes into our final set, the overworked, overheated sound system, which had powered the powerhouse Celtic rock bands Seven Nations and Tuatha Dea, among others, all day, abruptly gave up the ghost and shut down. What, us daunted? Not a bit of it. We remembered that we are, after all, a FOLK band, and we simply moved off the stage, down onto the grass in front of our audience, and performed an intimate, unplugged set for those hardy festival-goers who had remained to close it all down with us. You can experience that last set for yourself here:

Some images from the Highland Games:

And that was pretty much it for live shows for TSC in 2021; however, our individual members managed to get in some other gigs with our various side-projects, most notably when Franko Hashiguchi and Vicky Plant took their duo The Bedlam Skivers to the Renaissance Festival in Harriman, Tennessee earlier this fall.

For myself (myself being, Troy Guinn), I did manage to use all the downtime to complete a handful of song compositions, several of them being for Secret Commonwealth, and look forward to springing them on my bandmates when we resume rehearsals in a few weeks. Heh! I can sense them cringing in fear already!

Oh! And this snazzy new website launch was a BIG one off the checklist, something that’s we’ve been needing for a while. Our old website served its purpose but this new one, powered by WIX, has a lot of band-friendly tools that allows us to do more. We hope you enjoy touring through it and we welcome your feedback on how we can improve it:

Now, on to a sad note, as we lost both a member of our TSC family and the world of Celtic music lost one of its most beloved artists in 2021:

First, Ron Ault, fiddler for The Secret Commonwealth from 2008-2010 passed away on June 19th, at the age of 67, after a battle with cancer. Ron faced his final days with incredible courage and we will always miss him. From our Facebook tribute to Ron: "Ron was a tall, easy-going fellow with a kind heart and a great sense of humor, who dearly loved playing music. It hurts to know he's no longer holding that fiddle and towering over everyone in the room. Peace be with you on the next step of your journey, Ron."

Second, on October 12th, legendary Celtic musician Paddy Moloney died. Moloney was co-founder and band leader of The Chieftains, and no one who has played Irish music since the 60’s until now could help but be inspired and influenced by that band of wonderfully talented musicians. In the early days of TSC, we saw them play several times as we were absorbing the traditions of Celtic music and finding our own way into it. And if we seem impressed with ourselves sometimes that we’ve held our band together for 30 years…it’s handy to remember that The Chieftains have brought musical magic to the world for TWICE that amount of time! Thank you Paddy, for the impish and inspiring light you brought to this world.

Now, we look ahead to 2022! What’s in store for us and you? Well, obviously we foresee an increase in our opportunities to play for you in person, and we’ve already got a couple of things on the calendar for Winter and Spring. You can follow all our gig news on our SHOWS page.

A major part of our ’22 plans will be recording our long-delayed 5th album. It will be a mix of originals, trads and covers and will feature both long-time fan favorites as well as newer material.

Next October will mark the 20th anniversary of our “Uninvited Guest” album, and we’re brewing up some fun things in our cauldron to commemorate that!

So long for now.! We wish a safe and happy holidays to all our extended TSC family, and we leave you with our own original Christmas tune, "The Sea Road Home", from our 1997 debut album, and hope all your roads, sea ones or otherwise, are filled with joy.

---- Troy Guinn, Dec. 2021

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