11 Questions: Jan Peters

interview by Brent Cole

Jan Peters has been in the music scene for years – taking off when the time is right, but always making his way back. Jan was behind the Monday Night Project for years at Boundary Bay, and most recently, he’s been instrumental in the recognition of Irish music in town, co-hosting an Irish and folk music night every Monday. I don’t know why it’s taken this long to have him as our guest for 11 questions, but I’m glad we’ve fixed that mistake.

Ladies and gentleman, welcome Jan Peters.


Who are you and where did you come from?

Jan Thomas Peters from Ithaca, New York, son of Woody Peters renown N.Y State jazz/dixieland trumpeter and much loved music teacher, and Ellen Kavanagh, Murphy renown poet and peace activist, mom to vets, she being of Bellingham for past 20 years or so. I’m the first born of five and my siblings are all mighty fine people who I admire deeply.


What initially brought you to town and what has kept you here for so long?

I came to visit my sister Maggie, niece Morgan, mom Ellen, and brother Tony who all ended up here of their own life stories.  I met Robert Blake,  Bruce Shaw, and Jen and Kristin Allen Zito, to name the very first ones, and playing music with them, being near family again, the skies, hills, and waters of here all just spoke home to me. Since then, well, it’s been one great musical adventure after another.


You host an Irish music night at Boundary Bay. How did it start and how has the music been so far?

Almost exactly four years ago I took a sabbatical from my life here in Bellingham to reconnect with musician friends in Davis, CA, where I began my life of performing professionally. After six months of great times, shows, concerts and sleeping in a rotation of sweet guest rooms, I wasn’t sure what to do next. That is when I met two superb Irish music players and began to jam with them. They liked my playing, and I was very moved and excited by theirs. I joined their band, The Blackbird, and after a year of working with them including a tour up here and a spot at the 13th Stringband Jamboree, it was time for me to come home.

Within six months, I had met with Brit Keeton, Zach Bauman, and David Lofgren and we formed Gallowglass. We’ve been gigging around the area now for a year and a half and fortunately for us many folks enjoy it as much as we do, which is a lot. I was interested in starting a weekly with Gallowglass or of some kind of Irish based thing, even just a session. Finally the Star Club offered me Monday nights.  I knew it needed to be something with several aspects to succeed and Peadar Macmahon heeded the call. He and I began Nov. 3, 2014, and right out the gate we had a concert audience loving the evening each week. He and I, then I brought in Zach Bauman to alternate weeks,  would open the show then I had a different feature perform each week. The wealth of good Irish, Scottish, and otherwise really good folk players who wanted to play has been just fantastic. Every week since that first one I’ve managed to have a really fun and compelling show thanks to this abundance of traditional music artists and folk enthusiasts we have around here.

The Star Club was beautiful in every way, but as we approached summer, it was time to move so we could be outside and keep growing. Hence, to the wonderful Boundary Bay Brewery Beer Garden! We’ve been there since June 1 and the music keeps on being great. For the first garden show I had internationally acclaimed Irish fiddler Dale Russ come up from Seattle. Once we moved there we were able to host an open Irish session before each feature performance.

In the height of the summer we’ve had 15 people of varying levels playing and sharing tunes in a circle while the garden was full of all kinds of people including lots of kids loving the scene. I made a 15-minute mini-doc all about it (search “Irish & Folk Mondays Bellingham”). And the FB page is https://www.facebook.com/Irish.Mondays.Bellingham.

We are moving into Boundary Bay’s new Mountain Room for the winter!

It’s a Sunday morning in town, what are you doing?

I am heading to the Co-op Cafe, The Blackdrop, Mount Bakery, The Bagelry, or Trapeze Deli-Cafe for either an americano or dirty chai with some halvah, awesome smoothie from Electric Beet Juice Co., or a delicious paleo-muffin, and some reading, writing, and relaxed office hours. Sometimes I hit the Old Town Cafe and play for an hour for an awesome breakfast.


What was the last great movie you saw and what was so good about it?

“Her” was fantastic, but I want to tell you about “Dean Spanley.” Based on an adaptation of Irish author Lord Dunsany’s short novel My Talks With Dean Spanley, it stars Sam Neill, Jeremy Northam, Peter O’Toole, and Bryan Brown. Set in Edwardian England, it’s about a struggling father and son relationship and O’Toole is transcendent. He is so damn “right” about everything but belligerent as hell. Anyway, they go to hear a swami talk about reincarnation and end up meeting the Dean Spanley.

From there it becomes what was to me an incredibly insightful and moving story of how a dog might really tell his story, and of how humans can be moved to change in most unexpected ways. Not a single wasted word in the dialogue of the entire film. It’s less of a treatise on reincarnation than on human relationships, stubbornness, pain, revelation, and healing. “Only a closed mind can be certain,” said the Dean.

If you could have dinner with any musician (alive), who would it be and why? 

I’ll just say who’s been on my mind lately – Andy Irvine. An iconic Irish and world musician, his playing and singing really inspire and move. You know his stories are endless and of a life few get to live. His “The Wind Blows Over The Danube” makes me weep. I’d say Cathy Jordan of Dervish because I want to marry her, but I’d be unable to speak or eat or anything else natural.


If you could change one thing about Bellingham, what would it be?

We’d have a big enough homeless shelter with programs, gardens, mental health help, good security for safety for all, and it would be a positive place where people who have fallen by the wayside get the help they need to find some peace, health, and hopefully productivity and meaning in their lives.


Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Producing awesome shows in our area, both as performer and as just producer, and doing some occasional touring to play and study.  Oh, and hopefully practicing and maybe teaching a lot of Tai Chi.


Do you have any new music projects in the works?

Lache Cercel and I have reconnected in creating a new monthly at The Green Frog. Lache is a Vancouver, BC based master Roma-Romanian violinist with a broad and amazing pallet. He’ll be bringing a great guitarist and bassist each month and we’re working with Kevin Woods, superb trumpeter and new head of the WWU Jazz Dept. Students can sign up to play or sing swing tunes, and other players can just show up and if you can hang, you’re invited to play. Lache plays the finest D’jango jazz, Balkan, Turkish, Mediterranean, and otherwise wicked good Roma Swing you’ll hear in our region. Contact me for more info and soon there will be a FB page for this. The next show/jam is Tuesday, Oct. 13, and then Nov. 3 and First Tuesdays from then on, always 7-9p.m.

I’m playing more now with Purit Na Gael, some highly formidable awesome Scottish/Irish musicians.

I have a solo album in mind, a new video of one of the songs about to come out with guests Harper Stone and Carrie Crockett-Valhalla, and an album with Pete Irving of Hot Damn Scandal in the works.


What’s one thing even your closest friends may not know about you?

That there is a little cactus plant in my place I adore and care for with great tenderness for its very slow, steady, stately, beautiful, surprising, fuzzy growth, and for how it looks in morning light. What’s left of morning light anyway after I get up. Makes me smile with peace and contentment just any time I pause to visit and stare at it.


When you’re feeling down, what is your go-to record?

It was that Andy Irvine song I mentioned and YouTubes of his group Mosaic. This year it’s been a lot of Nina Simone and Lunasa recordings.


How did you first become involved in music?

Hearing my father play and my Aunt Kit sing was huge, and while I don’t pursue jazz to any great degree, it’s my first love. Miles Davis and Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar were all in the house. I began to make things up on the piano at 7. I failed in my lessons because, well, I’m not sure. Just couldn’t handle it for some reason. At 12 Woody taught me how to play the blues in every key and that stuck with me. I learned a bunch of Neil Young songs on guitar and someone gave me a mandolin. I knew I had a nice voice and one year I jammed with a great blues band in Davis, CA. By then I was singing songs out and about on guitar and mandolin, and improvising some with really good singer-songwriters. Bill Scholer invited me to join his band on keys and voice and I became a full time musician. Since then I’ve played folk rock, psychedelic Afro-Reggae rooted protest rock (Clan Dyken), eclectic this and that (Joe Craven, Monday Night Project, Naked Hearts), then fell deeply in love with Irish and related music. I still love and need to play blues and swing sometimes and with great singer-songwriters like Robert Sarazin Blake, Pete Irving, Petunia, and my niece Morgan Frances Kavanagh,  to name a few.

Thanks to Danny Schwarz for the photo from this year’s Gallowglass set at the Jamboree.

Published in the October 2015 issue of What’s Up! Magazine