Altan haunts Asheville stage with songs from Ireland


Sponsored in part by the Swannanoa Gathering at Warren Wilson College, traditional Irish band Altan makes its way back to Diana Wortham Theatre for an evening of hard-hitting reels and jigs and touching old Irish songs on Thursday March 10.

Altan’s members first came together for gatherings in the kitchens and pubs of Ireland, at which they first performed traditional music as a group. Altan has risen to fame since then and has performed Irish music to audiences from Donegal to Tokyo to Seattle, and many other corners of the world. The band’s international status and success was recognized in 1996 when it became the first Irish band of its kind to be signed by a major label, Virgin Records.

The music from the band’s newest project, The Widening Gyre, is particularly relevant to Western North Carolina as it reveals the similarities between traditional Irish music that Altan is known for, namely Donegal fiddling and Gaelic singing traditions, and American and bluegrass roots music, particularly that of the Appalachian bluegrass fiddle. The project explores an ancient bond between the two styles while breaking new ground in the traditional scene.

Natives of various Irish counties, the members of Altan frequently collaborate with other musicians such as Enya, Dolly Parton, The Chieftains, Jerry Douglas, Tim O’Brien, The String Sisters, and The Rolling Stones. The band, originally led by its lead singer and fiddler Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and her late husband Frankie Kennedy, draws from Irish musical traditions while adding more daring touches, such as the talents of Ciarán Curran on the bouzouki, an instrument not commonly found in Irish music.

Dáithí Sproule, Altan’s guitarist, has broken ground as one of the first guitarists to develop the DADGAD tuning for Irish music. The group is rounded out by the talents of fiddler, vocalist, and tin whistle player Ciaran Tourish and the band’s newest member, accordion player Máirtín Tourish.

Misty-eyed Ireland

Who: Altan

When: 8 p.m. March 10

Where: Diana Wortham Theatre, Asheville

Cost: $32 adults, $27 students, $20 child