Haley Richardson, fiddle phenom, lights up Irish music



“The most astonishing young talent I have ever seen,” fiddle star Martin Hayes calls Haley Richardson.

Irish fiddler Haley Richardson is no stranger to the Swannanoa Valley. Music campers at the Swannanoa Gathering Celtic Week have been treated over the past decade to the sight and sound of this small person with precocious fiddling ability holding her own in the company of seasoned professional players.

Richardson is making her debut appearance at White Horse Black Mountain on Thursday, Oct. 12.

“The most astonishing young talent I have ever seen,” fiddle star Martin Hayes calls her. Now, at 15, Richardson is establishing herself as an artist, touring with established acts and ensembles of her own. Guitarist Don Penzien and vocalist Megan Bennett Irby of Beirt leChéile (“Two Together”) will join Haley at White Horse, performing as Shared Madness.

Richardson asked to play the violin at age two. Having started Suzuki lessons at three, she fell in love with the sound of Irish music after hearing renowned fiddler Kevin Burke. When she was six years old she came under the tutelage of Sligo-style master fiddler Brian Conway. From him she learned the lilting, energetic and highly ornamented playing approach popularized by the recordings of the legendary Michael Coleman. She’s gone on to win numerous titles at contests, including nine consecutive championships at the MidAtlantic Fleadh. She has placed several times at the All Ireland competitions.

Richardson plays with a technical ability and deep musical understanding that’s rare in gifted, young players. Her musicianship has been recognized by well-known names in Irish music, including The Chieftains, Altasn, Dervish, Pride of New York, Liz Carroll, John Whelan and Paddy Keenan, all of whom she’s shared the stage with. She’s a regular member of Mick Moloney’s Green Fields of America and accordionist John Whelan’s band. Whelan has been a mentor to her in recent years and produced her debut CD "Heart on a String." 

Richardson’s growing reputation as a player allows her to enlist top-flight musicians as performance partners. For the White Horse gig, that would be vocalist/arranger Megan Bennett Irby and Don Penzien, an in-demand guitarist who uses the D-A-D-G-A-D tuning common to Irish music. The director of CelticFest Mississippi for 25 years, Penzien recently moved to Winston-Salem to serve as professor of anesthesiology at Wake Forest School of Medicine. Penzien and Irby, also a doctor, are musical and professional partners (they are research scientists). Irby’s recent concentration on Irish traditions, spurred by Penzien, has attracted the attention of many prominent musicians.

Ahead of her time

Who: Haley Richardson

When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 12

Where: White Horse Black Mountain

Cost: $12 advance, $15 door