We Banjo 3 with Moors and McCumber at The Armory 1/29/19
Words and Photos by Nicholas Stock
Additional Photography by Conrad Meyer
I, like many other Summer Campers pour over the initial lineup announcement for the obscure, the unbeknownst, and the interesting. By the end of it all this year’s festival will be chocked full of stuff you’ve never heard before. I would invite you to seek it out and get inspired by the novel. Better yet, go out and check out these bands before Summer Camp so you can tell us all what’s up. That’s what I did when I saw first year Summer Camp performers We Banjo 3 were announced to play at The Armory here in Fort Collins, Colorado.
We Banjo 3 are the innovators of “Celtgrass,” which could best be described as Americana with a heavy Irish brogue. The band is composed of 2 pairs of brothers Enda and Fergal Scahill and Martin and David Howley hailing from Galway, Ireland. In just 8 short years this band has developed an international following and a distinct catalog of original songs. Fresh off the heels of their 5th release Haven, We Banjo 3 is a band on the move. They are currently embarking on a ridiculous tour schedule dotting most of the United States prior to landing at Summer Camp in May. They will be returning to their homeland for festival appearances and a tour across Ireland in the fall. To say this band is busy would be an understatement.
The Armory it should be noted is continuing to bring fresh and unique acts for the Colorado music scene. If you haven’t had a chance to check out this intimate venue I highly recommend it. The concerts there are seated and capped at 225 people so just about every show sells out. They invited the acoustic duo Moors & McCumber to open up the evening. Meeting at the Rocking Mountain Folks Festival Song School, these two had an instant realization that their harmonies went together like bread and butter. Speaking in strictly harmonic sense seeing them live is akin to catching Crosby, Stills & Nash. Their vocals just match. Their short but mesmerizing 45 minute set was the perfect way to start the night.
Set 1: Sacred Ground, Slan Abhaile, Leaving For Cobh, Marjorie, Bigger Win, Nothing Is Free, We All Fall Down, The Edge, Take Me Down, You Take Me Somewhere
Their music could best be described as a blending of traditional Irish folk tunes with an American approach to picking. Their soulful songs captivated the audience throughout their truncated set. The a cappella rendition of “Marjorie” was hauntingly beautiful and incredibly brave. It’s rare these days to see such a naked and true performance of any song in a live setting. Both Moors and McCumber are talented multi-instrumentalist. During “Bigger Win” McCumber switched to a cello while Moors busted out the Irish Bouzouki. Moors spent the majority of the time taking lead vocals for this particular performance, but McCumber came in strong on “Take Me Down.” They closed their short set with the hopeful “You Take Me Somewhere.” While their vocals stole the spotlight, the real surprise is the amount of acoustic shredding that took place between verses. Moors & McCumber are true artists who have honed their craft to perfection. They were an excellent addition to the bill.
We Banjo 3 simply put is explosive. We arrived around 6:35 PM and found a spot up close. We were seated next a young 11 year old named Dominic who was attending the show with his mother. It was his first concert experience and it would prove to be a memorable one. They opened with the eloquent “This Is Home.”
Set 1: This Is Home, The Coalminer, Sunflower, Bohoca, Haven, Marry Me Monday, Liza Jane, Shine On, Soldier’s Joy, We All Need, Annabelle’s Cannon Hold Onto Your Soul, Pressed For Time, The Long Black Veil, Badum Badum, Trying To Love, Dawn Breaks*
Encore: The Fox
*Featuring “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” tease
David Howley’s emotive vocals and monstrous picking were front and center for their entire show. This kid is like an Irish Billy Strings ready to conquer the States. This music is hand slapping, foot stomping acoustic jam from the Motherland. The songs sung by We Banjo 3 just ooze with positivity. Take the title track off their latest album Haven, this is a song about love and acceptance for everyone. We were treated to several instrumentals throughout the set including “Marry Me Monday” written by Fergal Scahill for his bride. This party was half church service, half dance party and even the normally reserved audience at the Armory got up on their feet several times throughout the show. Every song became a singalong and a chance to jump up with hands flailing in the air. The energy in the room and emanating from the stage was downright contagious. WB3 went into the Americana standard “Liza Jane” which was dedicated to the young man in the front row. The band treated us to the plucky “Soldier’s Joy,” before hitting us with the anthem “We All Need” about just being better to one another.
David Howley came to the microphone and talked briefly about his struggle with mental health prior to performing “Hold Onto Your Soul.” This is a trend of honesty is something I’m seeing more of in a live setting and I hope it continues. As a community we need to break down stigmas around mental health and just bring more people to the table for the discussion. The more we realize that everyone is not living the perfect life portrayed via social media the better off we will all be. So for that I commend the young Mr. Howley on his courage and forthcomingness with his fans. “Pressed For Time” is a Scottish tune written for bagpipes but performed brilliantly on dueling banjos Martin Howley and Edna Scahill. Much to the delight of the audience We Banjo 3 continued with a delicate version of Johnny Cash’s “Long Black Veil.” During “Badum Badum” the band hosted a dance contest and young Dominic was again recognized by the band and invited up onstage. For his first show this kid hit it out of the park. WB3 ended the set with a massive rendition of the instrumental “Dawn Breaks” steeped in traditional Irish themes, which then segued into Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”
We Banjo 3 returned to encore with “The Fox” a song they originally recorded with Sharon Shannon in 2015. I left this show feeling a positivity and energy that is infrequent these days. In an era when sad songs sell We Banjo 3 has chosen the light. Their show at the Armory was absolutely incendiary and utterly enjoyable. As I walked out into the cool Colorado air, hands throbbing from the exuberant clapping, I smiled knowing that we would meet again, at Summer Camp. See you there We Banjo 3, until then, safe travels.
Photos by Nicholas Stock and Conrad Meyer