Before Darke County Center for the Arts presents We Banjo 3 at Henry St. Clair Memorial Hall on Feb. 4 as part of DCCA’s Artists Series, DCCA officials have a lot of explaining to do.
First off, We Banjo 3 is a quartet; how do you explain the misnomer apparent in their name?
Although the group’s publicity materials make no effort to clear up any confusion, I surmise that while the band’s mission is to enthusiastically reveal the rich legacy of banjo music, We Banjo 3 includes only three banjo players plus a championship fiddler and bodhran player, thus making the “we” a quartet that uses three banjos to achieve their purpose. Okay, so now that explanation is out of the way; the next question is, “Who are these guys?”
This Irish supergroup which is currently making a big splash in roots Americana music circles consists of two sets of brothers, Enda and Fergal Scahill and Martin and David Howley. Known as a banjo wizard who has won four All-Ireland titles for his playing, Enda is also a highly revered teacher and author whose students have earned many All-Ireland awards as well. His brother Fergal, one of the most renowned fiddlers in Irish music, is an Irish Champion on both fiddle and bodhran. Martin Howley bests his bandmate in All-Ireland titles, having earned seven championships himself; Martin also is the first Irish banjo player to ever play at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. His younger brother David plays banjo, guitar, and mandolin, and is the group’s vocalist, his strong, smooth passionate voice mastering traditional Irish ballads, bluegrass standards, traditional American folk songs, and more.
Okay, that’s who they are; and the next question is “What kind of music do they play?” The simple answer is good music, but you’ll probably want more explanation that that. We Banjo 3 is an acoustic group that crosses bluegrass with Irish traditional songs to create something they call “Celtgrass.” They have been hailed in the highest superlatives for their appearances at Irish Festivals across this country; additionally, We Banjo 3 wowed audiences at last year’s Merlefest, a music festival founded by the legendary Doc Watson in 1988, winning acclaim for their masterful pickin’ and fiddlin’ from fans of rootsy American music.
One reviewer described what they do as “something new, something fresh, something daring, something that befits the bright, flamboyant spirit of the banjo itself,” while another said, “We Banjo 3 sounds unmistakably Irish, but free of cliches; the sound incorporates a refreshing dose of bluegrass, even a bit of Bruce Springsteen, and a young Bob Dylan.” Another writer described the audience response to the quartet with these words: “We Banjo 3 embodies the rarest of combinations—skill and chemistry. The crowd was totally absorbed in their show, singing, dancing, clapping and hollering; there wasn’t a soul in the room left unimpressed.”
But the best way to learn about the magic and joy of a performance by We Banjo 3 is to experience it yourself; then you won’t have to explain to others why you missed one of the best shows ever to come to town. Tickets for the 8 p.m. concert are $20; students will be admitted at half price. To reserve your seat, contact DCCA at 937-547-0908 or [email protected]; tickets may also be purchased online at DCCA’s Website www.CenterForArts.net, and will be available at the door.