Keeping tradition alive
BY KEEGAN PROSSER
Playing violin is cool. At least that’s what Geoffrey Castle wants you to think. And if you’ve heard – or seen him – shredding on his six-string electric violin, you’d probably agree.
A seasoned performer who has called the Northwest home for nearly 15 years, Castle fell in love with music whilst growing up in Alexandria, Va.
Raised on the music of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix, Castle knew at an early age he wanted to be a rockstar. When Castle’s friends formed a garage band in high school, he knew he wanted a piece of the action. The catch? He wanted to play violin.
“They had Marshall amps and I had an acoustic violin – there was no contest,” Castle says about trying to play with the band.
Makeshift amplifiers and speaker connections did the trick for awhile, but Castle knew it was time to invest in the real deal. He purchased his first electric violin during his senior year.
After high school, Castle moved to New York City, where he attended Columbia University – and paid his way via the money he made playing on the streets.
“It was the perfect college gig,” Castle says. “I made my own hours – and got paid in cash.”
While in New York City, Castle also got a taste for Broadway – standing in as one of three musicians in the Tony-award winning play “M. Butterfly.”
“They needed a violin player who could improvise and play Chinese percussion,” Castle says.
Castle says most violin players aren’t trained to do that, but he knew if he wanted to set himself apart, improvisation was the way to go. As a result, Castle’s musical journey has been far from ordinary.
“I definitely took the road less traveled,” Castle says.
This road found him teaching himself how to play louder, more experimental music than the stuff traditionally taught. Inspired by French-born violinist Jean Luc Ponty, Castle has become known for his genre-bending blend of Celtic, blues, jazz and rock and roll – and for pushing the boundaries of traditionally “classical” music.
A performer for more than 30 years, Castle has self-released eight albums of original music, the most recent being a double disc entitled the “Deep Well Sessions.”
When he’s not working on his own material, the veteran player also sits in with other musicians. Castle has performed – and recorded – with the likes of Alan White (Yes), Spike Edney (Queen), Jamie Moses (Queen, Bad Company), Tom Bowes (Tower of Power), Eric Bazilian (the Hooters), and more.
But for Castle, the best part about being a professional musician is playing live, as evident in the 250-plus shows he does each year.
In addition to traveling the country, Castle plays host for the weekly Monday Night Celtic Night party at Kirkland’s Wilde Rover Irish Pub – where he and co-host Dan Connolly play a variety of Celtic tunes. This month, Castle will also host the 8th Annual St. Patrick’s Eve Concert, taking place at the Kirkland Performance Center.
Celtic music has always been at the heart of Castle’s playing, and the show – which features a combination of rock and traditional Irish songs and dancing – has become a new tradition on the Eastside.
“So much of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day is about going out and getting drunk and puking green beer on somebody’s shoes. And there’s a lot more to Irish heritage than that,” Castle says. “And that’s what my performance is really about.”
Castle says he finds Celtic music to be the type of passionate, emotional music he is inspired by. That’s why he started experimenting with it, and developed a show. And while drinking isn’t the focus, Castle insists there will be Jameson and Guinness available for those looking to loosen up a bit.
This year’s celebration will also serve as a release party for Castle’s newest album, “Celtic Night,” – a collection of songs from his performances at the Wild Rover.
An advocate for keeping the arts in schools, Castle spends much of his time on the road visiting schools and community centers to perform at assemblies and teach workshops.
“I’d say it’s the most important thing I do,” Castle says.
Castle is also a major supporter of “Keep the Music Alive,” and the All-Star Synergia Concert, which helps support music programs in the schools.
He says it’s his goal to change the perceptions often associated with string players, to prove that even “macho” guys can play string instruments, and that it’s nothing to be teased about.
“When I’m done, that kid in fifth grade, who is playing violin and getting teased, is the hero of the school,” Castle says.
As far as being an artist living in the Northwest, Castle says he couldn’t be more proud.
“[The Northwest] has always been a place about innovating music,” Castle says. “People are willing to take a little extra time to figure out something new.”
It’s a tradition that’s seeming to stand the test of time.
Geoffrey Castle’s 8th Annual St. Patrick’s Eve Concert takes place Saturday, March 16 at 8 p.m. at the Kirkland Performance Center. Tickets are available at HERE; Adult: $25, Senior: $20, Youth: $15. For more information about Castle, and to purchase his music go HERE.