Where It’s At ... the music of We Banjo 3
Making their way across the U.S., We Banjo 3 is bound for the Opera House at Boothbay Harbor. The Galway, Ireland band’s first ever Maine concert will be at the Opera House on Friday, March 2 – yep, coming right up!
I was fortunate enough to get a few minutes to speak with band founder and banjo musician extraordinaire Enda Scahill Feb. 15 just after the band arrived in Tucson – in a deluge – right after a state of emergency had been declared!
Enda, the “Banjo Wizard,” has written two Irish banjo tutor books (complete with bountiful illustrations and two CDs). By the time he’d published the first one in 2008, he’d been teaching Irish banjo for 20 years, which is how Enda met the Howley brothers, Martin and David, as students back in 2008. Enda said he’d been wanting to put a band together and explore the history of the banjo, and as he said during the phone interview, “That’s how I knew they were good musicians.”
And We Banjo 3 was born. The trio’s first concert was in 2009. They took a break until 2011. The name remained the same even after Enda’s brother Fergal (Irish champion of the Irish fiddle and bodhran) joined the band in 2012. “And it’s taken off like a rocket since then,” said Enda.
Their first LP, “Roots of the Banjo Tree” (2012) focused on the musical styles of banjo music; in 2014 there was “Gather the Good,” recorded after the band’s first time in Nashville; In 2015, We Banjo 3 recorded a live album, “Live in Galway,” was recorded in their hometown pub, the location of the first gig they ever played – with two horns sections. “It was exceptional. We recorded over two nights, Saturday and Sunday. Sunday night,” Enda said. “ You could have heard a pin drop. It was an incredible atmosphere. My brother-in-law is a poet (chuckles) and gave a short soliloquy on the band before we started.”
In the summer of 2016, they released “String Theory,” and when they storm the Opera House, We Banjo 3 will be playing a good many tunes from this album. I received a copy of “String Theory” just over a week ago and I’ve probably listened to it 10 times. One of my two favorites, “Happiness,” may not be one of the band’s original songs on the album, but the joy and, well, happiness, this song induces is habit-forming! (I have listened to just this song more than the 10 times - and the video on YouTube is quite fun!) Some of the songs are jigs, some were familiar – like “Little Liza Jane;” “Aunt Jemima’s Plaster” is a fave tune too, starting out with the fiddle, add nimble fingered pickin’ on the banjos ... love it. Then, there’s one other I’ll mention: “Crann Na Beatha” (Tree of Life); the music’s telling the story of life and connection. The solo voice of the banjo, the melodies in the background weaving it all together ... You can hear most all the songs on YouTube, and a selection on the band’s website, http://webanjo3.com. Many reviewers have commented on how magical We Banjo 3’s music is ... and I think they are right. Magical is the perfect description of the energy, talent and spirit of these four men and the music and songs they create. And, anyone who knows me knows I’m all about the magical!
I asked Enda about touring and how they keep “conjuring,” if you will; is every show “YEAH! Let’s get out there and do this” or are there times when it’s more of a “OH MAN, we’ve got to go out there and do this ...”
Laughing, Enda said (in that fabulous accent), “We look after ourselves on tour; we don’t party hearty – we tend to save it for the concerts. It’s what it’s all about. You bring your best game. (Pause.) A long time ago someone once told us every time we go on stage there’s one little old lady who saved up her money to come to the show. And we’ve never forgotten it. We play to that person every night.”
That music they play every night, that delicious fusion of traditional Celtic and Americana, We Banjo 3 calls it Celtgrass. These musicians are passionate about Celtgrass, but not more so than they are about the music of their Irish roots.
“Ours is a very vibrant tradition. And a living one, that is constantly changing. The music is passed down through generations,” Enda explained. “As a band, we wanted to go through the musical journey of the banjo. For us, part of it all is the vibrancy of the music – even under extreme duress. We (the Irish) had 800 years of occupancy by a foreign country. There was wonderful spirit and joy that was played. The buoyancy in the music helped people to survive.”
Interesting. The focus of this year’s Earth and Sky tour is for “the band to bring as much joy and happiness to their audiences in the turbulent times we live in.” Music, whatever our preferences, is the soundtrack of our lives. It’s there for us when we’re up, down, inside out ...
We Banjo 3 just finished recording a new album “Haven,” over 12 days in Baltimore to be released in time for summer festival touring. It is the band’s first all original album and they are pretty excited about it.
“Basically the idea behind ‘Haven’ is that music should be a haven for people; it should be the safe place you can go,” Enda said.
Cathy Sherrill, exec director at the Opera House. first heard of We Banjo 3 two years ago. “I’ve never seen them live but they came enthusiastically recommended by those who have seen their live show,” said Sherrill. “When they finally had an available date I grabbed it. In early March it is sometimes hard to attract a sold out house – but these guys are worth people coming out for. Their musicianship and the mix of Celtic and bluegrass will make it a great night!”
“It’s a symbiotic relationship,” Enda said. “The music is very high energy in and of its own nature, we are high energy, and we react to the energy of our audiences and onward it goes.”
Don’t miss this show at the Opera House at Boothbay Harbor. I know I won’t!
The band’s only other show in Maine on this tour is in Brownville on March 3. Advance discounted tickets to the Boothbay Harbor show are $25 and available through the box office; call 633-5159. Regularly priced tickets are available online and on the day of the concert are $30. See you there!