The East Pointers, We Banjo 3 to provide new twists to old genres at Folk Festival

30

By Crista Munro
Special to The PREVIEW

The 22nd annual Four Corners Folk Festival will be here before you know it, happening here in Pagosa Springs on Reservoir Hill Park Sept. 1, 2 and 3.

The event will bring thousands of people from the Four Corners region and beyond to enjoy three days of live musical performers from internationally touring musicians.

This year’s lineup includes Los Lobos, Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn, The Wood Brothers, Sarah Jarosz, John Fullbright, The Lil’ Smokies, Quiles and Cloud, The Accidentals, Session Americana, Freddy and Francine, Ghost of Paul Revere, the FY5 Band, The Drunken Hearts and this week’s featured artists: The East Pointers and We Banjo 3.

I’ve chosen to group these bands together because of their similarities: they’re both from another country (East Pointers from Canada and We Banjo 3 from Ireland), both bands play Celtic- and roots-infused and both are made up of virtuosic musicians. But for all their commonalities, the two groups each bring a undeniably unique influence and modern interpretation to their respective musical genres.

Photo courtesy FolkWest
After winning over a new group of fans at last year’s Four Corners Folk Festival, The East Pointers are returning to this year’s festival. They’ll have a set on the festival main stage at 4 p.m. on Sept. 2.

The East Pointers

Here’s a fun fact about traditional music: it’s not always old, even when it sounds like something lifted straight from a vintage ceilidh. For proof, witness The East Pointers or, more specifically, “Secret Victory,” their exhilarating debut full-length album.

“Secret Victory” could easily stand beside any recording from any era in the illustrious Celtic/folk musical canon. Yet it features 10 brand-new original tracks written by guitarist Jake Charron, fiddler Tim Chaisson and his cousin, banjoist Koady Chaisson, vocalists all, and, in the case of the Chaissons, members of Prince Edward Island’s reigning musical dynasty.

With “Secret Victory,” The East Pointers unwrap new possibilities in a musical style that dates back centuries, yet is still relevant on multiple, divergent continents. Almost without even trying, the trio makes traditional music seem ridiculously hip (and also the most fun thing on the planet to dance and raise a pint to).

“That’s something The East Pointers are trying to accomplish — breathe some new, original life into traditional music,” confirmed Tim Chaisson, whose solo career as a singer/songwriter (see 2015’s acclaimed “Lost in Light)” is thoroughly established. “A lot of times, people think of it as music for an older generation but we’re hoping to introduce a whole new generation of listeners.”

“Traditional music is equivalent to soul music in my mind. It can take you to another place even if you haven’t heard it before,” Tim Chaisson said.

Most of the album is a series of free-wheeling, feisty instrumental jigs, stomps and reels — or some combination of the three — fired by Tim Chaisson’s nimble fiddle, Charron’s scorching guitar and Koady Chaisson’ spirited banjo.

“We just really wanted to record original stuff. We all love composing and putting our own little style on something that goes back generations,” explained Koady Chaisson when asked if the idea of cutting tunes from the traditional songbook was ever floated as a possibility.

He continued: “We are literally the seventh generation of musicians in our family, and what we do is a little different than what our uncles might do, for example, which would be more Scottish influenced. We embrace the Scottish influence … but also Irish and French and so on.”

“This is dance music that’s been around for hundreds of years,” Charron added. “It can be tough to replicate that in the studio but that’s partly why we were all playing in the same room when we recorded — to try and capture that live vibe.”

Even before releasing “Secret Victory,” The East Pointers knew they were onto something, having accepted the 2015 Music P.E.I. New Artist of the Year and Roots Traditional Recording of the Year awards. They were also nominated for Traditional Instrumental Recording of the Year at the 2015 East Coast Music Awards. This past spring, the boys added a JUNO Award (Canadian equivalent of the Grammy) for Traditional Roots Album of the Year to the band’s list of accolades.

“Jake has two pick-ups on his guitar allowing him to play guitar and bass at the same time, creating a big sound,” Tim Chaisson explained. “I play a stomp-box with one foot and a tambourine with the other to add rhythm you wouldn’t necessarily hear. And Koady usually step dances during that tune live — another tradition in our family — so it’s great for a crowd to dance or clap along to.”

Both Tim and Koady Chaisson confirm they were encouraged to preserve and uphold traditional East Coast music by members of the sprawling Chaisson clan. What better way to keep the music alive than by cultivating a new audience swept up by its vibrancy and keen to attend live gigs?

“Everyone in my family either plays fiddle or dances. Music was always around us, and it was just a way of life,” Koady Chaisson said.

Added Tim Chaisson, “Growing up, I was playing fiddle before I realized I was playing fiddle if that makes any sense. I think with any family tradition, it’s introduced so young that it almost becomes second nature.”

“One thing we’ve always loved about this music is that it’s accessible to all ages,” said Charron. “In Canada generally and on the East Coast particularly, there is a lot of history and a lot of stories attached to this music. Even the instrumental tunes have stories behind them and hopefully this is something that can be passed on through future generations.”

The East Pointers won over a new group of fans of all ages at last year’s Four Corners Folk Festival, so much so that we had to bring them back again. They’ll have a set on the festival main stage at 4 p.m. on Sept. 2.

Photo courtesy FolkWest
Out of Galway, Ireland, We Banjo 3 promises to deliver a set not to be missed on the main stage of the Four Corners Folk Festival at 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 3.

We Banjo 3

For all the innovation and invention that goes into modern music these days, it’s the inspiration derived from one’s roots that proves the most enduring. So credit We Banjo 3 from Galway, Ireland, for finding common ground between old-world tradition and authentic Americana by plying their banjo, fiddle, guitar and mandolin in an innovation fusion of styles that they dub “Celtgrass.”

Four albums in — their latest, “String Theory,” was released in July of 2016 — the band’s rousing revelry, sheer virtuosity, power, passion and purpose have made them one of the music world’s most celebrated ensembles.

Variously described as “astonishing,” “the Gold Standard of Irish and American Roots music,” and “the Irish Punch Brothers,” they can claim the No. 1 position in Billboard’s World Music charts, top honors from IMRO (the Irish Music Rights Organization), top sales numbers and the distinction of entertaining an American president, an Irish prime minister and members of the U.S. Congress at the annual “Friends of Ireland” luncheon on Capitol Hill. It’s little wonder then that We Banjo 3 is literally taking both sides of the Atlantic by storm, carving a reputation as one of the world’s most imaginative ensembles.

Of course, all results are generally due to the sum of the parts, and the individuals involved here all contribute to the common cause. Made up of two sets of siblings — brothers Enda Scahill (tenor banjo, vocals) and Fergal Scahill (fiddle, viola, dobro, percussion, guitar, mandolin, vocals) and brothers Martin Howley (tenor banjo, mandolin, vocals) and David Howley (lead vocals, guitar) — We Banjo 3 finds a natural symmetry as well as a cohesive chemistry that’s been imbued in the band ever since they were initially drawn to one another by their common creative interests.

Inspired by the traditional Irish and Americana music they heard growing up, they placed three banjo players in the mix in the beginning, eventually diversifying their sound while broadening their boundaries as well.

Likewise, the individual members brought a credence that extended well beyond their family connections. Martin Howley is a seven-time all-Ireland banjo champion and the first Irish musician to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. Enda Scahill has recorded with Ricky Skaggs, the Chieftains and many others, aside from being considered as one of the world’s leading authors and authorities on Irish banjo techniques. Fergal Scahill has performed with dozens of artists at home and abroad, and is widely recognized as an Irish champion of both fiddle and bodhran. David Howley has been cited as a solo artist of exceptional skill, while Garry O’Meara is a veteran of work with numerous bands and individual artists.

Likewise, the evolution in the group’s sound followed a natural progression that evolved early on. Their 2012 debut album, “Roots of the Banjo Tree,” leaned entirely on banjo music and the various styles implied by that instrumental arsenal. Their critically acclaimed sophomore set, “Gather the Good,” released in 2014, furthered that vantage point, an aural summation of the impressions and experiences gained while touring the U.S. and their initial introduction to Nashville that was followed by the release of 2015‘s “Live in Galway,” recorded in the same small hometown pub where the band performed their very first gig.

Their new album, “String Theory,” appears to be a change in their tack, but only slightly. Half traditional covers, half original material, it finds the band’s reverence for their roots given a contemporary twist, further solidifying the common bonds between the two styles. The various jigs and reels underscore the band’s celebratory stance, but on a tender ballad like the 17th century soliloquy “Two Sisters,” the mix of love, jealousy and evil intent sound tailor-made for modern times. While the instrumental interplay is in evidence as always, each individual musician adds his own distinctive style, further affirming their collective cause.

We Banjo 3 promises to deliver a set not to be missed on the main stage at 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 3.

The Four Corners Folk Festival is produced by FolkWest, a 501(c)3 nonprofit and is funded in part with a grant from Colorado Creative Industries.

Information on schedules, artists and tickets can be found online at www.folkwest.com or by calling 731-5582.

Artist bios and interviews courtesy of The East Pointers and We Banjo 3.