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 http://www.brownpapertickets.com 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.

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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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The Irish Band GOITSE to appear in Harrisburg March 9th. An interview with band member Tadhg Ó Meachair

GOITSE-PHOTOOn Sunday, March 9 at 4 PM the Susquehanna Folk Music Society will recreate the excitement and fun of a traditional Irish pub when they present the Irish band Goitse and dancers from the Coyle School of Irish Dance. The event will also featuring an opening act by the popular area Celtic band Irish Blessing and an Irish session held after the concert to which musicians are encouraged to bring instruments.

The event will be held at the Abbey Bar, Appalachian Brewing Company, 50 N. Cameron Street, Harrisburg. Concert tickets are $22 General Admission, $18 for SFMS members, and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets at (800) 838-3006 or online at www.BrownPaperTickets.com.

I had a chance to speak to Tadhg Ó Meachair, one of the founding members of the band, about the group’s members, repertoire, and Limerick University’s Irish Music and Dance program where they met.

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FOLKMAMA: How long has the group been together?

TADHG: We’ve played   three or four years full time at this stage but we started 7 years ago. Colm and I put the idea of the band together originally and started putting some music together, and Conal joined and a year later James came to the University and we asked him to join the band. So it gradually happened.

FOLKMAMA: Were you still at school when the band started performing?

TADHG: Yes, we performed here and there over the course of the four years. It was in our final year that we first started going on tours. It was at our third year at University that we recorded our first CD. As soon as we finished we went full time into touring and traveling.

FOLKMAMA: Can you tell me about the members of your band? Several of them have Gaelic names. I’m curious how you pronounce them.

TADHG: So there’s Colm (CULL-um) Phelan on the drum, the bodhran. And then there’s Áine (AWE yeh) McGeeney who plays fiddle and is the vocalist for the band. And then we’ve got James Harvey on banjo and mandolin. Conal O’Kane is the guitar player. And my name is Tadhg (TYG) Ó Meachair and I play keyboard and accordion.

FOLKMAMA: I understand that they band writes most of the songs that they play.

TADHG: So basically in Irish music we have a large canon of music from which to draw from, and then there’s the strong tradition of composing as well. So what we tend to do is to kind of make our own compositions out of older tunes that sometimes have been in existence for hundreds of years. We take these melodies that are old and arrange them in a new way using variations and various ornamentations.

FOLKMAMA: How often does the band tour in the states?

TADHG: In the past years we’ve been in the states either twice or three times. At the moment we’re out for three weeks. We tend to be over for St Patrick’s Day and in the summer it’s largely Irish festivals.

FOLKMAMA: So you all met at Limerick University when you were all students at in the Irish Music and Dance program. It says on the school’s website that it’s the first program of its kind in Ireland, and it’s particularly unique because it encourages a lot of performance.

I’m curious what your experiences were like there and what encouraged you all to go there.

TADHG: Well I guess there is this huge imbalance when it comes to music education where a lot of the programs focus on classical music training, but it was a unique program because it gave a unique perspective. Obviously we started with western theory and things like that, but the focus was on Irish music. Just putting folk and traditional music on par with other kinds of music is right and proper I suppose.

But I guess what encouraged us to go there is just the environment that is there. It’s an environment that fosters a lot of creativity and it gives you the opportunity to meet like minded people. I suppose all of us went there to expand our understanding of Irish music and expanding our musicianship. We kind of clicked with each other musically and we went from there.

FOLKMAMA: Have there been a lot of groups that have come out of the Irish Music and Dance program?

TADHG: Yeah. I guess the cool band when we were growing up was a band called Beoga. They graduated just ahead of us. All sorts of different acts have been associated with the academy at different points.

FOLKMAMA: Your band members have won some pretty prestigious awards and actually it seems like in Ireland that there is a very robust system for recognizing talented traditional instrumentalists. We hear about the All-Ireland fiddlers, banjo players, and flute player—for example. How does the system work and how has it helped to keep traditional Irish music alive?

TADHG: So what you are talking about is the Fleadh (festival/competition of Irish music). And basically it starts out at the county level.  The first and second place winners from the county Fleadh go on to the provincial Fleadh, and then the first and second winners from the provincial Fleadh go on to the All- Ireland Fleadh.

Musicians compete in four different age groups; under 12, under 15, under 18 and senior. There are competitions on all different instruments like fiddle, accordion, whistle, pipes, and harp. It’s a great process, from a teaching point of view especially for young children. It provides a great focus for them to really think about and improve the tunes that they are playing. And wrapped around the competition you have this really festive atmosphere. The All-Ireland competition is probably one of the largest Irish Festivals in the world and a great place for musicians to meet and play with one another.

FOLKMAMA: Can musicians from the United States compete also?

TADHG: Yeah, it’s called the All-Ireland Fleadh but you have four provincial Fleadhs in Ireland, an  All-Brittan Fleadh and two provincial Fleadhs in the US. The winners from all of those Fleadhs come in and partake in the All Ireland.

FOLKMAMA: One of the claims that Limerick University makes is that the Irish Music and Dance program helps to make its students more marketable. How easy or difficult have you found it to make a living as a professional Irish musician?

TADHG: It’s really enjoyable work. It’s a lot of travel, obviously, but you really get to see the world from a different perspective. We just spent seven weeks in China, for instance. It’s definitely an enjoyable experience. We get along well on the road. A lot of us teach when we are at home, have private students or teach at the university.

FOLKMAMA: Can you describe to us what people are going to hear when they come to the concert?

TADHG: It’s Irish music with our own fun and energetic twist. It should be a good mix of some high edgy stuff and some beautiful songs .

Martin Hayes, John Doyle & Kevin Crawford–The Teetotallers– appear in Harrisburg April 26, 2013

The Teetotalers by Jordan KoepkeOn Friday, April 26th at 7:30 PM the Susquehanna Folk Music Society is THILLED to be presenting three of the very best Irish musicians alive, six times All Ireland Fiddle Champion Martin Hayes, John Doyle who the Irish Echo called the best guitarist in traditional Irish music today and Kevin Crawford from the group Lúnasa who is known for his excellent Irish flute playing and wit.

This trio—who call themselves the Teetotallers will appear at the Fort Hunter Centennial Barn, 5300 Front Street, Harrisburg. Opening for The Teetotallers will be local favorites Irish Blessing. Tickets and information can be found at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/352854

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Read the interview below with the Teetotalers guitarist JOHN DOYLE to find out more about the concert.

1. How long have the Teetotallers been together?

We’ve been doing it for the last couple of years. Very seldom we’ll do a tour because we’re busy with other things. Kevin Crawford is with Lúnasa and Martin is Martin, you know with all sorts of projects going on—and myself too. We try to get our calendars together to do at least one tour together a year. This is our second tour in the states.

2. Where do each of you live?

I live in Asheville, North Carolina and I’ve been spending quite a bit of time in County Sligo. Ireland the last year and a half—been back and forth. Kevin lives in County Clair and Martin lives in Clair also, although he’s back and forth a lot too.

3. How did the band first get together? How did you pick your name?

We were all doing this festival called the Sebastopel Celtic Festival in California back in 2010 and this man named Cloud Moss who organizes the festival does this thing during one show where he throws a bunch of people together to play. So this is one of the configurations that he picked. He actually even named us the Teetotallers because none of us drink. So we thought it was pretty apt and we figured that no one else would take the name. So it was great to not have to ponder or worry about the name.

4. Style of music?

Its old reels—flute, fiddle and guitar. It’s going back to the roots of the music and playing simply but at the same time deeply. We play mainly music from County Clare. I sing too so there will be a combination of songs and tunes.

5. Which Counties are you all from in Ireland?

They are both from Clare and I’m from Dublin originally.

6. What strengths does each person bring to the group?

Martin and Kevin are really in-depth. They have been studying the tradition and played it all their lives. Myself too. We all started from a very early age. We all started in the tradition itself—we grew up in a family of musicians—all of us. That’s one of the things about Irish music or folk music; it’s very familiar—familiar based. It’s serving the tradition—serving the culture to a degree even though you’re not consciously thinking about that. There’s an overriding feeling about that somehow—subconsciously maybe. From that—Martin has keep the tradition from his family—this depth of fiddle playing that he has. And it’s more of a feeling—the feeling of a country, and Kevin really does the same thing. And I’m different in a way. I bring a different quality to the band—a different feeling and a different energy. And as far as songs are concerned I really try to go back and get some old—some really traditional ballads. I also write some songs, but the songs I write sound very much like the traditional ones, and they give the feeling of the country too.

7. So how long have you known each other?

We’ve known each other a long time. Off and on we’ve met each other at festivals and airports a lot. But the last couple of years were the first time that we have played together.

8. Do you have a CD together yet?

No, we’ll figure that out when it comes.

9. And have you had pretty good reception at your concerts?

People understand where we are coming from. The music—it’s not about trying to impress anyone, it’s about playing the music how we feel it. We’ve been playing it long enough to know that just playing it from the heart and playing as well as you can. It’s about jelling together when we play, it’s about the community. When people get together to play its like there is a jelling of spirit, of tone, and of experience. If you really pay attention to each other’s playing, there is something special that happens in the music. Any form of music—any tradition. That’s what I feel when I play with the Teetotallers. I feel the energy that is there. I love it.

The All Female Irish Band GIRSA comes to York, PA October 7th at 4 P.M.

Girsa, an all-female traditional Irish band that is staking out a “new” form of New York Irish music, comes to York on October 7 for a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert at the Marketview Arts Center, 37 W. Philadelphia Street. Girsa  is eight young women who grew up together in the Pearl River, NY, area. Opening for the group will be the Srour family band Irish Blessing. The concert will be preceded by an Irish Session and a reception; both at 2:45.

The members of Girsa come from musical families, with their parents having learned Irish traditional music from such greats as Martin Mulvihill, Maureen Glynn Connelly, and Pete Kelly. Members of Girsa are Maeve Flanagan (fiddle/whistle), Deirdre Brennan (fiddle/mandolin/vocals), Kristen McShane (fiddle), Margaret Dudasik (fiddle/vocals/low whistle/dancing feet), Blaithin Loughran (accordion), Bernadette Flanagan (piano/bodhran/dancing feet), Pamela Geraghty (accordion/vocals/guitar), and Emily McShane (piano/vocals/bodhran/guitar).

Recently I caught up with Maeve Flanagan and had a chat with her about the band and her experience growing up in this thriving Irish-American Community.

Folkmama: So how do you pronounce the name of your band and what does it mean:

Maeve: It’s Girsa. It’s pronounced as though it has an “h” in it. The name Girsa comes from Northern Irish slang for “young girls”. One of the girl’s grandparents is from Armagh and she used to call the young girls “Girsa” when she was younger.

Folkmama: How long has the group been together?

Maeve: Around eight years now. We started when we were really young. I was about 14.

Folkmama: So what’s the average age of the group right now?

Maeve: Probably 21. I’m 22 and I’m the oldest.

Folkmama: In the eight years that you’ve been together have you had a lot of different people come through the band?

Maeve There has been a core. There have been two or three that have come and gone, just because they have had other commitments. But we’ve never really added anyone to the band.

Folkmama: I know the band has been to some pretty exciting festivals in the last couple of years. Could you just let me know a few of the places that our readers would probably know about?

Maeve Yeah, we’ve played at the Milwaukie Irish Festival and the Dublin, Ohio Irish Festival, the Kansas City Irish Festival and we have played at a couple of places in Wisconsin where we have a big fan base which is surprising since we are from New York. We played in Savanna last year from St Patrick’s Day. That was one of the best places we’ve ever played. It was so awesome!

Folkmama: What made it so good?

Maeve Just the hospitality in Savanna I guess. Everyone was just so nice to us. Plus it was during March so it was really nice to get away from the cold weather.

Folkmama: So, have you played in Ireland?

Maeve: We’ve played in Ireland separately, but we’ve never played as the group Girsa. We’ve played in ceili bands together, which is a group of ten people who go over. There is a drummer, a piano player and then pretty much any type of instrumentation that you want. So we’ve all played together in Caili bands but along with other people.

Folkmama: So tell me more about Pearl River, NY where you all come from. Where it’s located, and I’m curious if a lot of the Irish Americans that live there came from a particular place in Ireland, and also are you influenced by the Irish Americans in New York City?

Maeve So Pearl River is about ½ hour to 35 minutes outside of New York City. And pretty much everyone here is Irish. There is no particular place in Ireland that everyone is from. A lot of my family is from the North; Armagh and Tyrone. A lot of people when they first immigrated to America moved to the New York City area. My parents are from the Bronx and their parents immigrated to the Bronx. And once they started having families they migrated out to the suburbs and Pearl River is one of the closest suburbs to the city. You still have the closeness to the city but it’s not quite the hustle and bustle of the city.

Folkmama: So it seems like from listening to your band that you really have a lot of respect for the traditions and the traditional style. In your area is that generally true, that there is a lot of interest in the traditions as opposed to Celtic rock or more modern styles.

Maeve I definitely think that, in Pearl River anyway. Actually in New York City as a whole. My mom was taught the fiddle first by Martin Mulvihill, a great fiddler and composer from County Limerick by fiddler Martin Wynne who was from Sligo County. So she was taught by the most traditional players, pretty much, in New York City. So she really passed it down to us.

She would never consider going outside of the traditions so she taught it to us just as she learned it. We have a huge respect for that music while also making our own compositions and learning some of the newer compositions. Because, you know, we’re young and once in a while we like to do some of the funky stuff, although we really do have a lot of respect for the traditional Irish music.

Folkmama: So have you found a lot of people in your age group that you can play with and spend time with that have a similar respect for the traditions?

Maeve:  Oh, absolutely. I’ve been going to Ireland for competitions since I was about ten or eleven, and once you go there every year you make friends; I have tons of friends in Ireland. There are a lot of friends that I have in Pearl River that play Irish music, so then more people begin to play and it wasn’t like I’m embarrassed about it. So I’d say as I was growing up all my best friends either knew about the music or played the music.

Folkmama: That’s very unusual in this day and age I think. Very unusual.

Maeve I feel that there is kinda a revival of it too. For a couple of years, below our age group, you know in their teen years there are not too many people around here interested in it, but my brother is now 12 and all of his little friends just won a Ceili Band composition over in Ireland, they got first place under 12, so once something like that happens there is a huge interest in the music. Everyone wants to play after that.

Folkmama: I know some of your group knows the Srour family; the folks in Irish Blessing. Do you personally know them?

Maeve Yes, I know them very well. We connected with them first through Irish dancing because pretty much everyone in the group did Irish dancing at some point.

One of our girls, Margaret, went to the same Irish dance school as Jonathon Srour. As for the rest of us,  Jonathon played the flute and his brother Joshua played the fiddle so we’d meet up every year at the different competitions, the different Feises (a Gaelic Arts and Culture Festival) and conventions and such. So that’s pretty much how we met and we’ve kept in touch.

Jonathon was actually dancing in a touring show, and my sister, who was studying abroad in Germany, actually caught one of his shows.

Folkmama: So it sounds like you and your friends are really the next generation. The next generation of people who are playing the traditional music and doing the traditional dancing.

Maeve: Yeah, hopefully. That is our goal.

Folkmama: So you are going to have some step dancers there, is that correct?

Maeve: Yes, Margaret Dudasik and Bernadette are both step dancers.

Folkmama: Anything else?

Maeve Some people ask us what we are doing, besides music. A lot of people don’t know that we have other lives. I’m actually in law school, I do that full time. So pretty much we are only able to play on the weekends. Deirdre is a full time nurse, and she just got a new job so she is only working during the week, which is great because she can play music on the weekends. And everyone else is still in school, either in their junior year or their senior year in college.

Folkmama: And you have two CDs out.

Maeve: Yes. Our first CD we recorded while most of us were still in high school and the second one we just came out with last summer. It’s called “A Sweeter Place”.

Folkmama: It sounds like even though you are very young, you are extremely competent with your instruments. So, are there people who look at you and say, “Oh, they are really young, they can’t be any good.” I hear really good things on your CDs, but how can we put aside anyone’s fears that you may not be quite as good as they’d like to hear?”

Maeve : We’ve all been doing this since we were like five years old. For the competitions we had to practice so much, so kind of  our own doing we wanted to get better. So we’ve just been working, and working, and working. We could have played a concert last year and listened to it this year and say, “Oh my God, we have improved so much.” We just keep practicing and keep working together to perfect our sound.”

Folkmama: I don’t want to sound negative, but I just wanted to address that because someone might be thing in those terms. Because there are so many bands out there that are amateurs and aren’t particularly serious with their music and aren’t as interested as you all seem to be at following traditions. You’ve been seeped in it since you were a child. I really wanted that to come out in this story.

Concert tickets are $20 General Admission, $16for SFMS members, and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets at (800) 838-3006 or online at http://www.BrownPaperTickets.com. This concert is supported, in part, through grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the Cultural Enrichment Fund. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society Web site at http://www.sfmsfolk.org