RUNA returns to the Commodore Barry Arts and Cultural Center, in their hometown of Philly, on Friday, April 21.
It’s been three years since the band RUNA performed live at the Commodore Barry Arts and Cultural Center in their hometown of Philly, and when they return to the stage on Friday, April 21, sponsored by the Philadelphia Ceili Group, they’ll be bringing with them their dynamic and innovative intertwinement of Celtic and American roots music.
Founding members Shannon Lambert-Ryan, Fionán de Barra and Cheryl Prashker launched RUNA 14 1/2 years ago, “and we certainly had no idea how long it may or may not continue when we started it,” Lambert-Ryan explained. “It was the three of us and then occasionally we’d have someone come in as a soloist or a featured musician, and then it kind of grew to a permanent quartet, and then a permanent quintet.”
The core has always been the three, but the coterie of talented musicians who form the quintet include fiddle players Shane Cook from Canada and Jake James of New York when their schedules allow For the Philadelphia gig, Tom Fitzgerald on the mandolin and vocals, and Maggie Estes, playing fiddle, will round out the band.
“All of their styles complement each other remarkably well, whether their expertise is Irish Trad, or Ontario, Ottawa fiddle styles, or stuff from bluegrass. It keeps it fresh and lively, in a different way creatively, and that creativity is a constant movement. And it’s also something that I think comes down to the choices of songs, and of tunes, and the style of arrangements that we tend to put together.
“And,” Lambert-Ryan continued, “Fionán and Cheryl’s percussion, between the two of them, the guitar and her set-up, it becomes its own percussive sound which is in itself unique. I think that the fact that we have stuck with that, but from the get-go, have never stuck to just one niche — we’ve never said we just want to be trad, or we just want to be this; we just want to play good music — it’s helped us as a band to push the envelope in different ways. Whomever we’re playing with, we’ve just encouraged them to add and blend their styles.”
The last three years have required some innovative thinking to reimagine how to blend those musical styles. While Lambert-Ryan and de Barra have the advantage of being a married couple who share a household, coronavirus and the ensuing global shutdown meant the band wouldn’t perform together in person, or even record with everyone in the same place, for who knew how long.
“It’s weird. It’s weird, but technology has been super helpful in that sense. The first year there was that initial response where everybody wanted to be doing stuff online, and we said goodbye to the band,” Lambert-Ryan said. “Fionán and I chose to do a couple of things online, individually, but then also with the band. We were all spread out in four different places between the five people in the band. We tried to do things live, and then layer it on.”
Lambert-Ryan and de Barra completed a live recording during the summer of 2020, setting up lights in the backyard and filming everything as if it were a live performance. Neighbors came over and served as their audience.
“It was really fun, but we had to play it as if everybody else was playing with us. We had to remember: This tune comes in here, and this many times, and this person plays here. And then we sent it to everybody else so they could record and video their part, and then layer it on,” Lambert-Ryan said.
They used the same approach in recording their Christmas album, “The Tide of Winter.” Five or six tracks had been recorded together before they were socially distanced, and the rest remotely from their different locations. They were able to finish and release it for the holiday season of 2020.
“We’re working on a couple different recording projects right now,” Lambert-Ryan said. “But the one we’re hoping to get out within a month or two is one that we had planned to start in September of 2020. Musically, we’re really excited at how things have developed…
“We’re at a point right now where we just feel lucky to be able to continue doing what we’re doing,” she continued. “The new album, we’ve tried to focus on the joy of the stuff that we’re doing. Not that it doesn’t have quieter, sadder moments at times, in our choices of songs, but we really want it to be celebratory and have that celebration and joy feel palpable to the people listening. And that’s whether it’s the record or when we’re live on stage.”
For tickets and information, visit philadelphiaceiligroup.org. The Commodore Barry Arts and Cultural Center is at 6814 Emlen St. in Mt. Airy.