There are so many odd signifiers and dichotomies in the composition of We Banjo 3 that it’s worth identifying as many as possible. Let’s start with the group’s titular and misdirecting “3.” There are actually four members of WB3, two sets of Irish brothers, and only two banjos, played by Enda Scahill and Martin Howley (who also play mandolin and guitar); acoustic guitarist David Howley (who occasionally plays banjo) and fiddler/percussionist Fergal Scahill rounding out the group.
Hailing from Ireland, the quartet characterizes its sound as Celtgrass, a combination of the members’ native roots and Americanized Bluegrass. Since Country and Bluegrass are largely a product of British Folk and the Celtic musical tradition, it’s an interesting hybrid. The banjoists play Irish four-string banjos rather than five-string clawhammers, and they attack them with a fingerpicking fury that would make Leo Kottke nod and smile.
The quartet coalesced five years ago and was a fairly immediate sensation in their homeland, but WB3’s success was no mere fluke. All four members are accomplished beyond their years: Martin is a seven-time All Ireland Banjo Champion and is the first Irish banjo player to perform at the Grand Ole Opry; Enda is a renowned author and teacher of banjo technique; Fergal is widely considered one of Ireland’s most respected fiddlers; and all four possess extensive performing/recording experience with big names in the Irish music scene.
WB3’s debut album, Roots of the Banjo Tree, was declared the Traditional Music Album of the Year by The Irish Times, while its sophomore release, 2014’s Gather the Good, was similarly honored by Irish American News. The power of WB3’s live presentation is so compelling and joyful that the band wisely chose to share that magic with their fans on its third album, Live in Galway, recorded in front of a hometown audience.
We Banjo 3 plays with the kind of infectious intensity and energy reserved for Rock concerts, and it has attracted a fan base that exhibits that level of fervor and devotion. This ain’t your daddy’s Bluegrass, kids.
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