By March 1, 2011 Read More →

Not Just an Irish Band

The Black Irish Band

The Black Irish Band

We should probably start with what The Black Irish Band is not.

It is not just an Irish band.

Sure, Irish is in the name of the Sonora quintet, which is set to perform March 11-13 at the 25th Sonora Celtic Faire and on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, in Carmel. And yes, the band has Irish influences and Celtic tunes in its playlist.

But that’s not all the band performs.

“The band’s sound would be best described as a melting pot of American folk,” said Patrick Karnahan, a multi-instrumentalist who helped found the group. “Not so modern, but more like California New York in the 1850s.”

You can hear that sound on the band’s website,, and watch videosfrom performances at In a recent discussion via email Karnahan talked about The Black Irish Band’s albums, fans and how thegroup might owe its existence to a well-known time-traveling teen.

Q: Tell me a little about the background of the band members and how you came together.

Patrick Karnahan: The band started in October of 1989, the night of the big SF quake. About 10 minutes into our first band meeting, it rocked the Bay Area. We had talked about the band idea, however, during the night film shoot of the movie “Back to the Future III.” They filmed it down the road from where we lived and used us in the “Hill Valley Band.” Night after night, we had time to kill, so me and founding band member Richard Restivo started talking about the idea for theband. Folk music with no limits. I had been living in Westport, Ireland, part-time in the mid ’80s, and had gotteninto the Irish music scene. Rick wanted to play some Italian music, because of his folks. Well, one thing leads to another and we formed the first Irish-Italian Band in America, of course we did not know it at the time. Present and long-time band member Steve McArthur was also casted in the same movie with a talking role, but he would not join the band until 1991. Our other band member James Nelso, on banjo, joined in 2000. He joined us for the fourth tour of Alaska and the celebration of the Alaska Gold Rush.

Q: Given the band’s name, you might get pigeonholed as a Celtic act by some casual music fans. But you’re obviously much more than that. How would you describe the band’s sound?

PK: The music is a mix of history and tradition brought over from Ireland, Scotland and Italy. The instruments came from those countries and fit well into what we are doing. The music is about working class stories of heroes and hardships. Of the 87 original songs found on our album CDs, most follow the same storylines as the history we present in our traditional songs written in the 1800s. What makes the music work for us and our fans is the timeless nature of the message. As we get older, the music is even more real to people.

Q: Has it been difficult to find an audience for such a diverse sound in the Modesto area? Do you have to do more to explain your influences to an audience?

PK: I do not think so, people who know us enjoy a good story. People get tired of the same old, same old music that is played 24 hours on the radio. Songs on theradio are so over-produced these days, and always about the same subject matter.

We are the last hold out for songs about heroes. This idea is not new however. The base of our music subject is rooted in the Celtic bards of old Ireland, or even classic Homer. We are not into the fast bar-hook-up songs, we deal with real-life past and present folk heroes.

Q: The band’s been together for 20 years now. How has it changed over the years?

PK: 21 years this last October in fact. I would say that the music has not changedthat much. We have had the addition of a fiddle in the last 10 years, but that is it. We pride ourselves on keeping the tradition alive and not selling out to the cover band ideal. One foot in the past and one in the present would be a good way to put it. Some of our songs date back to 1600s, and some as late as 1995. If we hear a present song that fits with our style, we will add it. Years ago there was a band out of Ireland, The Water Boys – we added some of their modern songs because they fit!

Q: What does the band have planned for the rest of 2011?

PK: Tours throughout the west in the summer, and a few in the fall. We might go back to Washington D.C. to perform the original song I wrote for the National Christmas tree at the White House. We will also produce the first Black Irish Christmas CD album to support the theme.



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