20-03-11 ARTS We Banjo 3.jpg

We Banjo 3 blend traditional Irish music with bluegrass for what they call “Celtgrass.”

It has been a busy winter for the Sun Valley Museum of Art (SVMoA), which began the season as the Sun Valley Center for the Arts. The name change and associated rebranding aside, the museum’s schedule has been typically jam-packed with concerts, film screenings, lectures, workshops and still more.

As usual, as this season ends, the organization will get ready for its annual Fools’ Day event, at which it announces Company of Fools’ upcoming theatrical season and some future Big Idea projects and concerts.

Before getting to that, though, the museum has one last concert to go—two concerts, actually, as Irish Celtic/bluegrass quartet We Banjo 3 gear up for back-to-back performances at the Liberty Theatre in Hailey.

Despite the nominal numeral, there are four members of We Banjo 3, two sets of brothers: Enda and Fergal Scahill and Martin and David Howley.

According to Enda Scahill, the name was something of an accident they got stuck with before the fourth member joined.

“Right at the very, very beginning, it wasn’t even a band. It was just three of us sitting around the kitchen table and experimenting with bluegrass ideas,” he said. “We decided we’d try concerts for fun and produce an album and then the band just caught fire way faster than we anticipated.”

The band picked up momentum so quickly that it soon became clear they required a fourth member. By then, it was too late to change the name easily, so it stuck.

“It was never even supposed to be a band, just a fun project, but we exploded in the U.S. and Ireland faster than we could sit down and think we should get a different name,” Scahill explained.

He, his brother and the Howleys play what they have termed Celtgrass, a sonic fusion of musical elements from Irish folk and bluegrass styles.

Using banjos, guitars, fiddles, mandolins, dobros and other instruments traditionally associated with either (or sometimes both) bluegrass or Celtic music, the group illuminates the historical connections between the two genres.

Bluegrass emerged from the Appalachian region in the 1940s, actually blending traditional Scottish, English and Irish ditties with African-descent blues and jazz. Over time, as often happens, these roots became obscured and frequently overlooked, but We Banjo 3 seek to reunite the contemporary genre with its forerunners.

“There is a shared musical heritage there, shared tunes, shared instruments. Irish immigrants were extremely influential in the development of bluegrass,” Scahill said. “And of course, the values associated with bluegrass in American and folk music in Ireland are very similar. Family is in our tradition. This music would’ve been passed down family member to family member. It’s an opportunity for people in a local area to come together. That’s what folk music is all about—building family and community.”

After all, it’s right there in the name, “folk.” It’s about the people.

Part of that community-building, and part of SVMoA’s core functionality, is education, and especially fostering a love of music and the arts in children.

In keeping with that ideal, We Banjo 3 will play an extra concert for the entire Wood River Middle School on March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day to ye Hibernians).

Scahill expressed excitement ahead of this additional performance, stressing how important teachers and education can be. In fact, it was a music teacher who first put a banjo in his hands and set him upon the path to becoming one of the preeminent banjo players in Ireland (he has been declared the All-Ireland Champion banjoist four times and has performed alongside the likes of The Chieftains, The Fureys and Frankie Gavin).

“Irish traditional music is really strong with young kids in school back home. We think it’s hugely important for a community and we love being able to play with kids,” he said. “Plus, when we’re on tour, it’s such an easy thing for us to do. Why wouldn’t we?”

The museum had the foresight to book We Banjo 3 for two performances next week, the first at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 17, and the second at the same time the following evening. Both concerts will take place at the Liberty Theatre, 110 N. Main St., Hailey.

“We are thrilled to wrap up our season with this outstanding group from Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day,” said Kristine Bretall, director of performing arts at SVMoA. “While you can expect some traditional-sounding tunes from We Banjo 3’s homeland, what may take you by surprise is their melding of Celtic sounds with Americana stylings and bluegrass from their adopted city of Nashville.”

Each concert had some tickets remaining at the time of this article’s completion on Friday, but it seems likely that We Banjo 3 will perform before full houses on both Tuesday and Wednesday.

Tickets may be purchased online at svmoa.org, and vary in price from $21 on up to $80, depending on seat placement and SVMoA membership status.

To learn more about the band and preview some of their music, visit webanjo3.com.

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