Solas: Twenty years of music

by Scot Casey 

photo/courtesy

After All These Years: The Irish-American Band Solas Celebrates 20 Years of Marvelous Music

For over 20 years the Irish-American band Solas has performed their unique blend of Irish and Celtic music inflected with dynamic elements of folk and world traditions. Solas is arguably one of the most popular and influential bands on the growing Irish and Celtic Traditional music scenes. They are currently on tour with a stunning new album, All These Years, the recording of which includes performances by past and present members, serving as a celebration of their longevity, sustained relevance and success.

Seamus Egan, one of the group’s founders, reflects upon the endurance of the band saying, “I suppose we’ve never been afraid of change and I think our ability and willingness to adapt has served us well over the years.” This adaptive ability and strong relationship with the fans has served them well. The last two Solas albums took a step away from major labels and relied upon Kickstarter for financial support.

“We’ve been fortunate to have fans that are willing to take that journey with us,” Egan said, “and support us on the various paths we’ve found ourselves.”

Solas has been credited with being a major factor in the resurgence of Celtic music over the last 10 years. I asked Seamus if he feels a responsibility to honor the history and the authenticity of Celtic music, even while embracing other genres such as jazz and bluegrass? “I don’t think we feel an inherent responsibility to honor the history or authenticity of the music,” he said. “We grew up with it as part of our lives and it’s still the driving force in the music we make. It’s such a strong tradition that it’s more than able to withstand whatever we throw at it!”

In Bellingham, Celtic, Irish and Folk Traditional music are more popular than ever. The ever growing number of festivals around the country, features on NPR and Mountain Stage all point to a growing awareness and appreciation of the music. “Well, I suppose like anything else, it goes in cycles,” Seamus said. “From time to time the light shines a little brighter. But we’re fortunate that it’s such a strong tradition and never really goes away. There’s always great young musicians coming up with fresh new ideas and there always seems to be fervent and dedicated audience wanting to hear and support all that’s happening.”

There is so much vital identity to the music of Solas, the seemingly effortless ability to absorb the defining elements of disparate musical traditions and recharge them into their own distinctive sound. What is even more remarkable is that after 20 years, the music of Solas is as relevant and resonate with the times as ever.

“I suppose we’ve always gravitated toward songs that have a social message of some sort and unfortunately there’s never a shortage of turmoil in the world so songs like that will always have relevance,” Seamus said. “Songs like Woody Guthrie’s Pastures of Plenty, Bruce Springsteen’s Ghost of Tom Joad, or Ger Wolfe’s Lay Me Down will always give voice to trying times.”

To this list is easily added much of Solas’ music, including the entirety of their last album, Shamrock City, and their version the iconic Irish ballad “The Wind That Shakes The Barley.”

So where does Solas go from here? As adamant as they are in honor and celebration of traditional music, the band is not interested in resting upon their laurels or treading the waters of nostalgia. “In some ways we feel like this a fresh new start and we’re excited about the music we might make in the future,” Seamus said. “But we’re not thinking about the next 10 years just at the moment! The immediate future sees us touring in support of the new album for the rest of the year and planning a couple new projects for next year. It’s enough to keep us busy!”

Solas will perform at the Mount Baker Theatre on Thursday, March 17 at 7 p.m. Tickets are available through www.mountbakertheatre.com.

Published in the March 2016 issue of What’s Up! Magazine