Poor Man’s Gambit blends Celtic, American folk
March is understandably the busiest time of the year for members of Poor Man’s Gambit, a trio of Celtic performing artists from the Lehigh Valley region of eastern Pennsylvania.
With plenty of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations on tap, band member Corey Purcell says “it’s great to be working musicians in a genre that has its own holiday.”
Poor Man’s Gambit will offer its blend of Celtic and American folk music at 7:30 p.m. March 9 at Hillman Center for the Performing Arts’ Peter J. Kountz Black Box Theater at Shady Side Academy Senior School, Fox Chapel.
The trio is comprised of Corey Purcell (button accordion, cittern, vocals, bodhran, dance), Federico Betti (guitar, fiddle) and Deirdre Lockman (fiddle, vocals, dance).
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“Most of what we do is traditional music with songs mostly from Ireland, and also from England and Scotland,” says Purcell, who grew up in the Allentown area.
His mother, a classically trained guitarist, and his father, a folk musician, introduced him to Irish culture at a young age. He started Irish step dancing at age 4 and competed for 14 years in local, national and international competitions.
Even though he focused his attention on music — particularly the Irish style button accordion — at age 16 and now performs as a solo artist and musician with Poor Man’s Gambit and a duo act, The Free Reeds with piano accordionist Rob Curto, Purcell still dances in concert performances.
Other members of the trio
Federico Betti grew up in Milan, Italy, where he first learned to play the fiddle, and lived in Ireland for 20 years, teaching and performing with various Irish musicians and bands. He moved with his family to Chalfont, Bucks County, Pa., in 2017 and became part of the Philadelphia Irish music community. He co-founded another traditional Irish music band, Maggie’s Boots, before joining Poor Man’s Gambit.
Deirdre Lockman, of Souderton, Montgomery County, also is from a musical family and started playing fiddle at age 4. She has performed with the Junior String Philharmonic, and the Lehigh University Philharmonic Orchestra, competed in fiddle competitions and holds several regional fiddle titles. She also competed at regional and national levels as an Irish step-dancer before concentrating on traditional music.
Poor Man’s Gambit currently is working on its third album, aiming for a release date later this year. Purcell says the group is traveling a lot, especially to venues in the northeast, including Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware and Connecticut. They also performed in November at the Austin Celtic Festival in Texas and will be playing at Celtic Fest, Harveysburg, Ohio in June.
Inaugural season finale
Poor Man’s Gambit’s performance on March 9 at Shady Side Academy is the last show of the inaugural season for Hillman Performing Arts Black Box Series, which provides a more intimate theatrical setting for shows than its main stage series.
Christa Burneff, artistic director of Hillman Center for Performing Arts, says the band’s performance is a good way to close the series’ first season.
“With the introduction of the Black Box series this year, we were looking for a variety of musical acts that would be engaging and fun for an audience in a smaller setting,” she says. “Since we are close to St. Patrick’s Day, a Celtic style group is what we were hoping for — and Poor Man’s Gambit definitely fills the bill. They are fun, energetic and unique.”
Hillman’s Main Stage series has two remaining shows in its current series: The Amazing Max, an interactive magic show for all ages by Max Darwin, on March 16, and The Flying Karamozov Brothers juggling and comedy troupe on April 13. Both shows are at 7:30 p.m.
Burneff says programming for the 2019-20 Hillman Performing Arts season will be announced soon.
“I will say that the Black Box series will definitely be back,” she says, “and on the main stage you just might see a return act for the first time in our programming history. As always, next season is shaping up to be even better than this year and we can’t wait to share it with everyone.”
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.