If you find yourself rocking out to live music on a Monday night in Kirkland, chances are you’re watching Geoffrey Castle and his band playing for his home crowd at Wilde Rover on Celtic night. A perception-altering six-string electric violin performance by Castle has the crowds clapping, dancing and drinking pints of Guiness.
His fingers working lighting fast, drawing his bow in a pace frenetic enough that one might expect sparks to suddenly burst forth, Castle’s sound is anything but mellow. His melodies co-mingle with rock and roll at the push of a foot pedal, transforming the violin into an '80s-worthy electric guitar solo machine. He crisscrosses from genre to genre, layering music in an unlikely yet thoroughly entertaining way.
Castle works the crowd, playing for individual tables in his black cowboy hat, jeans and decorative button-up opened far enough to reveal a Celtic cross around his neck. The band plays a mixture of Irish tunes, original pieces by band member Dan Connolly and even a nod to the Grateful Dead’s “Europe 72,” the first album Castle bought with his own money.
Castle lives in Kenmore, but his prescence in Kirkland is as large as his sound, and a winding trail led here. Though he claims he’s “from everywhere as a Navy brat,” Castle spent most of his school years in Virginia, near Washington D.C.
“I wanted to be a drummer and a football player,” he says. But then one day he borrowed a friend’s violin at the bus stop. In what he deems a reversal of parent/child roles, eight-year-old Castle begged his parents to let him take violin lessons.
Castle spent much of his adult life in Brooklyn, New York, where he went from street musician to playing his instrument for the Tony Award winning Broadway production of “M. Butterfly.” He moved to the Northwest in 1995; he and his wife Shannon Connor Castle, a glass carving artist recently featured at the Kirkland Performance Center, live just outside Kirkland’s northern boundary.
“There’s a reason why rock stars who have travelled all over the world end up buying a house or property here,” he says, citing famous locals such as Dave Matthews, and members from R.E.M. and Blues Traveler. “(The Northwest is) the best kept secret.”
Last year, Castle played more than 300 gigs. In March, 2011, he played 28 shows all over the country. But, every Monday night he makes a point to be back at Wilde Rover to play his fiddle on Celtic night.
“This is my neighborhood pub, my home,” says Castle. “This is where I play when I’m not playing. I have a lot of friends who come and this is where I do business.”
Though the violin is most often perceived as a classical orchestra instrument, Castle was drawn to play Celtic tunes, claiming that it speaks to him and people all over the world.
“Plus, I’m a big fan of Jameson whiskey,” he adds..
As a father of four who’s youngest is preparing to head to college next fall, Castle speaks with a great deal of passion about music education in schools, constantly trying to foster a sense of importance. He thinks that cutting arts programs in lieu of “buying a bunch of laptops,” for example, does our kids a great disservice.
“You can’t measure the value of music and art education with a stick. It’s creativity that made America great,” says Castle, pointing out that entrepreneurs are born out of creativity.
On May 6, Castle will be playing a show at the Moore Theater in Seattle for a music education benefit called Synergia Northwest. He will be joining other local bands such as Queensryche, Tennis Pro, former members of Heart, Brendan Hill of Blues Traveler and Seattle Kokon Taiko. He encourages music education supporters to come enjoy this show for a good cause.
Though days off are rare, Castle likes to make the most of them by firing up the grill and cooking for his friends. He couldn't come up with a favorite dish on the spot, but his wife filled in the gap saying, "Lemons! Lemons on everything, usually things I don't want him to put lemons on."
After having your violin music paradigm shifted at the Rover, you might want to pick up an album or two. Castle offers CD’s for sale when he plays at Wilde Rover on Monday nights. Fan Karen Moore of Shoreline was planning to buy a replacement album after the show for one that she “played until it wore out.”
“You think violin music is something that will put you to sleep, but this is amazing,” says Moore, praising the band as she recorded the performance with her fancy Canon camera and microphone rig.
In addition, fans can buy music directly off the Geoffrey Castle website in an iTunes-esque type format -- he claims he is one of the first musicians to incorporate this technology. The website also features video recordings, an iPhone app that transforms your phone into a violin, a photo gallery and an events calendar.
So next time a boring Monday night rolls around, think about the big electric violin sound coming from the Wilde Rover. The show is free, and these talented blokes are sure to put a smile on your face and a tap in your toes.