Christmas with the Celts was the brainchild of music producer Ric Blair, who reigns as one the country’s most respected purveyors of Celtic music. American-born and Nashville-based, Blair credits the popularity of the group’s concert presentation and the nationwide broadcasting of the show as a PBS television special to his unique blending of modern Christmas standards with the spirit and sounds of Celtic roots.
The Celts have shared the stage with a diverse range of specials guests and artists, including Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh of Altan, Vince Gill, Irish singer Cathy Jordan of Dervish, Ricky Skaggs, Riverdance piper Ivan Goff from Dublin, Patty Loveless, Braveheart/Titanic piper Eric Rigler, and Tim O’Brien, to name a few.
The first live performance of Christmas with the Celts was filmed in 2010 in front of a sold-out audience at the original Grand Ole Opry, the world-famous Ryman Auditorium. The Celts’ lineup features founder Ric Blair on vocals, guitars, bodhran, and piano; Laura McGhee from Dundee, Scotland, on vocals and fiddle; plus an ensemble of world-class musicians playing uilleann pipes, Irish whistles, drums, bass, and mandolin. The band also includes a children’s choir, lush string arrangements, and the always-crowd-pleasing Irish step dancers.
Blair was a promising jazz major at the University of Cincinnati’s prestigious College-Conservatory of Music until a chance encounter in 1980 changed the entire course of his life. “A buddy of mine said, ‘Hey, there’s this Irish group playing tonight,’” Blair remembers. It took a little prodding, but he agreed to give the concert a shot. “I opened the doors, and people were literally dancing on the tables,” says Blair. “The music was so happy. As soon as I heard the pipes and Irish whistle, something in my blood hit me and said ‘this is what I want to do.’” He confesses, “I’m proud of my Irish/Scottish roots, but I am equally proud of my American music roots. So, our music has become a product of merging the two cultures.”
First there was Riverdance, then Celtic Woman, and now the popular PBS pledge show Christmas with the Celts is touring across America.