The Friends of Folk Concert Series starts with Celtic tunes in free Dover concert.

Two years ago, free acoustic concerts began being held at the historic Old State House in Dover. It was a gamble that instantly proved a smart bet. 

Now in its third season, the Friends of Folk Concert Series – presented by the Delaware Friends of Folk and First State Heritage Park – is striving to hit the jackpot with its first show of the New Year, featuring international Celtic singer and guitarist Charlie Zahm on Jan. 13.

Zahm, of Pennsylvania, has established himself as a popular artist on the Celtic festival circuit, weaving in Irish and Scottish history for listeners.

Many moons ago he charmed the crowd at a Delaware Friends of Folk's coffee house concert in Dover, and at a Delmarva Friends of Folk Festival. Both performances were a decade ago, said Friends of Folk board president Jonathan Kidd.

“It's been a couple years since he's played for us,” Kidd said. “He has an amazing voice and can do Revolutionary War songs, Civil War stuff, Celtic and Scottish music.”

Constantly on the go, Zahm landed a tour in Scotland over the summer.

When Kidd created the lineup for this third season of the Old State House concert series, which started in September and ends March, he was relieved to have landed Zahm, who's a pretty slippery fellow.

In fact, Zahm couldn't be reached for a phone interview to discuss his upcoming concert in Dover, after multiple calls.

“He's a hard guy to catch up with,” Kidd explained. “I offered him all the dates possible and this is the only one that was possible. He's a very busy guy.”

But Kidd said he understands that being a busy musician means you're getting a lot of work, so in many ways it's a good sign that the Celtic artist is hard to book for gigs.

First State Heritage Park superintendent Sarah Zimmerman believes Zahm is a great addition for this season.

“When we have a performer that's in the folk genre but also does historical music, it's a perfect fit,” Zimmerman said.

Two more to see

After Zahm's concert in January, that'll leave two more shows for the rest of this season.

The first will be bluegrass duo Me & My Friend Phyllis on Feb. 10, followed by Celtic harpist Mike Nielsen on March 10.

“This lineup is special because it's a really cool combo of artists,” Zimmerman said. “We have Charlie Zahm, who is a nationally known artist. Then we have Me & My Friend Phyllis, a local band of the same caliber. And we have Mike Nielsen, who is also bringing in that same sort of feel.”

Lightning strikes thrice

The intimate Old State House accommodates 100 people. The concert series is averaging 90 guests per show.

“The Friends of Folk State House concert series has been a big success for us,” Zimmerman said. “The artists love performing there. The audiences love listening to it.”

The popularity of the concert series, held the second Friday of each month, has allowed First State Heritage Park to gain more visibility in the community.

“We're always trying to reach new audiences,” Zimmerman said. “Having these performances that are a little outside the box for us helps us to raise the awareness of all the things we have to offer at First State Heritage Park.”

Kidd said the concert series has also had a positive impact on the Friends of Folk.

“We've seen an increase in our coffee house attendance,” he said. “We've seen an uptick in our festival in the fall. I think this is helping us to get a bigger audience and it's letting people know who we are.”