The brand new band The Yanks features four young American soloists in Irish music. They're making a stop in Kalamazoo on their first midwest tour Sunday, June 16th at the Kalamazoo Nature Center. The show starts at 3:00 p.m. in the Cooper's Glen Auditorium. From the very beginning, the band has relied on its spontaneity as well as mastery of fiddle, pipes and flute, accordion and guitar.
“It was one of those classic gigs where, you know, everybody shows up forty minutes before the gig, we have zero time to rehearse or plan out anything, and we just threw together a set list and got up on stage and did it,” says Isaac Alderson of Chicago, talking about the very first time he got together with his band mates in The Yanks .
The Yanks are Isaac Alderson, fiddler Dylan Foley and accordionist Dan Gurney of New York, and Pennsylvanian guitarist Sean Ernest. Dylan remembers how he and Dan Gurney dreamed up the band in the first place.
“It was around Christmas time of 2010, and we were driving up to go play tunes with the great Father Charlie Coen out of - he's living up in the Catskills now,” says Foley. “And just along the way, we both got talking about the bands in Irish music, and we had the radio blasting, and we were playing different CDs, and we just came up with this idea of putting together a band. Trying to think of a flute player, and a guitar player, and just instantly 'Well, what about Isaac?' 'What about Sean?' These ideas came into our head and Dan was like, 'Yeah, let's try to organize something in Boston.'"
Although the members of The Yanks all learned music from Irish-born players and have earned multiple All-Ireland competition first-place honors, the fact is, they are Americans playing a folk music from another culture. After running through all kinds of band names, they picked The Yanks, a slang term used by the Irish for American tourists. It's classic self-deprecating Irish humor.
“We just kept coming back to it. Irish people call Americans "Yanks," says Foley. “And we're just saying look, we're the Yanks and we're playing Irish music. That's it!”
“I definitely feel a close kinship with non-Irish-born people,” says Alderson. “We got into Irish music not because it was something around us all the time, not because it was forced upon us by our parents or teachers, but because we really, really loved it, and wanted it. Badly."
Chicago native Isaac Alderson was eleven or twelve when he first noticed the haunting sound of the Uilleann pipes at the movies, and talked his mother into finding him a set to try. He also convinced her to take him to a piper's gathering in St. Louis, where he met an Irish flute player named Larry Nugent, who began to teach Isaac traditional music in the traditional way.
“It mostly involved me sitting across from him every week for about four years, and basically just trying to imitate him,” says Alderson. “Yeah, he was very much a by-ear teacher. He would teach me melodies, record some things for me, kind of offer some guidance as to what he thought to be tasteful in Irish music and what he thought not to be. I found Larry's method of teaching to be very effective for my long-term musical health."
Isaac Alderson, like his band mates, is a full-time musician who tours with several Irish ensembles. When they all met up last July at the Irish Arts Week in the Catskills, they took a few hours each afternoon to record their first album, which has been called "outrageously good" by The Irish Echo.
“We recorded the album in a - basically a shack, behind the Blackthorn Resort. We did it in about three afternoons. It was really really really hot, really noisy, so there was quite a lot of stopping and starting to turn the air conditioner on and off and everything,” says Alderson.
“You know, that's the whole thing about this album. Some of it's off the cuff, there's no edits whatsoever,” says Foley. “I mean, we did a little bit with Isaac's pipes, but other than that you know, it's all straight. And what you hear on the CD is more or less what you're going to hear in a live performance."