There are many Christmas-themed concerts coming up in Santa Barbara, and Eric Rigler and Dirk Freymuth hope to bring a “new spice” to the town’s holiday season with Celtic Christmas. On December 11, the respective bagpipe player and guitarist will perform at The Marjorie Luke Theatre and deliver a set consisting of Celtic-tinged versions of Christmas standards, traditional Celtic songs, and movie themes from Mr. Rigler’s long career of recording soundtracks. The duo will also be joined by Irish vocalist Nuala Kennedy and Celtic harpist Stephanie Bennett.
A graduate of UCLA, Mr. Rigler spent the first half of his undergraduate years attending UCSB and last performed in Santa Barbara about a decade ago at a private show in Montecito, where actor and local resident Jeff Bridges performed songs from his then-new film “Crazy Heart.” In an interview with the News-Press, the bagpiper expressed excitement that his tour is bringing him back to Santa Barbara.
“I love Santa Barbara. I don’t get to go there very often, but I look forward to coming back,” he said.
A performer on Irish uilleann pipes, highland bagpipes, and Irish whistles, Mr. Rigler is deemed the “world’s most recorded piper” on his personal website. This assertion is backed up by his performances on the soundtracks for movies and TV shows such as “Titanic,” “Braveheart,” “Outlander,” “The Simpsons,” and “South Park.” For six years he and Mr. Freymuth have performed as a duo, with a revolving door of guest musicians performing with them from tour to tour. In 2017, they performed for a PBS SoCal concert special, which included Nuala Kennedy as a guest singer.
During the Marjorie Luke performance, Ms. Kennedy will sing not only in English, but in Gaelic and Latin as well. Mr. Rigler commented that his favorite Christmas-themed number of the evening, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” will feature the singer performing in English and Latin, which in conjunction with the ensemble’s “haunting arrangement” will create a sound that is “mystical and beautiful.”
When asked how he, an American, came to become a master at instruments of the British isles, Mr. Rigler recalled that he simply went through life devoted to Celtic music after hearing the sound of a bagpipe for the first time. He has Scottish and Irish blood, but deemed it as merely a “secondary” factor compared to the interest in the instrument he developed at a very young age.
“I vaguely remember the sound of that ancient drone that the bagpipe had and it drew me in,” he said.
Following this holiday-themed tour, Mr. Rigler and Mr. Freymuth will embark on further touring in 2020. Facetiously calling their future round of concerts “bagpipes go to Hollywood,” Mr. Rigler said the tour early next year will mainly feature songs from the soundtracks he has performed on. Looking back through his years of working as a studio musician and lending his sounds to movies and TV, the piper said “I’ve gotten to play on many things that I never thought bagpipes would be on.”
Tickets for Celtic Christmas cost $36 and can be purchased online at luketheatre.org. The concert begins at 7 p.m. on December 11 at The Marjorie Luke Theatre, located at 721 E. Cota ST.