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The Batties are back: San Juan’s favorite Celtic band returns to the island with a new album

Bazoukis. Bagpipes. Fiddles and whistles.

Add them up and it can mean only one thing.

That’s right, the internationally-acclaimed Battlefield Band is on its way to San Juan Island. The band will take center stage on Friday at the San Juan Community Theatre for the 13th time — yes, you heard that right, the 13th time.

Friday’s performance begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are on sale at the theater box office or online at www.sjctheatre.org. The box office is open today through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Tickets are $28. Get ’em while they last, which won’t be for long.

Why? Because sold-out shows in Friday Harbor have become the norm for the “Batties,” as they’re known by fans. Perhaps no other musical act has been better received over the years or has drawn larger audiences to the 285-seat theater than have the Batties. The band’s signature sound is just one of the reasons why, but it’s a biggie.

Steeped in Celtic heritage, keyboardist/songwriter/founding member Alan Reid and his band-mates fuse traditional Scottish music with original songs and deliver an inspiring, sometimes haunting, toe-tapping performance of the folk music of the British Isles and Highland sound at its very best. The band, based in Glasgow and founded by Reid and several former band members in 1969, has developed a worldwide fan base since it began touring in the mid-1970s.

The Batties, with the exception of Reid, have undergone numerous line up changes since the band released its first recording in 1976. Forty years and 33 albums later, and Battlefield Band is still going strong. Reid and company have been hailed by Billboard magazine as a global ambassador of Scottish folk music.

“What the Chieftains have done for Irish traditional music, Battlefield Band is doing for the music of Scotland,” Billboard noted.

For fans in Friday Harbor, there’s a connection that runs even deeper than the music. The band thrust Friday Harbor onto the global scene thanks to an original song penned by former fiddler player John McCusker. Entitled “Leaving Friday Harbor,” that 5 minute 17 second instrumental also became the title track of the group’s 2000 album and CD.

“We were on the ferry and as it pulled away, we realized we were going away from this pretty, relaxed community, going back to the big bad mainland,” Reid recalled of the inspiration for that song in an earlier interview. “Friday Harbor is a very comfortable place to visit.”

Credit part of the band’s popularity to the song-writing ability of Reid and of various musicians, such as McCusker, who have come and gone over the years.

Battlefield Band is currently on tour to promote its most recent recording, “Zama Zama ... Try Your Luck,” produced by Temple Records.

It’s a collection of 14 songs that, as a whole, delve into the pitfalls of greed and the lust for gold, and into the worldwide financial crisis of today, through the lens of Celtic- and Scottish-inspired folk music.

The band can also credit some of its success to its dedication to being on the road. Beginning in October, the Batties will have played 18 shows in 16 cities — from North Carolina to Washington state to San Diego — during the two-month U.S. leg of its 2009 world tour. The band is also slated for shows in England, France, Germany, Scotland and Switzerland on its 2009 tour.

But for one night, Friday Harbor will have the Scottish band all to itself. And this is one you don’t want to miss.

The Battlefield Band lineup:
— Alan Reid: Keyboards, guitar, vocals.
— Mike Katz: Highland pipes, small pipes, various whistles, bass.
— Sean O’Donnell: Guitar, vocals.
— Aladair White: Fiddle, banjo, bazouki, bodhran.

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