1620 Penn Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
7:00 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013
Supporting Acts: Callan SOLAS
Solas may be the best band in Celtic music. It is certainly the most adventurous. - The Boston Globe "Solas is one of my favorite groups. Lovely music from lovely people. They're the best." - Emmylou Harris Since its birth in 1996, Solas has been loudly proclaimed as the most popular, influential, and exciting Celtic band to ever emerge from the United States. Even before the release of its first Shanachie CD, the Boston Herald trumpeted the quartet as the first truly great Irish band to arise from America; and the Irish Echo ranked Solas among the most exciting bands anywhere in the world. Since then, the praise has only grown louder. The Philadelphia Inquirer said they make mind-blowing Irish folk music, maybe the world's best. The New York Times praised their unbridled vitality; the Washington Post dubbed them one of the world's finest Celtic-folk ensembles; and the Austin American-Statesman called them the standard by which contemporary Celtic groups are judged. Solas is virtually unique in the new territory it has opened up for Celtic music. It has performed at all the major Celtic and folk festivals, including Philadelphia, Edmonton, the legendary National Folk Festival, and Milwaukee's Irish fest; but also at Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and the chamber music summer series at Steamboat Springs, Colorado. It has performed at Symphony Hall, Wolf Trap, the Ford Amphitheater, and Queens Hall in Edinburgh, Scotland. In New York City, where the band was based in its early years, it has played at the legendary Bottom Line folk club, but also at vaunted classical venues Town Hall and Symphony Space. Indeed, it can be convincingly argued that no band has done more than Solas to prove that Celtic music today is a truly universal musical language, like jazz, rock, or bluegrass. The bands sound is explosive yet seductively personal; timelessly melodic yet rippling with modern muscle. It can bring edgy urban hipness to ancient reels, and make songs by Tom Waits and Bob Dylan feel like they've been aging for centuries in the sweet old casks of Celtic tradition. That first Solas album was an absolutely astonishing debut, says Earle Hitchner, Celtic critic for the Irish Echo and Wall Street Journal. It certainly was a wake-up call to traditional bands out of Ireland. There was always this dismissive attitude toward bands sourced out of America; they'd say, Not bad for yanks. After Solas came along, they couldn't do that anymore. The Solas sound today is anchored by founders Seamus Egan, who plays flute, tenor banjo, mandolin, whistle, guitar and bodhran, and fiddler Winifred Horan. They are two of the most respected--and imitated--musicians anywhere in acoustic music. Mick McAuley from Kilkenny plays accordion and concertina; Eamon McElholm from Tyrone plays guitar and keyboards. Deirdre Scanlan is the bands latest vocal discovery, gorgeously filling the role carved out by founding vocalist Karan Casey. Asked to explain why the band is so welcomed outside the Celtic realm, National Folk Festival producer Joe Wilson says, They perform for the audience in front of them. No two shows are exactly alike; there's this intent to communicate that's very exciting. I think general audiences react to them because of their total lack of pretentiousness. The quality is so high, and the presentation so direct, that it hits you like a wave, in a way that seems to penetrate everybody, whether they are already fans of this music or not. The first seeds of Solas were sown in 1991. Horan had just graduated from the New England Conservatory and was contemplating a classical violin career, after a girlhood in which she won nine North American Irish dance championships. A bout of tendonitis sent her home to New York. She attended local sessions, where Irish musicians gather to play socially, and met Egan. Unable to recall her traditional chops, she played low harmonies and subtle counterpoint to the tunes being played. Egan helped get her back to speed on the unison style of the session, and they began exploring a common passion to apply more sophisticated arrangement ideas to Irish music. Egan had borne the uneasy crown of Irish traditional music' Boy Wonder since, at 15, he won All-Ireland championships on four different instruments, a feat still unequaled. Seamus almost carried the banner for the next generation of Irish musicians, says Brian O'Donovan, host of WGBH-Boston's popular public radio show Celtic Sojourn. He was such a prodigy. As the band has matured, they've become seen as the established upper-end of that youth movement. The rigid traditional training both he and Horan received as children gave them impeccable command of the techniques and rudiments of the music. It also instilled a fierce desire to expand the music's boundaries. "We're a band that happens to have a strong grounding in a particular tradition," Egan says today. But the way we look at it, that tradition allows itself to be played with a little bit; it's malleable enough and strong enough to allow that. I think it's fundamentally impossible to play music any other way than being who you are and what you are. Irish traditional music is the first music I have any memory of; for a long time, I thought it's all there was. But I never saw it as something old; it was always there in our lives, and always evolving." Egan and Horan were soon playing regularly together--and becoming a couple, as they are today. It is not widely known that Horan performed on a good deal of Egan's acclaimed score for the 1995 film Brothers McMullen. Listen closely to the more lushly arranged pieces, and the birth pangs of Solas can clearly be heard. We're never intentionally trying to change the music, Horan told Sing Out magazine in 1997. We're all thinking counterpoints and what could go underneath or on top, but never to detract from the main melody...We're never coming to show off, never coming to just show we can be different. It's always the music first, definitely the music first. That's the motto. Solas was officially formed in 1996. The name means light in Irish, but Egan says the name was picked more for its sound, shape, and groove--its musicality--than its literal meaning. Each of the bands first three albums won the NAIRD (now AFIM) award for the Best Celtic/British Isles Album on an independent label. They had a signature sound right from the beginning, like all the great bands do, says Hitchner, because of the rhythm, the arrangements, the use of counterpoint--and that ballsy, driving style, with a lot of syncopation. With those first three albums, Solas were as good as any band on the planet; and you could make the argument that they were the best. Today, you can hear Solas' influence everywhere in acoustic music, in their explosive use of rhythms that never intrude upon melodic space; their groundbreaking use of counterpoint, the subtle ways each member adds color and mood. But even more, their impact is felt in what people believe Celtic music is today. What younger kids are hearing in Solas is infinite possibility, says Hitchner. They don't have to just imitate the old masters and styles. They now know it can be different and just as good. Solas has really varied the repertoire; they're not just relying on the old canon. They're writing new material, and drawing on things outside the Irish tradition. They've made people more open-minded about the potential of the music. O'Donovan says, I wouldn't want to pigeonhole them as an Irish traditional band, because they're much more than that. It's more that their special sauce is that they're based in Irish tradition; but from that secure base, they've allowed themselves to roam free. The bands perform roughly 150 dates a year, and are now as popular all over the world as they remain in the United States and Ireland. The thing to remember about Solas, Joe Wilson says, is that the quality always comes first. There's something about being totally in tune, not only with the instrument, but with the times and the people they're performing for. They're all masters of the old, deeply traditional repertoire; but instead of resting on that, they use it as a launching platform to reach for their own feelings, and for the century that they live in. Whether they're playing something from last week or two centuries ago, they are always able to lay that in front of an audience in a way that moves them.
$23 - $25