Live On The Bridge

S1 E19 | FULL EPISODE

We Banjo 3

Kansas City's annual Irish Fest is right around the corner on Sep. 1-3 at Crown Center and this band is performing! You won't want to miss this fun and energetic performance in a way you have never heard Irish music before.

AIRED: August 26, 2017 | 0:26:39
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TRANSCRIPT

(electrical shock)

(humming)

(electrical shock)

(upbeat rhythm and blues music)

- Yeah, this feels like we're sort of doing

the flip side of Ben Folds Five.

They've got five members,

three members for the Ben Folds Five

We Banjo 3, four people.

So, thanks for keeping us on our toes.

- This is actually news to us,

we thought there were three people.

(laughing)

- We like to be mysterious.

- Yeah, absolutely.

You know, you guys were mentioning beforehand

you've played the Casey Irish Fest before

and it was a really big thing for you to come and play.

- Yeah, I suppose coming from Ireland,

Kansas City is a long way, first of all,

and then we had played the year previous,

we had come to North America for the first time

as a band, and we played Milwaukee Irish Festival,

which is this huge Irish Festival,

one of the largest in the world,

and larger than anything we'd experienced in Ireland.

And so we played that, and we played this small little tent

and Danny Regan from Casey Irish Fest,

and a couple other guys were knocking about and they saw it

and they said, to hell with it,

we're going to put you on the biggest stage

when you get down to Kansas City,

and we're going to give you primetime slots

and you're either going to be a roaring success

or an absolute failure, and there's no in between.

So we came down here, and we were really nervous

but very excited, and it's just,

it's an amazing atmosphere down here.

The people are so, so kind,

and we just had an amazing time the whole weekend.

Now we baked alive,

it was hotter than anything we'd ever experienced,

so we were taking ice packs every 15 minutes,

but we still couldn't keep cool.

- And you know the, the, we all know the end of that story

because you did well, you're back on the big stage

this weekend down in Crown Center, so, it's pretty exciting.

- We weren't back last year.

- [Fergal] We paid them an awful lot of money to come back.

- You know, we'd love to hear some music if we could.

- Yeah.

We'll start with a song called

"We All Need More Kindness In This World",

and there's a verse in this that says

"We all need more sunshine in this world",

but considering we're Irish people in Kansas City

a place that's located about a quarter mile from the sun,

we sometimes sing this, "We all need more sunscreen".

("We All Need More Kindness In This World" by We Banjo 3)

♪ We all need more kindness in this world

♪ We all need more kindness in this world

♪ You can look high or low, but there's no place else to go

♪ We all need more kindness in this world

♪ We all need more loving in this world

♪ We all need more loving in this world

♪ You can look high or low, but there's no place else to go

♪ We all need more loving in this world

♪ We all need more sunshine in this world

♪ We all need more sunscreen in this world

♪ You can look high or low, but there's no place else to go

♪ We all need more sunshine in this world

♪ We all need more kindness in this world

♪ We all need more kindness in this world

♪ You can look high or low, but there's no place else to go

♪ We all need more kindness in this world

♪ We all need more banjos in this world

♪ We all need more banjos in this world

♪ You can look high or low, but there's no place else to go

♪ We all need more banjos in this world

- You know, it's just,

you guys are such an interesting band

because, in a way, you're kind of a bluegrass Americana band

but you're an Irish band, and you honor the roots

but at the same time you've completely made it

your own thing.

And I'm assuming that you don't worry too much about that.

- No, I suppose we've kind of taken our own slant

on the music.

And as the great Bill Monroe said,

there would be no bluegrass without the Irish.

And we've developed as well over the years,

we grew up listening to Irish music,

our roots are set in the traditions in Ireland,

but about 10 or 15 years ago,

we got a compilation CD from a friend of ours,

a music journalist in Chicago.

And it was all the great bluegrass standards I suppose.

And that was, for me anyway,

my first introduction to bluegrass,

and really got my teeth into it and really enjoyed the way

that the fiddle sounds are different,

and for me, the different techniques used.

But still, the similarities,

and you can really hear the tunes are the same

and the, kind of the songs, there's lots of similarities.

I suppose from there, we started experimenting,

kind of put the blinkers up to the true traditionalists.

Like any tradition,

there's people that are not going to like change.

- Right, and you know, it's funny, in this country,

you'll see bluegrass purists go nuts if there are drums,

so it's not exactly the kind of thing where

maybe that explains what sounded like a fairly odd question.

I mean, there are some people

that are so resistant to change,

but on the other hand,

I don't know how you can listen to what you all just did

and not smile, not have a fair degree of love in your heart,

right?

- I think you get that within the tradition as well,

even from people who like to play

the traditional Irish tunes really in a pure way,

in a straight way,

and then you've got some guys who are still just playing,

I don't mean just playing, but really playing Irish music

but in a more progressive way, so,

you have that in many levels.

Your attitude is what we like, if it's good,

just go with it.

- Yeah.

So there are some different styles of banjo playing though.

So how would an Irish banjo technique be different

than an American, or an African for that matter.

- So, our banjo is four strings,

and it's been called the "tenor banjo",

so it's the same four-stringed instrument

that's popular in jazz and the kind of swing circles

of music over here,

and then obviously the five-string banjo

is nearly the national instrument here in the US.

It's synonymous with the bluegrass

and the old-time dulcimer stuff.

So from that point of view,

it's a completely different set-up, the way it's tuned,

but the actual mechanics of the instrument are the same.

And it's funny that you should say

about Irish banjo's traditions because, really,

the Irish banjo became popular in about the 1960s.

There was a folk explosion in Ireland

where the Dubliners came out,

and Barney McKenna was this banjo player

who tuned his banjo G, D, A, E,

like a fiddle, an octave down,

and he just started inventing techniques off the bat.

And mimicking a lot of the Irish fiddle style,

originally that's where kind of a lot of it came from.

And so we would have grown up doing

a lot of that kind of ornamentation,

rolls and triplets and such,

and then through listening to the likes of Bela Fleck

and the Irish Groves, you hear that, like,

beautiful rolling sound, that cross-picking sound

that's so, I don't know, it's so pervasive

that you just, you hear it and you want to do it.

So we got into that, and that's kind of that crossover of

we've been accused of coming up with

the new genre of "Celtgrass",

so it fuses Irish music with bluegrass music.

Because I suppose we play Irish music with a bluegrass tint,

and maybe we play bluegrass music with an Irish tint.

- Even for all of the adaption,

or melding that you guys do,

you clearly have reverence for what's gone before.

You know, the first record in 2012

was "Roots of the Banjo Tree",

and in a way, that whole album was just honoring tradition.

You know, you spoke of the 60s,

but I think that one of the things that's so fascinating

is just the things that I read in researching this

that you said about Irish slaves, African slaves,

and in the mid-1800s.

- What we kind of wanted to do with that

"Roots of the Banjo Tree" album

was to take the music that was not just played by the banjo

but associated with thew banjo, or even,

just kind of around the banjo at that time.

And, I mean, one of the songs that's on that record

is a song by a band that emigrated from Ireland to Canada

and became a roaring success over there.

And "Roots" was a really important album for us

because we really wanted to establish

that there was this huge history to the banjo

that was never really explored.

And then our second album, it's kind of our journey

with that music.

So taking that music on the road

and traveling through America, and Canada, and Europe,

and the people that we met along the way.

Yeah, we've had a really good reaction

to meeting other musicians who come from those backgrounds.

- I suppose, we're an independent band,

so we don't have management, we don't have a label,

so it's this grassroots appreciation of music

that makes it happen.

You know, festivals,

where people to come out and love live music,

and radio stations such as yourself's

who support independent artists.

That's huge for us, otherwise, we'd all be sitting at home,

very lonely, playing our own music.

- Yeah, you know, for all of the talk about, you know,

African, you know, the origins of the instrument

and then the American traditions,

one of the things that came out that I learned from you guys

is that minstrel bands,

the guys are out there playing in blackface

back in the 1800s.

80 percent of them were Irish?

I mean, that's just unbelievable.

- Yeah, a huge amount of obviously Irish people

who came to this country, and then, obviously then,

a lot of musicians as well.

The Irish musicians in this country,

to kind of taper off slightly,

that in this country in the 20s and beyond

had a huge influence on the Irish music scene at home

because that coincided with the recording era,

and they were recordings they made,

people like Michael Coleman,

and fiddle players from Slago like that,

sent their recordings back home to Ireland

and it had a huge impact on the scene as well.

But by that token, to go back to your question,

yeah, there were Irish musicians who were looking for work,

and the minstrel shows were a viable source of work.

As you know, they had their faces blackened,

and off they went.

- Different times. - Huge amount of Irish,

yeah, very different times, absolutely, yeah.

- Absolutely.

We'd love to hear some more music if we could.

- One, two, three, four.

("Wynnes (Tune Set)" by We Banjo 3)

- You know, the level of musicianship,

I may have this not counted exactly right,

but I stopped counting after 15 all Ireland titles

spread through the band, so,

pretty high level of musicianship.

We Banjo 3 playing tonight, Saturday, and Sunday

at the Casey Irish Fest.

9:30 tonight,

7 on Saturday and Sunday,

and they do have that merch table.

You've got something besides,

something besides music to sell, too.

There's a sociological experiment happening.

- There is.

We have the band t-shirt,

which is a very special t-shirt, actually,

because it's uniquely Irish,

and if you wear it, you can get sunburned

in the dark at night.

And then our other sociological experiment

is our "Banjegg", which is an egg-shaker

unlike any other.

It's unique to the band because it's a "Banjegg",

and what we're running as a sociological experiment

is that if people sit on these eggs for long enough,

they may hatch into a banjo.

So we wanna run and see how long people

will sit on these eggs before they decide

they may not be getting a banjo.

- Yeah, there's no guarantee with that one.

- We are a trusting people.

So we'll see how that one goes.

We Banjo 3 tonight over at the Casey Irish Fest.

You know, for all of that stuff

about origins of the instrument

and the different countries and cultures,

I think that really the thing

that's at the heart of the band,

Martin, maybe, is the feeling that you had

when you were just a kid, eight, nine, 10 years old,

whatever it was when you heard a banjo for the first time

and said, "Dad, can we have one?"

- I think that it's,

the banjo's an inherently fun instrument.

We were talking about all of the history stuff,

and not to dive back into that, but,

Ireland had a long history of oppression,

and obviously with the African slaves,

their music was very joyous

because it was a music of the oppressed, you know?

If you listen to Negro spirituals and gospel,

it's amazing music, it carries so much happiness.

And I think a lot of Irish music does the same thing

because it's music of oppression,

and the banjo embodies that in a big way.

So, I mean, I think when you listen to the banjo,

you can't not have a smile on your face,

at least that's what we think.

So when you put two of them in a band,

that's a really big smile.

Our thing is, when people come along to a live show,

even if they're not a huge music fan,

or even if they're not knowledgeable

about the music we play, Irish music or bluegrass,

that they come away thinking, "I had a great time".

And, you know, life is hard,

and it's nice to be able to come to something

and just let loose and have fun.

And that's our big aim, that's our takeaway from the weekend

is people come down, we want them to have fun

and go away with a smile on their face

and some CD's and a banjegg.

(laughing)

- You know, I think about that joy,

and I'm wondering if maybe it comes out

in bigger or smaller ways

when you play to audiences that really haven't had

the exposure.

You know, you've been traveling all around the world.

Germany, Japan, the United States.

And it's sort of like, and I'm sorry,

I didn't check the tour schedule to see,

have you been to Japan yet?

- No, that's happening this December.

- Yeah, I'd really like to know what that experience is like

because, are they gonna know what's coming?

- I've played there before with different outfits

over the years, and it's an amazing audience,

and they really love the Irish music,

so I'm really hoping that they like the banjo.

(laughing)

- Says the fiddle player.

(laughing)

- We discovered recently that Japan

has it's own type of banjo,

so we're actually doing some collaborations

while we're over there in December

with a really famous samisen or samisen player,

I could be pronouncing that very badly.

If there's any Japanese listeners,

you can feel free to correct me at the gig.

The one very funny experience we did have about

banjos not being in a culture where, you know,

they're very prevalent,

is we played in Columbia and South America

about 18 months ago.

And we did a gig on an island called San Andreas,

and it's about 600 miles North of the Columbian coastline

and about 200 miles off the coast of Nicaragua.

And we played a gig with a PA that was from the 1940s,

and the people were just so friendly.

They had never heard Irish music, really,

and they had never heard banjo in that way,

and they loved it.

- So what's it like being on the road

with two sets of brothers?

Is there like wrestling?

- It's wonderful, we never fight.

- We never fight, it's a wonderful experience,

and we love each other very, very dearly,

and there's never any arguments.

- And once the mics are off, we'll get the real answer.

- It's interesting for sure,

because, yeah, we are, well there's two sets of brothers

usually on the road, and we have Gary,

who's the additional fifth brother.

Yeah, there are proper rows,

but because you're essentially family

it blows over pretty quickly usually.

And you deal with stuff head-on when you can.

- It seems like you guys are all making music,

and then this is the thing,

this is the group that just sort of popped.

- Absolutely, yeah.

As he said, I'm not full-time in the band,

but myself and Fergal have been playing

in several different outfits for over 10 years now.

Dave did a, and Fergal did a gig in Galway

for a period of time.

Obviously the boys have been playing in Galway for years

in two's and three's, so,

you're kind of, your answer was in the question,

you got it, you nailed it all.

- Yeah, I do that a lot.

Leave the artist with nothing to say,

that's my way of doing things.

Well I have to tell you, it's like,

you guys have shown, demonstrated

how much fun there is to be had tonight

at Crown Center,

and I hope the entire city turns out

to see you all tonight.

Again, 9:30, the Kansas City Irish Fest.

You can find out more about that at CaseyIrishFest.com.

Their website is WeBanjo3.com,

and three is the number, not the word spelled out.

And if you go there, you can catch a really cool video

of their single, "The Fox".

It has Sharon Channon in it, which is pretty awesome.

Did you have fun making that?

- Yeah, that was actually, that whole video was shot

in the woods just in Ireland, and Galway, actually,

just a couple of miles from where we all grew up.

So yeah, on a very cold and wet February morning,

we trekked out into the woods and shot this video.

- And we had one day to do it,

so it was one very long, cold day in the woods,

but it was great fun. - Yeah.

- Yeah.

- We won't ruin the surprise for your listeners,

but there is a scene where we all have a big party

in a castle, like an ancient castle in Ireland,

and we were all frozen.

And Fergal is our really good resident chef,

so he cooked up this huge pot of chili,

and it looked so large that no one thought

it could ever be eaten.

And it's amazing when you're that cold,

your body expends so much energy,

so we had all of the chili.

So that's my takeaway from that,

that's all that I remember,

was the chili at the end of the day.

- Well that's a great video,

and it's available at WeBanjo3.com,

and we'd love to hear another song if we could.

- This is a song called "Gonna Write Me A Letter",

and it's the story of a girl who brings a boy home

to meet her father for the first time.

("Gonna Write Me A Letter" by We Banjo 3)

♪ Gonna write me a letter

♪ Gonna send it on the phone

♪ Gonna send it to my baby

♪ Gonna beg him to come home

♪ He's gone

♪ He's gone

♪ Oh, he wanted me for to marry

♪ But the papa, he said no

♪ Said he didn't like him

♪ Told me daddy would have to go

♪ He's gone

♪ He's gone

♪ He's gone

♪ He's gone

♪ Oh, he led me down to the water

♪ And washed himself away

♪ Then he left me broken hearted

♪ Broken hearted and alone

♪ He's gone

♪ He's gone

♪ He's gone

♪ He's gone

♪ Gonna write me a letter

♪ Gonna send it on the phone

♪ Gonna send it to my baby

♪ Gonna beg him to come home

♪ He's gone

♪ He's gone

♪ He's gone

♪ He's gone

♪ He's gone

♪ He's gone

♪ He's gone

♪ He's gone

- Martin, David, Fergal, and Gary.

We Banjo 3.

Thanks so much for coming.

These guys are, they're a little thin,

they need some Kansas City barbecue,

not sure how much money they got

so you gotta buy all three albums,

you gotta buy the t-shirt, you gotta buy the egg tonight,

because otherwise these guys may not be able to afford

the passage home, and, you know,

it's like you gotta come down and spend money tonight

at Crown Center.

- You get your 10 percent for that.

- All right, cool.

All I'm looking for is that free egg

because I can't wait to sit on it

and hatch that and have a banjo of my own.

We Banjo 3 in the studios, and again,

tonight at the Kansas City Irish Fest.

9:30 on the Miller Lite Stage,

7 o'clock, Saturday and Sunday on the Boulevard Stage.

Guys, cannot thank you enough, that was just spectacular.

- [We Banjo 3] Thank you very much.

- We Banjo 3 in the studios here at The Bridge.

Thanks for watching.

You can find the full session on our YouTube page,

909TheBridge.

- [Narrator] Music Programming for the Bridge

is brought to you in part through the generosity

of these members.

We would like to thank them for their support.

- Thank you. - Thank you.

- Thank you very much.

- [Narrator] If you would like to learn more

about how you can become a member,

call 816-756-2580.

Or go Bridge909.org/donate.

(audience applauding)

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