These days, it’s not unusual for Shannon Lambert-Ryan and her RUNA band members to get recognized in the airport. “We’ll hear, ‘hey, aren’t you from RUNA,” says Lambert-Ryan a Philadelphia native. “We’ve had a lot of fun moments like that and they’ve been steadily increasing.”
One reason is that RUNA spends a lot of time in airports and on the road. They’ve criss-crossed the country, taking their unique brand of Celtic roots music from Canada to Florida, from New England to the Pacific Northwest, picking up fans all over whom they fondly call “RUNAtics.”
“In January we left two and a half feet of snow to head to Florida where it was 80 degrees,. It was bizarre,” says the singer, who founded the band with her Dublin-born husband, Fionan de Barra.
They even have fans who now follow them around the country.
“There’s one older couple from Oklahoma who don’t like to fly do they drive everywhere. They’ve seen us in Texas, Iowa, Nashville and Pennsylvania. So they’re hardcore. We’ve had a couple of people who, aside from our parents, have traveled the farthest to come see us,” she laughs.
RUNA’s performing this weekend as part of a St. Patrick’s Day tour and local fans won’t have to be in the car long to see the band, which has racked up an impressive number of awards and nominations, including recently for both best traditional song and best bluegrass song in the Independent Music Awards. On Sunday, March 6, they’ll be on stage at The Irish Center, 6815 Emlen Street, in Philadelphia, where Lambert-Ryan first learned Irish dancing as a child. The show starts at 7:30 PM.
If you’re scratching your head trying to figure out how an Irish band can be nominated in both traditional and bluegrass categories, you don’t know RUNA. Its last CD, Current Affairs, “ventured off into areas where we’d never been before, including Americana, blue grass and Appalachian music, without lost the RUNA sound,” which is Celtic, says Lambert-Ryan.
And you may not know music either. Those traditions all trace their lineage back to Celtic culture. “It’s all very similar and stems from the same place, but that doesn’t mean that if you play one well you can play the other,” she says.
The solution is to find the people who can play those other versions of Celtic music, and RUNA has. Along with Lambert-Ryan and de Barra, whose backgrounds include everything from classical to show tunes to rock ‘n’ roll, there’s percussionist Cheryl Prashker, who grew up in Canada with Irish and Scottish folk music but who studied classical percussion; bodhran and banjo player David Curley, a native of Galway, who studied traditional music and dance at university; and Maggie Estes White, a bluegrass fiddler from Kentucky who’s also had classical training.
Attracting the right band members allowed the group to explore musical areas they found intriguing. “That’s why we call ourselves a Celtic roots band,” says Lambert-Ryan. “There are the roots of the tree where the music comes from, the branches, which are where it goes to, and we’re there in the middle, trying to be respectful of everything.”
Three of the band members, including Lambert-Ryan, deBarra, and White, recently toured with Keith and Krysten Getty and their band which, like RUNA, is a fusion of a variety of Celtic styles, but with a little Christianity thrown in. The Gettys, from Northern Ireland, are modern hymn writers who sell out places like The Kimmel Center and Carnegie Hall, where the RUNA band members performed. Lambert-Ryan and White showed off their Irish dance moves, and they’re going to be incorporating dancing into their next CD, which will be a live performance on March 17 at Black Rock Studios in Germantown, MD.
It’s likely that Curley will also contribute some fancy footwork, “though if all three of us are dancing two of the melody instruments will be taken away,” says Lambert-Ryan with a laugh. “We’re working on it.”
To see RUNA on Sunday at the Irish Center, call (215) 843-8051 or you can purchase tickets at the door. The concert is co-sponsored by the Philadelphia Ceili Group and the Irish Center.