Irish Thunder: a feast for the eyes and ears |

Irish Thunder: a feast for the eyes and ears

Carrie Click

Post Independent Arts Writer

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – If you’re expecting the Irish Thunder performance on Sunday to be filled with Celtic music, Irish step dancing, and lots of Emerald Isle energy, you’ll be right.

However, if you’re worried you won’t be able to decipher the band members’ thick Irish brogues during set changes in the show, you won’t have that problem. Not one of the band members is Irish. And, the founding husband-and-wife team of the Celtic band FEAST – Kathryn and Tyme Mientka – actually live right down the road in Grand Junction.

No matter. The Mientkas are accomplished, professional classical musicians – Kathryn is a pianist and Tyme plays bass – who are also amazingly versatile. When you hear their Irish-inspired sound, you’ll swear you’re in the middle of Dublin.

Back again with an entirely new show called Irish Thunder – they last performed in Glenwood Springs a year ago January – they’ve brought new dances, tunes, and, as the Mientkas like to say, “surprises.”

It’s no surprise that the Strictly Irish Dance Duo is the real deal. Eimear Toal, from Belfast, is an award-winning step dancer, and has been a member of a first-place world championship Irish dance team. She’s joined by Donovan Blaine, who in 2011 placed in the top 20 men step dancers at the Worlds Irish Dance competition in Glasgow.

The Mientkas created these Irish-based music-and-dance productions seven years ago with percussionist David Alderdice of Paonia. They are joined by percussionist Arlyn Deva, Marcin Arendt, Ph.D. on the violin – or in this case, fiddle. Elise Helmke is on harp, Andrew Krimm is on viola, Ben DeKock is on contrabass and electric bass, and Marcin’s wife Rebecca Arendt is on vocals. The Mientkas children – Stephanie on viola and Gabe on cello – round out the band.

Combining their musical talents with Irish dancing, the group has produced a string of successful Irish performances through the years. Irish Thunder is their latest.

But this isn’t all Kathryn and Tyme Mientka have done. Starting in the 1990s, the couple became known as the Mientka Duo, performing classical, Celtic, Broadway classics, Spanish and American music to audiences in the U.S. and Europe. Both have master’s degrees in musical performance from the University of Southern California, and they’ve been featured on both National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting Service.

“Catie and I are quite active as a duo,” Tyme told interviewer Ali Lightfoot last May when she interviewed him on KVNF Radio in Paonia. “We’re career musicians. We’re at it 12 to 14 hours a day. We’re very passionate about it.”

In addition to performing as a duo and with their Celtic band FEAST, the two also operate the Western Slope Concert Series, a nonprofit corporation that brings theatrical performances to Western Slope audiences. Presentations range from ballet and classical music concerts to performances by Strictly Irish’s dancers accompanied by the band FEAST.

Today, the Mientkas have a new challenge far tougher than a busy touring schedule and a calendar full of performances. Tyme Mientka was recently diagnosed with throat cancer, which has brought the couple’s three children back home to Grand Junction to be with their parents.

Gabe, the cellist, is now stepping in to help his father, and violist Stephanie has postponed her doctoral studies in music to return to perform and be with her family. The couple’s youngest daughter has been studying dance in Seattle and has also returned.

Glenwood Springs residents Marice Doll and Dick Helmke have a special reason for attending Sunday’s performance. Harpist Elise Helmke is their daughter. And nepotism or not, Doll said she attended last year’s concert and was impressed.

“Glenwood had an amazing audience,” said Doll. “The pulse of everyone’s adrenaline was physical. The audience crackled with energy. You can’t help it with this kind of music. It was thump, thump, thump.”

“The music will be totally different this year,” said fiddle player Marcin Arendt. “It’ll still be a nice blend of different Celtic sounds pulled from different sources, but with crossover to bluegrass, painfully beautiful Celtic ones, and even some jazz, but still mainly Celtic.”

Although the performance is a joyous one, the performers are still affected by Tyme Mientka’s health concerns.

“All the musicians are donating part of their pay to help the Mientkas with their medical expenses,” said Doll.

Last May during his KVNK Radio interview, Tyme explained why he performs.

“If I can help the audience forget their troubles for two hours, then I’ve done my job,” he said.

By the looks of the music and dance headed Glenwood’s way, it looks like he’ll accomplish that goal.

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