Galway Guys: We Banjo 3 twist Americana and Celtic music into ‘Celtgrass’

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Galway, Ireland’s We Banjo 3 has found common ground between the musicians’ loves – Celtic and Americana music.

Call it “Celtgrass.”

“We were all banjo players who were inspired by traditional Irish culture and music,” says David Howley, who is joined in the band by Enda and Fergal Scahill, and Martin Howley.

“Irish and Celtic music has had a lot of influence on genres around the world, like country, bluegrass and even American folk music. Our sound represents a crosspollination with bluegrass. Irish music includes a huge amount of energy, while bluegrass has incredible instrumental pyrotechnics. ‘Celtgrass’ means the blending of the drive of Irish music and the instrumental style of bluegrass along with the heart and soul of folk music.”

These brothers are among the most celebrated and distinguished musicians from their country. Martin Howley is a seven-time “All Ireland” banjo and mandolin champion. A “banjo wizard,” Enda Scahill, an author on Irish banjo techniques, holds four “All Ireland” titles.

Multi-instrumentalist Fergal Scahill is one of the most acclaimed fiddlers in Irish music, with a growing international reputation, and “All Ireland” titles on fiddle and bodhran. David Howley, with “All-Ireland” titles on guitar and banjo, is the group’s vocalist and guitarist known for his showmanship and deeply emotive vocals. The Howleys live in Nashville.

We Banjo 3’s debut album, Roots of the Banjo Tree, was released in 2012, followed by Gather the Good in 2014; String Theory, which climbed to No. 1 on the Billboard bluegrass chart in 2016; and its most recent CD, Haven, was released last summer.

Haven, which won best folk album at the inaugural RTE Radio 1 Folk Awards, is We Banjo 3’s fourth studio album, and fifth overall. It marked the first time the band recorded in America.

“Each of us, individually, have had interesting musical careers up to this point,” Howley says. “I live in Nashville and I spend a lot of time writing music and hanging out with different musicians.

“Last week, I sat around with Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Martin was the first Irish banjo player to play the Grand Ol’ Opry. Fergal is a world-renowned fiddler. Separately, he’s famous for playing and recording a fiddle tune for every single day of the year for social media (in 2017). He has a massive following because of this.”

Throughout We Banjo 3’s journey, the musicians have spent time with Mumford and Sons and Old Crow Medicine Show.

“We’ve just become part of this sphere,” Howley says. “What’s really cool is we have a mutual admiration for what each other does.”

Fans will have the chance to hear We Banjo 3’s “Celtgrass” sound when it comes to the Leo Rich Theater on Saturday, February 2. Howley describes the show as inclusive.

“The show is about being real with the audience,” he says. “We don’t take ourselves very seriously. We have fun and laugh. We create a space for people to come to a show and maybe forget the things that happened that week.”

“For two hours, we want you to have a great time and sing along with songs you may have never heard before. We teach people to enjoy the show as they go, and connect with the people around you. Music is the great language everybody understands. When you get a bunch of people in the room together and put aside all the political or social things that are going on, everybody goes back to being a human. I really enjoy that.”