Interview with Irish Fiddle Hero Eileen Ivers: “You Have to Keep Moving Forward.”

Eileen Ivers, a pre-eminent exponent of the Irish fiddle will perform on Friday, January 18th at 7:30 pm at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York (925 S. George St., York, PA 17403) in a concert sponsored by the Susquehanna Folk Music Society.  More information can be found on the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website HERE. Tickets are $30 General Admission, $26 for SFMS Members, and $10 for students (ages 3-22).  Tickets will be available at the door or online HERE.

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Earlier this week, Eileen chatted with SFMS staff writer Peter Winter about her roots, upcoming projects, and following your compass.

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Your parents were from Ireland and you grew up with this heritage, but it was at age eight when you finally started playing music and learning this instrument. Was it your parents’ idea or your idea to start actually learning this music and this instrument?

It was actually my decision! It was funny Peter, cause my cousin was playing the piano accordion, and there was a little something of that going on so my mom thought, “Oh maybe the piano,” which I kind of rebelled against.  And then she thought, “Maybe it’s some Irish dancing,” so I did try Irish dance for all of about two weeks, and I just didn’t like it! But I just kept asking for the violin! There was something that definitely drew me to the instrument at a very young age. There was even an aunt in the family who recalled that when I was 3 years old, she said it was funny I’d go around the little Bronx apartment playing, I guess, “air violin” with a pink plastic guitar and a wooden spoon.

That’s awesome!

So maybe there’s something there!

Did you begin learning in a more traditional violin style, or were your lessons fiddle lessons?

 Yeah, they were very much traditional Irish Fiddle lessons. Our teacher back then was Martin Mulvihill, and he taught a lot of kids around the tri city area, and around New York. He taught the button accordion, the piano accordion, flutes, whistles, it was amazing. He was from Kerry, and he just had a wonderful way about him. So it was very much in the oral tradition, and really kind of just learning by ear, and learning from him.

That’s awesome.  You’re really known for bringing together a lot of musical styles, united under this banner of Irish music. Whether it’s band members from different musical styles or utilizing African beats. You grew up in this Bronx neighborhood, in this cultural diversity, do you think growing up in the Bronx led you to want to embrace this musical diversity and bring different styles and cultures together?

 I think it may have played a part for sure Peter.  I don’t think it was the sole reason.  But I think just through the years being so immersed in traditional Irish music (and I think it’s so important to sort of ground yourself; in whatever tradition that is) and I competed through the years till the All Ireland Over 18 Senior Championship and, thankfully, I won it when I just turned 18 that summer.  To me then, it was kind of like, “that was a nice part of my life,” but there was something about just the violin as an instrument that kept drawing me to learn more, cause obviously there’s so much music that can be played on the violin.

And just being in any kind of urban city, being so fortunate to hear (which I did) the great Stephane Grappelli, or these amazing musicians who would kind of come through town and to just absorb all styles.  I was just a fan of music in general.  It was an extension that kind of came out of that.

And just a little tie into my dad, God rest him, he used to listen a lot to bluegrass music in our house growing up, and I think that was always in the back of my head so later on in life I really loved just the parallels.  Of course Irish music is hundreds and hundreds of years old, but nearly the last four centuries people have been coming to this country from Ireland, and the music certainly has had such an amazing journey, and is a big part of Americana Music, so that really drew me Peter; just to get a little bit more of a wider range out of the recorded music that I was doing and also performing…It’s a fascinating journey! It certainly keeps changing musically in the show a little bit, but it’s still all connected, so I find it very interesting.

For the past 20 years, you have been such a torchbearer for traditional Irish music, and being so connected to Irish fiddle playing, but you are also such an innovator. I don’t know how many other people are out there sending their fiddles through wah pedals, and you were certainly one of the first people to do that.  How do you balance these two idea of innovation and tradition, and how do those two concepts relate to each other for you?

Ah that’s a great question!  And thank you! It’s funny, it’s something that I’ve grown to learn that’s just part of me.  I think, like any artist, you have to be true to yourself if it’s in you to create music in that way, and even I had a moment for sure even in my 20s, where I was saying, “gosh this doesn’t feel right, you know, don’t go there, don’t go there.”  But how can you stifle creativity?  Or just the want to keep learning and keep exploring and innovate and really, truly, hopefully push the limits? The violin is an incredible instrument and can do so much and can make so many incredible sounds, from rhythm to lead, to everything; especially in emotions as well. So it just was something I said “Look, this is in my heart, I just have to do this!”

But at the same time, it wasn’t a very haphazard thing at all. It was really (and still is) a journey of discovering what can be done, but also again the connections; because I think especially being very, very, privileged to be performing this music (and to be asked to perform in many different places) it’s a huge responsibility that I feel (and I bring to the band and they certainly feel the same way) to present the music in a very thoughtful way.  Not just throwing stuff here or there, but to really lay it before an audience or in records, the thesis of it all.  This is the tradition; and if you want just purely traditional music, there’s amazing places you can go to find just maybe that, and we love to certainly ground the night in that (and I feel my music is very much grounded in that) but again to show how it’s all connected.   How it comes from this very beautiful, pure place, but, whether it be to extend it into some Cajun voicings, or some back beats of bluegrass within an arrangement, or certainly (like you said Peter) maybe loop or bring in an improvised violin solo, we get there in ways that are certainly connected.

I like to ground my playing, my thoughts, and an evening in a concert where the audience comes along for the ride.  They’re understanding, “Ok this is cool.” We’re going in these directions and hopefully at the end of it they feel a sense of maybe even learning historically about some stuff, and just kind of going into a really fun musical journey.

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So your last record, “Beyond the Bog Road,” in 2016 goes along with what we’ve been talking about.  This record explores the connection between Irish music and how it connected and led into other forms of North American Music.  I was wondering if you could speak a little about this record, and also what lead you to record it. 

Thanks Peter.  Yeah, it was a labor of love for many years honestly, because with my background it was an obvious one at the time.  I just really got into the history of the music.  I was documenting a lot of our family history.  We have a little house in Ireland that we built on my father’s land a good many years ago now. It’s something, we used to go over to Ireland every summer as a family (my dad used to work for the airlines) so that was like a huge part of the extension of our life. So [I was] kind of documenting a lot of the history, videoing an awful lot, filming, as well as then researching this.  It was a good many years of really getting into it in a really deep way.

The famine really impacted where my family is from in Ireland, and I learned so much about like incredible famine walks that were going on, [and] the relationship Ireland had with America even way before that, so it was a good kind of time to really delve into that.  I learned so much, and that really fueled the live show as well.  I’ve seen audience members really respond to that because so many know that, “Celtic music sounds familiar,” but then when they realize why, it starts to make a lot of sense. It’s cool, we do a lot of tunes still from that particular record in the program, as well as some stuff from a new record that we are just about finishing up now. It’s great, it’s exciting!

Oh Nice! Anything you can tell us about that new record?

Oh I’m so excited Peter! Yeah, it’s going to be called “Scatter The Light.” Again, I always find I kind of have to just follow the heart, it goes back to that again!  After “Beyond the Bog Road” was so heavy intellectually and ethnomusicologically with what I was doing, I started just writing some lyrics. I was getting into a lot of just composing, and realizing that they [the pieces] were connected with very powerful themes of positivity and faith.  I don’t know, I was just getting into a place where I started to see that it was certainly connected.  Even the tunes were a very happy kind of angle on things!

I still just love the art of making a CD. I love that it has to have a message (for me anyway). I like it to be unified. I think at the end of the process you start to whittle down the tracks and really say “Ok does this make a complete thought?” A complete gift, at the end of it.  We have artwork, we’re just basically halfway through mixing, so it’s really exciting.  It’s coming out very soon. It’s nice and we’ll be playing some tunes from that as well, ‘cause you can’t not do it. You have to keep moving forward!

In addition to more traditional concerts, you and your band do educational programs at schools, and other venues.  Why is that something that you make time for, and why do you think that’s important to add an educational aspect to what you do? 

Great question, and thanks for asking! I’m very passionate about that and I feel it is even somewhat of a responsibility as a traditional musician.  It’s a pure gift to be taught this tradition, and to be a part of the continuum of this wonderful living tradition.  I think that’s a great term too; the living tradition.  You’re a part of it, it comes and goes and changes, our ancestors have been playing this music and the stories that come through the music.  To try and impart that to students of music, whatever age they are, I think is a wonderful thing.  Certainly when I teach, I love to do that in [the] very pure way that I was taught the music. And then of course the wonderful deep history behind it.  When the band and I go in sometimes to even teach some master classes or just outreach programs, it’s just great to fuel these school age kids with thoughts that learning an instrument is great.  It’s a great thing to have in life, it’s just a great thing for your mind as your mind develops, and roots music especially and acoustic instruments can be very cool and very accessible. That’s a big point I try to get across in a very underpinning kind of way. Just to get that out there, that it is something.

I went through school, I was a math major in college, and I certainly knew math and music; it’s a beautiful part of the brain (I’m actually helping my son, he’s nine and a half and he’s learning the violin in school so I get to see it firsthand!). Music is a powerful thing, and you’re fans and you know, and the folk society certainly knows, it’s a big deal.  Thank you for mentioning that because I think it’s so important and it is kind of a part of what we do and I just relish the chance to do it every time I can, I just wish there was more time in the day to do more!

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You have done so many projects. Not just your own albums, but collaborations with other artists and movie soundtracks.  As you look back on your career, are there any collaborations or projects that really stand out to you as special?

 Oh Wow! A flood comes in mind as you ask that question, which is a great question.  Just a flood of thoughts.  It’s so funny.  I’m thinking about [how] somebody asked me to present a speech to some graduates, and I’m kind of contemplating a lot of that, and what can you bring to that event.  You know, I think improvising is such a powerful tool that we have as musicians, and God knows in life in general [laughs]. I think as you’re asking that question, I went to something that was an interesting one.  Bill Whelan, who was the composer of River Dance (he wrote pretty much that show) he wrote the music for this incredible film called “Some Mother’s Son.” It was about the hunger strike around 1980 in Ireland. It was a very powerful time of political turmoil of course, Bobby Sands, and all those amazing men whose story was told through this film.

Long story short, Helen Mirren was one of the incredible actors in the film, and I was asked to play on the soundtrack, but when I recorded the outro part of the film, it was in Dublin, and I saw the film on the monitor, it was solo violin over this score, it was just a very ambiguous chord structure, I think the key of C from what I recall (I think) and Bill Whelan just said into my headphones “Eileen just kind of travel and see.” and that’s sort of all the advice he gave me. And I remember the movie, I won’t give anything away, but it was incredible, and Hellen Mirren played a mother (if you ever have time Peter definitely check it out it’s incredible) and her acting was amazing and I kind of knew the story, and I was basically reacting to her acting, completely as it was happening, and not knowing what the outcome was going to be.  I was literally following her and the story as I was playing, and it was such a powerful moment for me that I did nothing but emote and play through my instrument.  I wasn’t thinking about technically anything, sometimes the nastier the sound on the violin I could create to try and feel angst; that was where I went to.  It was a really wonderfully freeing experience of trying to emote through an incredible actress and an incredible story. And that was probably one of the moments that I, if you want to say collaboratory, I just felt humbled to be a player in this amazing scenario.  And I just was exhausted after.  Oh my God, I was very emotional, and I think the guys in the booth were too [laughs]! I just heard them in the cans “Thanks Eileen.”  It was a cool moment.

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That’s great.  Thank you so much for your time! I have one more question.  This is kind of a broad one. I think it’s been a really interesting time from when traditional Irish music was in the 90s, to where we are in 2019.  Does anything jump out at you as to how Traditional Irish music has changed over the past 20 or so years or to how the perception of trad Irish music has changed?

 Yeah, great question again! Loaded question.  Probably we could talk for an hour about it!  To try and kind of whittle it down, let’s see. And even you say 20 years, and I think you’re being very kind Peter, because I’ve been playing this for so, so long and performing out of my college days in the late 80s, and really kind of digging in, and being on…the precipice of so many new ideas, and thankfully some records that were kind of groundbreaking in the tradition, and I say [that] humbly because at the time it just felt like the right thing to do.

Just following that compass.

Right, exactly.  To be told by the next generation of players who are really out there right now doing it as well, that certain records and certain things have shaped them as players and even performers, I mean that again is incredibly humbling.  So I think what the body of work that we’ve been doing (“we” meaning me and the people who have come up with me) and of course [we] always build on those before us.  I always have to say that right? It is so important that that timeline is maintained.  There’s just so much there, and it has changed.

I think just a couple quick ways in my mind would be the elevation of the technical prowess in the players is just incredible.  And yet there’s emotion, thank God.  There’s still emotion in their playing.  And a lot of them are very thoughtful, they do know that this is a continuum and it’s not about being self centered but it’s truly an art and we’re part of a much bigger picture you know?  I think that’s really wonderful.  And just the arrangements and the chord structures are getting much more full of dimension and thought and I love that! You know the Michael Coleman days of the 1920s when he’s playing the tune and there’s certain chord changes that were obvious but the piano player would just be hanging on a G chord [laughs]!

He would have no idea what was happening!

Those days are really gone and a hundred years from that even, there’s a lot more to it. Also I love to say the performance of it.  Because I think when you’re asked to perform, it is a performance; you don’t put your head down, you’re not in a circle.  Part of Irish music is being social, being in a corner of a house or a pub and just enjoying each other and the music. You’re not performing in that situation.  I think that when you’re asked to perform, you have to perform! You have to put thought into it, you have to put arrangements, you want to chat with the audience, and I think bring them along for the ride of what it is! Instrumental music, it’s good to have some background on some things as well! I think that’s really important, and I think a lot of the musicians and bands are really, really taking note of that.  I think that’s really important and fantastic, to bring it up to that higher bar.

Well Eileen this has been an absolute blast! Thanks for taking time out of your schedule to talk with me!

Absolutely my friend! It was a joy! Thanks for great questions! It was fun!

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Peter Winter lives in Harrisburg where he writes, teaches music, plays in the Celtic group Seasons, and DJs. He is on instagram

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tėada, from Sligo, Ireland to appear March 18th in Harrisburg (tunes, music + dancing)

“One of the most exciting traditional groups to emerge in recent years” Irish World

Coming from Sligo, Ireland the band Tėada (the word means “strings” in the Irish language) has achieved worldwide acclaim for its ability to stay true to the timeless, expressive force of traditional tunes inherited from previous generations of great Irish musicians.

Midstaters can experience Tėada in a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert on Sunday, March 18, 2018, at 7:30 p.m., at Appalachian Brewing Company, 50 N. Cameron Street, Harrisburg. The five-piece band expands to seven for this event with champion step-dancer Samantha Harvey and legendary singer and musician Séamus (SHAY-mus) Begley.

Tickets are available at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3050248)

Téada first appeared in 2001 on Irish television, led by County Sligo fiddler Oisin Mac Diarmada. Though still in their teens, the young musicians were driven by the timeless, expressive force of music inherited from previous generations.

The band was quickly cheered for “keeping the traditional flag flying at full mast” (The Irish Times). “A fresh force in Irish music” said Earle Hitchner in the Irish Echo, and Irish Music Magazine described them as “the strings that bind…a young band with a deeply authentic sound [at] the cutting edge of the next generation.”

“We try to capture some of the rawness and individuality of the solo artist tradition, within the dynamic of a full band,” says Mac Diarmada.

The original quartet is now often a septet with Seamus Begley, the elder statesmen of the group. From a famous musical family in County Kerry, named 2013’s Traditional Singer of the Year (Irish TV TG4), Begley brings a deep trove of songs as well as fiery accordion playing and wit.

Téada’s most recent release, In Spite of the Storm (Gael Linn, 2013), follows a string of acclaimed albums on the Green Linnet and Compass labels, and the first to feature Begley. “One of the outstanding releases in recent memory,” raved Daniel Neely in The Irish Echo. “Another typically thoughtful and thought-provoking excursion from a band still hungry for tunes– and, belatedly, for songs,” added Siobhan Long in The Irish Times.

The American tour is supported in part by Culture Ireland, a branch of the Irish government promoting Irish arts worldwide. For more information on the band visit their website at teada.com

Concert tickets are $24 General Admission, $20 for SFMS members, and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com or by calling toll-free (800) 838-3006.

To listen/watch Teada visit these sites:

AUDIO

In Spite of the Storm: https://teada.bandcamp.com/album/ainneoin-na-stoirme-in-spite-of-the-storm

VIDEOS

Song with Seamus Begley https://youtu.be/W2_-oHPm5C8

March 26, 2017: The Outside Track to perform Celtic music in Harrisburg

The Outside Track, a Celtic group performing Scots, Irish, and Cape Breton tunes, songs, and step-dance comes to Harrisburg for a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert on Sunday, March 26, 2017, at 7:30 p.m., at the Abbey Bar, Appalachian Brewing Company, 50 N. Cameron Street. The group features vocals, electric harp, flute, whistle, fiddle, and guitar.

For information on the band members visit http://www.sfmsfolk.org/concerts/OutsideTrack.html

The Outside Track was named Group of the Year in both the Live Ireland awards and the TIR awards and was nominated for a Scots trad award. The group’s latest CD, “Light Up the Dark,” was nominated for Best Album in the 2016 Indie Acoustic Project Awards.

Concert tickets are $24 General Admission, $20 for SFMS members and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com or toll-free (800) 838-3006. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website at http://www.sfmsfolk.org.

We had a chance to speak to the band’s accordion player Fiona Black about the origins of The Outside Track and what audiences should expect.

FOLKMAMA: I understand that throughout the history of the band you have had members from Scotland, Ireland, Cape Breton and the United States. Did you start out with the idea to become a Pan-Celtic band?

FIONA: It really didn’t start out as a concept band. We met in Limerick in Ireland at University. Originally it was myself and Ailie (we are the two Scottish members) and we also had a couple of Irish members at the very beginning and a Canadian member.

It has always seemed natural that we would play music from the countries that we were from. That’s how it came about and we have continued to do that.

FOLKMAMA: Would it be easy for an audience member to figure out the country of origin for the tunes or songs that you play?

FIONA: We all play music from our own regions and our own countries, but honestly there are many more similarities than differences between the music from Scotland, Ireland and Cape Breton.

FOLKMAMA: Can you describe your performances?

FIONA: Well, they are really quite lively. About half of what we do are tunes and the other half songs.  We do different arrangements of tunes; some traditional ones and some that we have invented. Each instrument is showcased at different points and we all work together on harmonies and chords. The fiddle player is the dancer. She does Cape Breton style of dancing which is really close to the floor and really beautiful.

FOLKMAMA: Who is in the band and where are they from?

FIONA: Teresa Horgan is the lead singer and flute and whistle player. She’s from County Cork in Ireland. And then Ailie Robertson is the harp player in the band—she plays electric harp. She creates a lot of the bass lines and a lot of the texture as well. And she’s from Edinburgh in Scotland. My name is Fiona Black and I’m from the Highlands in Scotland and I play the piano accordion. And then we have Emerald Rae who’s from Boston. She’s the fiddle player and the step dancer in the band. She spent a lot of time in Cape Breton. And then Eric MacDonald is also from Boston and he’s the guitar player in the band.

FOLKMAMA: How long have you been playing together?

FIONA: We started about 10 years ago. Ailie and I are the two original members left.

FOLKMAMA: Anything you want the readers to know?

FIONA: We just put a new music video out on Facebook. We have another week in the tour and then off we’ll go to Germany. We’ll be back in the US in August!

FOLKMAMA: Is this the main gig for everyone?

FIONA: We tour about six months out of the year. We all have different side projects, other bands and different teaching projects and composing project—but for everyone this is the main band.

 

 

 

Irish Music w/ Mick Moloney, Billy McComiskey + Athena Tergis March 13, Hbg, PA

Three icons of Irish-American music—MICK MOLONEY (guitar/banjo/vocals), BILLY McCOMISKEY (accordion), and ATHENA TERGIS (fiddle)—come to Harrisburg on Sunday, March 13, 2016, for a lecture, potluck dinner, and concert sponsored by Susquehanna Folk Music Society at the Fort Hunter Centennial Barn, 5300 N. Front Street, Harrisburg. The concert is at 7:30.

The evening opens with a 5 p.m. with what is sure to be a fascinating illustrated talk on “Irish and African Roots of American Music.” Mick Moloney, who will be giving the talk along with Harrisburg’s own LENWOOD SLOAN, says that they will focus specifically on Appalachian music and the music of the minstrels. “Throughout history there has been a close association between Afro-Americans and the Irish, “Mick told me. “Both groups lived on the margins of society.”

“It might be a startling fact, but 38% of African Americans have Irish DNA,” he said. “Both BARAK AND MICHELLE OBAMA have Irish ancestry.”

Moloney has taught ethnomusicology, folklore, and Irish studies courses at several universities. Lenwood Sloan is a choreographer and scholar of dance history with a special interest in minstrel dance. Additionally Lenwood has served as director of PA’s Culture and Heritage Tourism Program and PA’s Film Commission and is active with the arts in Harrisburg.

Mick Moloney has recorded and produced over 40 albums of traditional music and has been an advisor for scores of festivals and concerts all over America. In 1999 he was awarded the NATIONAL HERITAGE AWARD from the National Endowment for the Arts, the highest official honor a traditional arti

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st can receive in the U.S. Billy McComiskey is a highly regarded player and composer of Irish traditional music. He has won FOUR ALL IRELAND CHAMPIONSHIP TITLES. Athena Turgis has toured extensively with the Sharon Shannon Band and has appeared in the Las Vegas production of Lord of the Dance. She has also been principal fiddler for the Broadway production of RIVERDANCE.

All are welcome to a free potluck dinner before the concert. Bring a covered dish to share. Drinks and place settings will be provided.

Concert tickets are $24 General Admission, $21 for SFMS members and $10 for students ages 3-22. The lecture is included with concert admission. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com or toll-free (800) 838-3006.

For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website at http://www.sfmsfolk.org

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Following are a few more details from my conversation with Mick:

FOLKMAMA: Susquehanna Folk has been lucky enough to have Billy McComisky on our stage twice; once with Pride of New York (which features Cherish the Ladies’ JOANIE MADDEN) and Trian (which features fiddler LIZ CARROL). We haven’t had Athena play for us yet, but she sure has an impressive bio! What’s it like playing with these two powerhouses?

MICK: There is not too much more to say then they are the best of the best. They are just fantastic musicians and I love playing with them. They’re masters of their craft.

FOLKMAMA: How long have you been playing together?

MICK: About 10 years now. But we play in different configuration and sometimes with other musicians.

FOLKMAMA: What’s the music like that you play?

MICK: Well it’s all traditional Irish music, but between us we have such a huge repertoire that we can adjust to any situation. We don’t have to spend hours rehearsing. We just have so much stuff under the belt as it were.

FOLKMAMA: You might know that Susquehanna Folk has been doing a little bit of a focus on the banjo this season. You play the tenor banjo. I’m curious to know a little bit about the history of the banjo in Ireland.

MICK: Well, the banjo found its way formally to Ireland with The Virginia Minstrels in 1844, and it’s been a part of Irish music ever since. The banjo that we play, though, is the Irish banjo. It’s tuned an octave below a standard banjo. The tenor banjo is tuned like a fiddle, and the music fall on it fairly naturally.

FOLKMAMA: Anything else that you want to add?

MICK: We expect the concert to be fresh and lively because we’ll figure out what we’ll play a half an hour before! And we’ll enjoy ourselves immensely and hopefully everyone will too!

 

Interview w/RUNA who will perform in York, PA on February 13, 2016

The five-person Celtic band Runa, which interweaves the haunting melodies and exuberant tunes of Ireland and Scotland with the lush harmonies and intoxicating rhythms of bluegrass, flamenco, blues, and jazz, comes to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York on Saturday, February 13, 2016, for a 7:30 p.m. concert sponsored by Susquehanna Folk Music Society.

The band includes vocalist and step-dancer Shannon Lambert-Ryan of Philadelphia; Dublin-born guitarist Fionán de Barra; Cheryl Prashker of Canada on percussion; Dave Curley of Galway on mandolin, vocals, bodhrán, and step-dancing; and Maggie Estes White of Kentucky on the fiddle. Runa members have played with Solas, Riverdance, Slide, Clannad, Fiddlers’ Bid, Moya Brennan, Eileen Ivers, Hazel O’Conner, Keith & Kristyn Getty, Barcó, Téada, Jonathan Edwards, and the Guy Mendilow Band.

Concert tickets are $25 General Admission, $21 for SFMS members and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com or toll-free (800) 838-3006. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website at http://www.sfmsfolk.org.

I got the chance to chat with Shannon Lambert-Ryan, lead singer and step dancer with the band.

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FOLKMAMA: Tell me some things about how the band formed and how long you’ve been together.

SHANNON: The band has been together for about 7 and ½ years. It started with what was supposed to be a side recording project. Fionán (who I had met at the Philadelphia Folk Festival) and Cheryl (who I had met around the same time) and I decided to record an album together at Fionán’s studio in Dublin. At the time we were all working with other bands, but we just looked at each other after the record was done and said “This is really special, we should do this more often.”

So at first we did most of our gigs as a trio, occasionally bringing in some really terrific guest musicians that helped us to stretch out beyond the “only traditional” music world. So we were able to add some jazz and bluegrass elements to our sound.

FOLKMAMA: So when did the other members of your current line-up join?

SHANNON: Maggie and Dave came a bit later. We met Dave through Fionán’s brother Eamon, who is in a band called Slide. A little bit later when the jazz fiddle player that we had been working with was moving on her way, we asked Maggie to join. It all just kind of fell into place.

FOLKMAMA: The band has some really lovely CDs. Have you recorded with this current composition?

SHANNON: We’ve done four CDs in total, the last two are really representative of that quintet sound. The full line up is on the fourth CD.

FOLKMAMA: Tell me about yourself. How did you get your start in music and dance?

SHANNON: I started as a step dancer when I was about 5 or 6 in Philadelphia. I had gone with my parents to a festival and I had seen a bunch of people step dancing and I said, “That’s what I really want to do!” Both of my parents were Appalachian Cloggers and loved folk music so I grew up surrounded by traditional and cultural music from around the world.

I love lots of different kinds of music from all different time periods, but there is just something about Irish music that has been home for me in many ways.

I majored in history and theater and music, and everyone told me that I really had to choose one, although I didn’t really want to. I feel though that I’m really lucky because I’ve found a way to really incorporate all three of them into what I do with the band. Obviously I’ve incorporated music, but history too because lot of research goes into the music, whether it’s the songs or the tunes.

Then the performance aspect—there is a lot drama in all of the songs. The theater and the acting have really come in handy in terms of conveying that to the audience. People often look to me and they say, “You’re the singer. You’re the one that is presenting the story,”and the truth is that it’s a story that the whole band is telling.

FOLKMAMA: Musicians have the opportunity to go to some unusual places. What are some of the experiences that have really stood out for your?

SHANNON: Well, lots of things. We got a chance to do a cameo appearance at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville for a St Patrick’s Day Celebration and we’ve had musicians like Ron Block for Alison Krauss and Union Station and Ricky Skaggs on stage with us.

We’ve also gotten to play the National Anthem at a couple of different baseball stadiums; twice for The Phillies and once for the Diamondbacks out in Arizona. And a couple of years ago we recorded a music video out at the Grand Canyon—literally about a foot or two from the drop off!

FOLKMAMA: And the band has won some pretty impressive awards too, right?

SHANNON: Yes, we won Top Group and Top Traditional Group in the Irish Music Awards and an Independent Music Award for Best World/Traditional Song. Were just totally honored and floored to be recognized like that. You know you play music because you love playing music, not really to go after the glory. But when those special moments come along it really validates whet you are doing.

FOLKMAMA: What would audiences expect to see when they come to one of your concerts?

SHANNON: We like think of our shows as opening up our living room to everyone so that we can all join in for that session, in for that party.

At the end of performances people always say, “You look like you are having so music fun up there!”RUNA Promo Photo 2013

Photo Credi

Photo Credit Bob Yahn

Photo credit Bob Yahn

Photo credit Bob Yahn

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.

We-Banjo-3-pic-1

Martin Hayes, John Doyle & Kevin Crawford–The Teetotallers– appear in Harrisburg Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Teetotalers by Jordan KoepkeOn Wednesday, April 16th at 7:30 PM the Susquehanna Folk Music Society is very pleased to be welcoming back 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. Tickets and information can be found at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/571342

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Following is a reprint of an interview that I did with Teetotalers guitarist JOHN DOYLE in April, 2013.

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 it’s 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.

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