The Irish Group WE BANJO 3 in Harrisburg, March 8th, 2015

The award-winning quartet We Banjo 3, from Galway, Ireland, brings its unique combination of Irish, old-time American and bluegrass influences to do afternoon workshops and an evening concert sponsored by Susquehanna Folk Music Society on Sunday, March 8, 2015, at the Appalachian Brewing Company, 50 N. Cameron Street, Harrisburg. The event includes concurrent afternoon workshops on bodhrán and Irish tenor banjo from 3:30 to 5 p.m., and a 7:30 p.m. concert with local favorites Irish Blessing opening for We Banjo 3.

A We Banjo 3 performance reveals the banjo’s rich legacy and roots as the band of brothers takes flight in a wave of virtuosity, verve and joie-de-vivre, leaving the audience’s feet tapping and pulses racing. Featuring banjo, fiddle, mandolin, guitar, and percussion, We Banjo 3 makes a bold and extraordinary musical statement.

Concert tickets are $24 General Admission, $20 SFMS members, and $10 for students ages 3-22. (Young people are welcome; Appalachian Brewing Company’s 21+ age rule does not apply to this concert.) Workshop tickets are $18 General Admission, $14 for SFMS members, and $10 for students to age 22. Advance tickets for the workshops and concert are available through Brown Paper Tickets online at or toll-free (800) 838-3006.

Because of their busy touring schedule it was hard to track the lads down, but I finally had the opportunity to have a quick chat with band member Martin Howley.


FOLKMAMA: I was curious where your group’s name comes from.

MARTIN: Well we were originally three members. And we quickly realized that we needed a real musician in the band so we added Fergus in fiddle! In all seriousness, we’ve played together for years—in concert, playing commercial sessions, getting together for informal sessions—we’ve known each other for a long time. So when the opportunity came up for Fergus to join the band there was no question about it.

So we went full time after that. We thought about changing the name, but We Banjo 4 just doesn’t sound right. We’ve convinced ourselves that there is a little bit of a mystery when you are called We Banjo 3 and four of us turn up.

FOLKMAMA: So the idea was that the three original musicians all play the banjo?

MARTIN: We’re all multi-instrumentalists so in the band we have banjo, mandolin, guitar, fiddle, bodhran, and all manner of stuff in between.

FOLKMAMA: You play music from Ireland, but you also play the old-time music from America. Why have you decided to represent these two styles so strongly in your repertoire?

MARTIN: The banjo originally came from Africa but the old-time musicians in the rural South began using it. A lot of them were Irish descendants. So there is a big connection between the two styles of music because in many cases the repertoire is shared. Also, when we began to develop a band that focused on the banjo we wanted to be able to play some of the styles that incorporated the banjo. We wanted to explore how the banjo has taken a journey from African, to America and then to Ireland.

FOKLMAMA: Actually I think I read that the tenor banjo first came to Ireland with the minstrel shows.

MARTIN: Yes, that’s exactly what happened. The first time that the banjo came to Ireland was in the 1850s with a group called the Shamrock Minstrels. And their banjo player, Joel Walker Sweeney, was of Irish descent. He was credited with being the one who first put the fifth string on a banjo. So he invented the modern bluegrass banjo. So there is this amazing connection. It’s ironic that the Irish banjo is now a four stringed instrument, but the guy who put the fifth string on is Irish!

FOLKMAMA: You’ve been touring in the states now for a few years. What have some of the highlights been?

MARTIN: What has been really great for us is touring to some new places and discovering that they really love the banjo. You know that banjo is really an American music and synonymous with America. When they see Irish people playing it, they say, “Wow! I didn’t know that you did that!” But the other thing that’s great is when go to someplace like France or Germany or anywhere in Europe and they see this combination of Irish and old time and bluegrass and how closely it’s associated and it opens their eyes and we love that. And it’s been really great meeting people from different cultures. We’ve had amazing experiences where people have come out in droves to watch a concert and come up and buy CDs and talk to us and it’s always for us a huge compliment. We just love playing and we’re just getting our heads around the fact that people love our playing as music as we do.

FOLKMAMA: What kind of experience do people have when they come to your concerts?

MARTIN: The emphasis with the music is to play music that is virtuosic and varied and crosses a lot of musical boundaries but does so in a fun way.  We want people to come away with a big smile on their face and the hair kind of standing up on the neck! And we love energy on stage and we love to click with the audience—that’s kind of been our trademark the last couple of years.



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