published Friday, September 30th, 2011

3 Sisters festival to feature Celtic curveball

  • photo
    Solas is, from left, Mick McAuley, Winifred Horan, Niamh Varian-Barry, Eamon McElholm and Seamus Egan.


What: Fifth annual 3 Sisters Festival.

When: 6-11 p.m. today, noon-10 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Ross's Landing.

Admission: Free.

Phone: 265-0771.



Today: 6 p.m. The Dismembered Tennesseans, 7:05 p.m. Solas, 8:25 p.m. Laurie Lewis and The Right Hands, 9:45 p.m. Hot Rize with guest Red Knuckles & The Trail Blazers

Saturday: Noon. Bluetasticrass, 1:20 p.m. Lone Mountain Band, 2:40 p.m. The Dismembered Tennesseans, 4 p.m. Dale Ann Bradley, 5:30 p.m. The Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band, 7 p.m. Emmitt Nershi Band, 8:30 p.m. Travelin' McCourys.

For the fifth iteration of the 3 Sisters Festival, the music has gone transatlantic.

Since it started in 2007, the free, two-day event has exclusively featured bluegrass acts, including marquee artists such as Dan Tyminski, Ricky Skaggs and Del McCoury.

This year, however, headliners Hot Rize and the Travelin' McCourys will be joined by traditional Irish band Solas, who will be the second to take the stage at Ross's Landing tonight.

"[Irish and bluegrass] are all in one family, and it's been oddly kept segregated from one another," said multi-instrumentalist Seamus Egan, who founded the band in 1996.

"We're thrilled when we see something like that come up on the calendar. We get to go into the other neighborhood," he added, laughing.

Egan, 42, was born in Pennsylvania, but his family relocated to County Mayo, Ireland, when he was 3.

There, Egan's parents sent him to a tin-whistle tutor who visited the local town hall every week. Egan's parents weren't musicians, so the lessons were a shot in the dark, he said.

"A tin whistle was a quick, easy and cheap way to see if there was any reason to continue," he said.

Egan took to the music better than anyone anticipated. With a voracious appetite for new sounds, he continued to excel on new instruments, eventually earning All-Ireland distinction on the whistle, banjo, flute and mandolin.

When Egan was in his early teens, his family returned to Philadelphia. Initially, he considered putting Irish music aside before he met banjo player Mick Moloney, with whom he became friends and later joined onstage.

At 27, Egan teamed up with All-Ireland fiddler Winifred Horan to form Solas. The group quickly gained fame, thanks in part to the then-recently founded Riverdance show, which sparked American interest in all things Irish.

Solas quickly established a name for itself, walking the razor's edge of honoring the tradition while injecting modern twists and energy into their live shows.

Over time, the lineup has seen some turnover. At times, the group has featured artists such as guitarist John Doyle and vocalist Kieran Casey. Horan and Egan are the only two founding members still with the group.

Looking back, Egan said the last 15 years have gone by all too quickly, but the band's approach has remained the same.

"Turning around, that 15 years just feels like a blink," he said. "You can think things could always be improved, but at the end of the day, I'm very grateful we still have the ability to do this."

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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