Nessa (World Music with Celtic influence)
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Nessa (World Music with Celtic influence)

Ann Arbor, MI | Established. Jan 01, 2014 | SELF

Ann Arbor, MI | SELF
Established on Jan, 2014
Band World Folk




"Nessa on NPR"

Let’s talk about Celtic music. Nessa, a Southeast Michigan band, re-imagines the ballads and dance tunes of the old Celtic world, bringing in a wide range of musical styles.

The ensemble is led by Kelly McDermott, who plays the flute and sings. She joined Stateside to talk about her musical influences, Celtic fusion, and the release of her new EP, Travel Walk to Celtica, produced by Brian Bill.

Listen to the conversation above, or hear Nessa play below. - NPR


"Nessa" - Nessa ©2013
"Ancient Song Discoveries - Nessa ©2015
"Travel Walk to Celtica" - Nessa Celtica ©2018



Celtic mythology is the genesis for this band’s name and its attitude. The band’s leader and principal vocalist, Kelly McDermott, embodies attributes of Nessa, the Celtic goddess who transformed from a sweet, unassuming lass to a firebrand that any women’s empowerment group would love to have as its leader. She went about righting wrongs and turning bad situations to good.

Kelly has done some transforming, as well. She trained as a classical flutist, reaching the top of her profession as a performer and teacher, but her soul called for something more adventurous and whimsical. Well into her career, while preparing for a classical “Flute and Guitar Duo” concert one day, her performer-partner asked if they could sing a folk duet at the concert. She declined, claiming not to be a singer. After much coaxing, though, she agreed to join in.

“Here I was on stage, singing folk music and not believing I could do this. In that moment, on stage and in front of a large audience, something clicked,” Kelly says. “I learned that singing is very different from flute playing, and that there is nothing like sharing a story through music.”

She admits that her life “changed forever” that night and she became a vocalist, band leader, composer and arranger, as well as a flutist. She gathered around her a band of highly trained and active classical and jazz performers. The result? “Our music often includes a few jazz chords, and improvisation. We use imaginative combinations of instruments, such as a sruti box, didgeridoo, umbra, temple bells, song bowls, ocarinas and more,” Kelly says.

All the members of Nessa, feel blessed to be musicians and to have the opportunity to share their creations with audiences and to elevate their spirits. “Our hope is that during a show people will transcend to another time and place, to experience ancient mythological stories and beings, to be uplifted with our positive messages, to be energized by our dances, to feel primal sensations through our world-beat drums and didgerdoo, and to laugh at our banter. We want people to leave our shows feeling goodness, healing and hope.” Most often this “is” the reaction that Nessa receives from its audiences.

Kelly researches and writes much of the band’s music. She and husband Rob (Nessa’s bass player) arrange the Celtic ballads and put their unique flavor into the music. The band is categorized as “World Music-Celtic-inspired,” but it incorporates sounds and rhythms from the Caribbean, Africa, India, Irish traditional, jazz, classical, minimalist, funk, and folk genres. The built-in versatility makes Nessa able to focus on a single style, or to mix things up in fun and unexpected ways.

Also essential to the performance is Kelly’s banter, which mixes history, myth, and interesting facts. “I talk with the audience about the types of stories I sing about – love songs, sad stories, obscure sea creatures, saints, festivals, and more. My mission is for people to experience magic and hope through our positive music.”

“Creating, practicing, rehearsing, recording, traveling, are fantastic, but what keeps us going in Nessa are the people we meet. The conversations, shared stories, hugs, tears, and letters after shows. The fact that people’s hearts were touched means so much!!”

Nessa’s fans have a universal demographic: men and women, 20- to 80-year-olds (and even older and younger), all ethnic groups. This is heart and spirit music that appeals to nearly everyone. Listeners can expect the dreamy quality of Loreena McKennit, the drive of traditional groups like Solas, and the innovation of Pentangle. 

Band Members