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Irish Americana Band The Nashville Celts Are Coming to Duluth

Eddie Owen Presents will bring The Nashville Celts to the Red Clay Music Foundry on Friday, March 22 at 8:00 p.m. For more information, visit eddieowenpresents.com.

Talking about his musical influences, Duluth resident Ric Blair said, “I’ve always had an eclectic taste in music. I love everything.”

Perhaps that’s why Blair formed The Nashville Celts, a band that plays original Irish Americana music, influenced by numerous styles, including retro disco, bluegrass and California country. The band uses this musical style to play a wide range of songs, including the occasional Led Zeppelin tune.

If you think that sounds interesting, wait until you hear their music.

Gwinnett County will soon be able to hear them perform live as Eddie Owen Presents brings The Nashville Celts back to Duluth for a show at the Red Clay Music Foundry on March 22.

The historical significance of Irish music

With an Irish mother and a Scottish father, Blair certainly appreciates the tradition of ancient Celtic music and the value of preserving its history.

“If you look at the history of the Celts of the Irish and the Scots,” he said, “they were oppressed politically for hundreds of years. If they were caught playing an instrument like pipes or the harp, they would be hung. So, when they came to America, they decided that would never happen again.”

The music they developed was a way for them to cope with the oppression and maintain their culture in the United States.

Mixing Irish music with… everything

Blair studied jazz and classical music at the Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati.

While at school, a friend suggested they see an Irish band playing downtown. Blair thought he should decline because he had too much homework, but he went anyway.

It was the first time that he really heard traditional Irish instruments like uilleann pipes, the bodhran drum and an Irish flute.

He thought the music was so happy he wanted to use it as a basis for his own.

But, he said, “I’m more interested in entertaining folks and not having any boundaries. We don’t want to be tied down. That’s the way I’ve always approached our music.” 

Improvisation

His jazz background and desire for The Nashville Celts to have musical freedom shape how the band approaches their sound. They combine Irish melodies with the other styles using jazz-like improvisation.

“We absolutely mix it up,” he said. “We’ll do an Irish tune, sing an original song, and then go into a solo on the fiddle or the pipes.”

The band thinks it’s a lot of fun.

Many band members play in studios with other, frequently commercial, artists. And sometimes, commercial music must stick to the accepted rules to help sales.

But playing with The Nashville Celts gives the musicians a lot of creative possibilities.

“We love the freedom,” Blair said. “We’re not just stuck. We’re out there to have fun and to not limit what we’re going to do creatively.”

With such a broad approach to music, writing their original songs can be challenging.

Making the songs meaningful

The audience always has a good time at The Nashville Celts’ shows. Blair hopes that some of the songs also make them reflect a little bit. He knows that music can be meaningful and tries to ensure the band’s songs reflect that.

“I think that’s the wonderful thing about music,” he said. “If you talk to someone about spirituality or politics and you speak using words, the brain can get in the way. But when you combine it with music, it is less threatening to preconceived ideas and ideologies. And I think there is more of a direct impact to the heart.”

Talented musicians make it work

The Nashville Celts features some of the finest players on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Blair and his wife have homes in both Duluth and Nashville. (His wife Sukjo Kim runs her business, Joyce Beauty Supply, out of Duluth.)

Being in Nashville gives Blair the chance to work with some of the best musicians in the U.S. The Celts’ music has also allowed him to find some of the best in Ireland.

The lineup at Eddie Owen Presents in March will include Matt Menefee, Maggie Lander, Patrick D’Arcy, Dino Villanueva and Blair.

Menefee is also a member of the British folk rock band Mumford & Sons and plays with The Celts whenever Mumford & Sons are not touring.

Lander is from Kentucky. Her beautiful, powerful voice and excellent fiddle and songwriter skills are essential to The Celts.

D’Arcy brings Ireland to The Nashville Celts. He is from Connemara, in County Galway, Ireland. He’s played his uilleann pipes, whistles and mandolin with artists like U2, Sting, and Josh Groban.

Villanueva is one of Nashville’s best bass players. He’s played with country music legend Tanya Tucker for several years and has toured with Taylor Swift.

Blair is a Grammy-nominated songwriter. He brings his vocal, guitar, piano and bodhran drum expertise to The Celts.

Most of all it’s about having fun

Blair recounted the typical experiences he’s had at pubs in Ireland.

“You go to the pub,” he said, “and someone sings a song. Then someone starts dancing. Someone else tells a joke. And this cycle goes on and on, and the next thing, you know, it’s four in the morning. It is a culture that knows how to enjoy life.”

Although The Nashville Celts concerts probably won’t go on until 4 a.m., they do try to recreate the fun and humor of a local Irish pub during the show.

Patrick and I can get into some pretty serious banter on stage,” Blair said. “And we just try to capture a glimpse of those kinds of moments as if you’re in a pub in Ireland. If you leave out the humor out of Irish music, you haven’t experienced it.”

Eddie Owen Presents will bring The Nashville Celts to the Red Clay Music Foundry on Friday, March 22 at 8:00 p.m. For more information and to buy tickets, go to the EOP website at eddieowenpresents.com.

Written By

Glenn is a freelance writer living in Gwinnett County. He writes about a broad range of subjects, including business, music, sports, and nonprofits. His work has been published in magazines and websites nationwide.

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