Performers for the 2018 National Folk Festival

Chicago-born fiddler Liz Carroll is one of America’s most significant Irish traditional musicians. From astounding the Irish music world in 1975 at age 18 by winning the Senior Division of the All-Ireland Championships, to being named a National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellow two decades later, Liz is widely regarded as one of the best to ever play the instrument. She is also a composer of beautiful tunes within the tradition.


Liz was started on the accordion and tin whistle at age five, a decision precipitated by her brother accidentally stepping on her beloved toy accordion. To console her, her father, a native of County Offally, set his accordion in her lap and began to teach her to play. Four years later, she reluctantly began violin lessons—she initially wanted to learn the piano. Liz recounts, “There was a school that had a nun who taught violin and piano. She taught both instruments, which was pretty rare for South Side Catholic schools. I was going to be playing the piano … but we couldn’t get it in the house.” Fortunately, she had a family connection for the fiddle: her maternal grandfather played the instrument and she had the opportunity to hear him play, and later play with him, during childhood visits to Ireland.


Chicago was home to countless Irish musicians during Liz’s childhood. She absorbed the music of Jimmy and Eleanor Neary, Kevin Keegan, Johnny McGreevy, Joe Shannon, and Joe Cooley at sessions, house parties, and in concerts. She also remembers concerts by touring Irish fiddlers Sean McGuire, Sean Ryan, Seamus Connolly, and Paddy Glackin as important moments in the development of her musical sensibility.  


“When Sean McGuire came through town, his piano player at that time … was Josephine Keegan,” Liz remembered. “She (Keegan) was a fiddle player, too, and she played one set of tunes on her own.  And wow!  She was a beautiful player, and she was a girl. So I thought, ‘That’s really terrific!’”


Liz has continued to gather accolades that include a Grammy® nomination in 2010 for her album Double Play with John Doyle. In 2011 she was named TG4 Gradam Ceoil Cumadóir (composer of the year), making her the first American-born composer honored with Ireland’s most notable traditional music prize.


Joining Liz in Salisbury is Canadian guitarist/pianist Jake Charron, who is noted for his ability to provide sympathetic accompaniment that leaves creative space for the lead musician. As a member of the Prince Edward Island group, The East Pointers, he garnered a JUNO Award win for Traditional Roots Album of the Year (2015), and a nomination in the same category this spring. Liz and Jake are working on an album together that is due for release in late 2018.