RUNA band members (from left) Maggie White, Shannon Lambert-Ryan, Cheryl Prashker, Zach White and Fionán de Barra (Photo by Isaac White)

by Carole Verona

In August, award-winning Celtic band RUNA will celebrate its 10th anniversary of bringing traditional Irish, Scottish, Americana and bluegrass music to audiences around the world. The band will combine the celebration of its anniversary with that of the Pastorius Park concert series at a free show on Wednesday, July 11, at 7:30 p.m.

For the 70th anniversary of the series, coordinator Julie Byrne picked the ‘best of the best’ to perform.

“It’s a huge honor to be selected to perform this year,” said Shannon Lambert-Ryan, the band’s founder, whose family has roots in nearby Germantown and Mt. Airy. “The concert series has been well-renowned since its inception, and the other artists playing this year are tremendous. This is an integrated community, and the concert series always brings in a diverse variety of music. That’s something we value very highly. There’s such wonderful support for the arts and music here and the atmosphere is delightful.”

Pastorius Park is located at the corner of Millman Street and Hartwell Lane. If it rains, the show will move to Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, 8000 Cherokee St. The concerts are supported by the Chestnut Hill Community Association and Chestnut Hill Hospital. RUNA’s performance is sponsored by Merrill Lynch.

RUNA, which means mystery or secret lore, consists of vocalist and step-dancer Shannon Lambert-Ryan and her husband, Dublin-born guitarist, Fionán de Barra; Cheryl Prashker on percussion; Zach White on guitar, vocals and mandolin; and his wife, Maggie White, on the fiddle and mandolin.

Zach White recently joined the band after former member Dave Curley decided to move on.

“Zach is a fantastic multi-instrumentalist, a great singer and an all-around wonderful guy,” Lambert-Ryan said.

When adding a new band member, she said that the decision is not just about the music. “When it has to do with a person you’re touring with,” she explained, “it becomes a bigger question because all of a sudden that person becomes part of your family. You’re living with them as you’re touring around. Zach has been with us for over a year at this point, and we’re having a great time with him. He brings a different element and vibe to the group and a fun dynamic. When we got together to work on new music, he brought some interesting things to the table for us to consider.”

The band is currently working on its fifth album. It was hoping to release it this summer, but pushed the release date back to next year. Things got a bit complicated when Shannon and Fionán welcomed their son Liam to the world in April.

“We will be performing a couple of new songs from the album in Pastorius Park,” she said.

“Usually we don’t let new songs out of the bag ahead of time. There are pros and cons of doing that. On the positive side, the songs are all brand new and nobody’s heard them. On the negative side, some of the songs are not as developed as they eventually will become. You’ll hear familiars as well. People have their favorites that they want to hear, and we have our favorites, too.”

Writing songs, recording and practicing for performances are challenging because the band members live in different parts of the country. How do they work together to make it sound so seamless?

“We get together for periods of time ahead of a tour or during a tour,” she said. “We do a lot of work separately and pass ideas around before bringing it all together. The Internet is a wonderful thing. It has contributed to the process quite a bit. Technology and media –whether it’s radio, recordings, telephone or the Internet – have really allowed this process to branch out quite a bit. We have access to more material than we ever did before. I love listening to someone from a remote part of Scotland or Ireland, the Appalachian Mountains or Latin America. We have the ability to listen to recordings from different time periods throughout history and to send them across the world. We like to put cross-cultural references into our music.

“Fionán is a recording engineer so when recording we transfer the entire studio down to my grandparent’s house in Cape May where it’s quiet. We’ll record the guts of the album and then we’ll do the overdubs. If we didn’t get a certain take, if we want to add something, if we want to have a guest artist, or if somebody records in a separate studio and then sends that part of the track to us, Fionán will incorporate it in.

“That goes with coming up with new music as well. I’ll do a significant amount of research and come up with a number of songs. The others will, too. We’ll send recordings around. When we find time to get together, it’s not like we’re listening for the first time. We can jam through the structure of a song and can find that it’s amazing. Sometimes it goes quickly; sometimes it’s an arduous process.” she said.

Four-month old Liam will be joining RUNA on tour this summer. “My mom, Julie Lambert, will come on the road with us. That will help when we’re on stage. It’s something we’re going to figure out as we go through. This is a really special time for all of us,” she added.

Lambert-Ryan attributes the band’s longevity to what she refers to as a certain outlook.

“What do you go into this whole thing with? If you say, ‘This is what I want to do for a long time,’ it’s a different perspective,” she said “That helps with everything and allows you to take the good with the bad and ride the wave a little bit. It’s definitely not that you jump to the top really fast and that you stay there. We’ve worked at this for a long time. We’ve all had careers prior to this that have built up to working with this band. We’ve all looked at this as a long-term career project. This is the kind of music we want to play and the band that we want to play it with. You really have to love the people you’re working with.

“When you only look at the high points and achievements of your career, you think it looks so glamorous. There are parts that certainly are. But there are parts behind the scenes that people don’t see, that they’re not supposed to see. It’s part of the illusion, the dream that you’re giving off when you’re on stage.

“Performing in Pastorius Park is a hometown gig for several of us. Whenever we perform there, we’ve had a wonderful reception from our family, friends and the Runatics, our fans. Hopefully, we will get people to sing along and interact with us.”

More information about RUNA can be found at runamusic.com. Stay tuned to the Chestnut Hill Local for previews of each upcoming band or go to chestnuthill.org for more information about the Pastorius Park Summer Concert Series.

...