Even people who aren’t traditional Irish music aficionados become fans around St. Patrick’s Day. This year Santa Fe has the proverbial luck of the Irish. We’ll have Lunasa playing trad Irish music at the Lensic Performing Arts Center on Saturday, March 19th at 7:30pm. The show is presented by the Lensic. The acclaimed group will be sharing the stage with Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Tim O’Brien, known for bluegrass and Appalachian music as well as other genres. They’ve been touring the USA together since February 25th. They’ll wind up the U.S. portion of the tour next week in New York City.
Lunasa playing trad Irish music with Tim O’Brien
Teaming Lunasa with O’Brien is a natural pairing. Bluegrass and Appalachian music have deep Celtic roots. O’Brien, whose family emigrated from Ireland to West Virginia, traces his heritage in his 1999 album The Crossing. Late Saturday afternoon I spoke to Ed Boyd the group’s guitarist via phone. They landed in Washington State that morning after a red-eye from Hawaii. The show, Boyd explains, is in two parts. The evening opens with O’Brien on the stage performing “almost solo”. Gradually he’s joined onstage by Lunasa members performing a mixture of O’Brien’s and Lunasa’s tunes. The format flips for the second half of the show: Lunasa opens and is joined by O’Brien about half-way through the set. Boyd says audiences are responding well to what he calls “a cross-pollination of Irish and Bluegrass.” It’s an evening of what the Irish call “good craic.”
Who is Lunasa?
Lunasa, formed in 1996, released their first album the following year which also marked their first U.S. tour. We saw them on that tour in Loveland, Colorado and we were hooked. The band consists of Seán Smyth (fiddle and low whistles), Kevin Crawford (flute, low whistles and tin whistles), Cillian Vallely (uilleann pipes and low whistles), Trevor Hutchinson (double bass) and the group’s newest member Ed Boyd (guitar). Smythe, who has a medical practice in Ennis, County Clare, no longer travels with the group when they cross The Pond. He can’t take the time. His place is taken by fiddle/whistle player Colin Farrell.
Touring the USA
The group does a big U.S. tour every year around March. They spend summers at festivals, sometimes in Europe and sometimes in the USA. This coming summer it’s Europe. The last few years they’ve been doing a Christmas tour in the States with Karen Casey, the original vocalist with the popular Irish group Solas. Though the group has been shared the same programs with O’Brien, this is the first time they’re playing together at the same time. According to Boyd, it’s working well.
Three members of the group are currently based in the States and the rest in Europe. When asked about rehearsing Boyd says that they get together for a day or so before the tour and work the rest out on the road. “It’s been going for so long,” he says, “there’s a certain osmosis or whatever you want to call it. You just click, click back into action again.” He says while the current show has been good from the beginning it keeps getting tighter as they tour. Santa Fe, one of the last stops should be getting a really great show. Lunasa plays mostly plays trad music mixed in with original pieces written by the band and friends of the band in what Boyd calls “the style of Irish traditional music.” He says that’s common these days, more and more people are writing new jigs and reels to add to the old ones.
What’s next for Lunasa? Boyd says hopefully more stuff with Tim. Besides touring together, everyone in the band is is busy with their own musical projects. “You wouldn’t survive on the back of one big tour a year,” he says. “You have to keep busy with other things.”
We’ll be sitting in the audience tapping our feet and cheering on Saturday night. Will you be there, too?
Tickets to Lunasa at the Lensic can be purchased at the Lensic box office, by calling (505) 988-1234 or online at Tickets Santa Fe. If you can’t make it to the Santa Fe concert, you can catch Lunasa playing trad Irish music at the Kimo Theater in Albuquerque on Sunday.
Author’s note: We were offered a pair of press seats for this concert. The Lensic’s generosity hasn’t affected this post in any way.