Mikkel McDow

Mikkel McDow at the Rather Ripped Records Party, El Cerrito, Ca. 2011

Mik & Morgan

Beltain at the Oregan Shakespeare Festival Ashland, Oregon 2010

Dave Cowan

Dave at Electric Canyon Sudio
Chico, Ca. July 2009


Beltain on the Rose Wreath Stage
Los Angeles, Ca. 2010

Beltainclockwise from top: Mikkel McDow, David Cowan, Morgan McDow

The idea of a hard rock band that could perform rock arrangements of traditional and traditional style songs germinated through-out the late eighties and early nineties. Mikkel McDow, co-founder of Berkeley's old school punk band The Jars, and Morgan Thomas, multi-instrumentalist with Berkeley's influential trio Cyderman's Fancy, were both fans of traditional music and Led Zeppelin style hard rock.

Mikkel was a member of Oakland's Alliance, a metal-fusion band featuring John Nady, inventor of the Nady Wireless microphone system. Mikkel was also employed as an audio engineer by another of John Nady's companies, California Concerts Inc. Mikkel formed the first version of Beltain with J Boyd and Christopher Kemp, both audio engineers employed by California Concerts, and Morgan Thomas, who was recommended as the go to person for ancient instruments. She impressed producers Peter Dockendorf and Chris Becker with her bass guitar chops as well so no further auditions were necessary.

Recording sessions in late 1993 yielded a demo of three original songs, two of which, Any Port Town and Evergreen, were re-recorded for Beltain's first album. The other was a seven minute heavy metal guitar extravaganza featuring Chris Kemp on lead guitar titled Kilmainham Gaol. Chris left Beltain in mid 1994 to pursue a career in audio engineering. Beltain reformed with guitarist Sid Lewis. Sid brought with him bluegrass chops and a background in Celtic music as well as bass player Sam Good from the Sid Lewis acoustic project. The addition of Celtic fiddler Dawn McConnell prompted Morgan to switch from bass guitar to octave mandolin and to sing a greater share of the songs.

Beltain's self-titled first album was recorded in 1995 and it reflects the change. To support the album Beltain performed throughout California until 1997. The band performed at festivals and events in California and Oregon headlining twice at the Mammoth Lakes Celtic Festival and performing at other notable events including Cal Expo in Sacramento, the NAMM Show at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, and festivals and concerts up and down the state.

Pursuing a separate career on the coffee house circuit Mikkel & Morgan performed from 1995 to 2001 as Morgan and McDow. They committed much of their early repertoire to tape and released it as Too Hot In The Kitchen in 1996. The album was revisited and extensively re-recorded in early 2013 when the master tapes were found to be damaged. The remake of Too Hot In The Kitchen is available on bandcamp.

Morgan and Mikkel were married in Cohasset, California in October 1998. A few months later the band recorded their second album, Merry Begot, at Chico's Pro Sound Audio. Copies duplicated on CD-R were sold at Beltain performances but no attempts were made to secure industry support until the band was approached by Putamayo Records in the summer of 2000.

Immediately prior to this three members had left the group for personal reasons. Mark Wilpolt, who had replaced Sid Lewis in 1997, and Dawn McConnell were replaced by John Glick (lead and slide guitar) and Rhiannon Hawk (Celtic harp and violin). Sam Good was the third to leave so Morgan moved back to bass. Dave Cowan, Beltain's sound engineer, joined the performing group on flute and accordion.

A five song demo was recorded at Chico, California's Electric Canyon Studio with Dale Price producing. Two of the songs were geared to the heavy metal market. Three others were refugees from Merry Begot. These three, Drawing Down The Moon, The Wild Hunt and the traditional Bedlam Boys were given hard rock arrangements and the recordings were circulated within the industry. No offers compatible with the band's artistic vision were made so Beltain decided against further industry involvement.

Morgan was commissioned to record some music for a stage production of Incorruptible. These recordings were issued in December 2005 as A Medieval Feast by Morgan McDow. Beltain's third album, Jongleur & Other Stories, was recorded in 2006 with Dale Price co-producing and issued on CD in 2007 and as a download in 2008. Drummer and founding member J Boyd left Beltain during the sessions for Jongleur and Other Stories. Sue Carney, co-founder of the early music group The Terra Nova Consort, was recruited to help finish the album. Morgan and Mikkel reciprocated by performing as part of the Terra Nova Consort in 2010. Sue contributed guitarria, percussion, recorder and vocals. The rest of the band, now a trio including Morgan and Mikkel McDow and Dave Cowan, toured extensively.

Beltain's fourth album Buttons & Bells has recently been re-mixed, re-assembled and re-titled. The new collection is Morris Call and it features a selection of morris songs and dances. Recorded live in the studio in 2010 and 2011 Morris Call features the traditional favoite John Barleycorn and an extended version of Reynardine.

An album of original songs, Patchwork Quilt, was recorded at the same time and released to bandcamp and other sites in August 2012. Patchwork Quilt includes the concert favorites Bad Alchemy and The Price Of Love and some more ambitious productions such as Safe Harbors and Hoa Hokananai'a.

Beltain's latest album Rode Hard was recorded live at Electric Canyon Studio in 2009. Extensive overdubs were added in 2013 to make the Rode Hard ep, and again in 2015 to expand the ep to full album length. The result is what some consider to be our best album.