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Davis, California

Friday, September 24, 2021

MUSE speaks with local Celtic band

Local Celtic music band Riggity Jig has been making appearances around Davis, charming audiences with their upbeat Celtic tunes since 2000. An unassuming quintet of local musicians, David Riggs, Lee Riggs, Jim Coats, Josh Ray and Kyle Wallin, are as fun-spirited as the music they play, and they have successfully infiltrated various parties and events around town. Students might even recognize Lee and Coats, members of UC Davis staff. Haggis-eaters, Burns readers and whisky-drinkers will have the fortune of catching a whiff of these Celtic musicians at Little Prague Jan. 25 for Robert Burns Night — a night of poetry, bagpipes, free Haggis and general Scottish indulgence.

MUSE: How did your band first take shape?
D. Riggs: We’ve been together since 2000, as just a group of friends — or brothers in some instances — liking a certain kind of music and deciding to play it together. Jim and I played in a local bluegrass band, a band that was a little too vocal-based, and we were looking for something that was more instrumental. Jim was ready to move onto a new musical challenge, so we got together and started hammering out some of this music. Changing from bluegrass to Celtic is a sort of natural musical regression. Lee was a flute player so we asked him to give it a shot. He and Jim were getting together at the arboretum, playing the penny whistle, scaring the ducks. It’s a great place to practice.

Coats: The three of us are the core of the group, and other people have come and gone and added to the repertoire. We’ve added raucous, ribald, saucy, salacious (not too salacious) and pseudo-intellectual musical characters.

How would you describe yourselves as performers?
L. Riggs: We’re performing because we enjoy it, and we hope the audience enjoys it. We tend to play at parties as sort of background music, though sometimes it might turn into something more like a concert.

Coats: Live audiences react differently each time. Sometimes people are just talking and drinking, but we also enjoy it when people get up and dance. We usually get good feedback, and we enjoy performing, which is why we continue to do it.

What is Riggity Jig’s creative process?
L. Riggs: We cover some contemporary stuff and some traditional folk music that goes back 200 or 300 years. There are variations of some of the songs in America, but in Scotland or Ireland they’re very similar to the originals. Real folk music does change a little bit because it’s passed on over the years, often across different countries, and musicians have changed different elements of the original song to suit their tastes. So we pick up songs everywhere, even from the Celtic band that plays in the film Titanic.

D. Riggs: If we hear a set of tunes that we like, we get together and practice them. We’re not exactly a dynamic leader-led band. Things get thrown in gradually.

What got you interested in Celtic music?
Coats: For me, it’s just fun to play. A lot of it is dance music; it’s snappy, perky and fun. You get the whole culture thing — haggis, kilts, Guinness — it’s a fun culture. I played bluegrass, Irish and Scottish music. They all have similar musical qualities. I had been listening to Celtic music for years and had been playing for so long that I thought I could pick it up.

What is Robert Burns Night, and what’s happening at Little Prague?
Coats: It’s is a celebration of the Scottish poet Robert Burns on the anniversary of his birthday. Scots call Burns “The Bard” instead of Shakespeare. At a Robert Burns supper, you will have people recite his poems to celebrate.

L. Riggs: It’s a fun event because a lot of different people come out to celebrate, but it doesn’t get as rowdy as St. Patrick’s Day. People show up in kilts and we play a lot of fun folk-based music.

D. Riggs: Here, the night is a rallying point for ex-pat Scots. Little Prague will be serving traditional Scottish food, including free haggis, which you should try if you dare, and there will be a Burns poetry reading, Scotch whiskey tasting, and music. Burns Night is a good reason to party — sort of like Cinco de Mayo, but with kilts and whiskey.

Listen to Riggity Jig play and celebrate the poet Robert Burns at Little Prague Bohemian Restaurant, Jan. 25 from 6 to 10 p.m.

CRISTINA FRIES can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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