Editor's note: This show has been postponed to May 7 due to COVID-19 concerns.
The Irish band We Banjo 3 makes its second visit to the Barre Opera House for a Saturday, Jan. 22 concert at 7:30 p.m. We last saw the Galway-based quartet in March 2017 and were impressed with their energy, musicianship and creative approach to Irish/American music.
Don’t be put off by “Banjo 3” — these musicians play a variety of stringed instruments, including fiddle, mandolin, guitar and yes, banjo. There are enough jokes about banjos to fill a substantial book. And normally if you tell someone that a band with three banjo players is coming to town they might look at you with a hint of derision or head for the hills. But these musicians should be embraced for their unique approach to Irish music.
Over 10 years of recording, beginning with 2012’s debut album “Roots of The Banjo Tree,” which garnered the band the Irish Times’ Traditional Music Album of the Year award, We Banjo 3 has shown that it has its roots firmly planted on both sides of the Atlantic. They are fine interpreters of Irish music and, also, excellent players of Appalachian and bluegrass-inflected music.
The band’s sixth CD “Roots To Rise Live” in 2019 debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Bluegrass Albums chart. Songlines Magazine reviewed it saying, “This album by Celtgrass pioneers We Banjo 3 scorches its way through a rollercoaster set colliding their native Galway heritage with liberal helpings of blistering bluegrass and a telling nod to pop music.” WB3 made history as the only Irish band to hold two top-5 chart positions simultaneously.
WB3’s recordings show a band that can seamlessly join the shared and varied traditions of Americana, bluegrass and Celtic music, adding their own pop-sensible songcraft to the mix. What you’ll hear at the concert is a lot of banjo playing but it’s not a riot of banjos, or a gaggle or any other banjo annoyance. The banjo here, the tenor variety, a four-string instrument played with a pick, is a melodic driving force.
What we hear are traditional sets comprised of both Irish and Appalachian melodies. The band has successfully intertwined the traditions of one ethnic group, the Irish, which developed on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and made this the vehicle for a very successful musical approach. The Chieftains used this approach on their early 2000’s album, “Down The Old Plank Road,” but that was a one-time trial. We Banjo 3 incorporates American music in its core sound.
If pressed for a more definitive description we might describe We Banjo 3 as taking a large pinch of Irish tradition, mixed with a similar portion of American heritage, poured with a large slice of innovation, then blend in strong tinges of Appalachian legacy, while adding some dazzling musical talent and dexterity. One way to describe the style is “Irish bluegrass” or perhaps “Celtgrass.”
We Banjo 3 comprises two sets of brothers, Enda and Fergal Scahill and Martin and David Howley. These relatively young performers have already built up a list of awards and appearances that are impressive.
Enda Scahill has recorded with Grammy-winner Ricky Skaggs, guested with The Chieftains, toured with Frankie Gavin, The Brock McGuire Band and Stockton’s Wing. He’s a banjo wizard, a leading author on Irish banjo techniques, and he recorded a ground-breaking solo album “Pick It Up,” Irish Times Album of the Year, “Humdinger” with Paul Brock, and “Green Grass Blue Grass” with The Brock McGuire Band, recorded in Nashville.
Enda’s brother Fergal is a multi-instrumentalist and one of the most renowned fiddlers in Irish Music. He has performed and recorded with Kevin Crawford, Martin O’Connor and The Brock McGuire Band.
Martin Howley is a seven-time All-Ireland Banjo Champion. He was the first Irish banjo player to play at the Grand Ol’ Opry in Nashville. He has toured with The Brock McGuire Band and performed extensively across Europe and the U.S.
David Howley is the band’s lead singer and multi-instrumentalist. He plays banjo, guitar and mandolin, and provides the rhythm section.
We Banjo 3 will heat up the opera house with its energetic performance. It’s a chance to warm up a cold January evening.