For We Banjo 3 lead singer/guitarist David Howley, he spent the COVID-19 pandemic quarantine in New Hampshire and his home country of Ireland.
Unable to hit the stage nightly, Howley created new music and changed the quartet’s show. He needed to. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, he had a feeling of extreme emptiness. He was terrified, never thinking he would have to contend with his identity if he was not a touring musician.
“We couldn’t use the main muscles we use to play shows,” says Howley from the New Hampshire home he shares with his partner, Siobhán.
“As a result, the music and shows are more dynamic and more free flowing. I noticed since the quarantine there’s an intimacy with audiences now. People want to be seen, felt and heard. Bands like us, when we walk on stage, connect in a very, very deep way.”
We Banjo 3 played livestreams for two years and enjoyed it. But interacting with a live audience and feeling its energy in the room leads to the magic of live shows.
We Banjo 3 — which also includes David’s brother, Martin, on tenor banjo, mandolin and vocals; Fergal Scahill on fiddle, viola, dobro, percussion, guitar, mandolin and vocals; and Enda Scahill on tenor banjo and vocals — has several upcoming Arizona shows.
The gigs are at the Flagstaff’s Orpheum on Wednesday, February 2; Yavapai College in Prescott on Thursday, February 3; Del E. Webb Center for the Performing Arts in Wickenburg on Friday, February 4; the Chandler Center for the Arts on Saturday, February 5; and the Rialto in Tucson on Sunday, February 6.
New material that We Banjo 3 wrote during the pandemic will be featured in the set.
“‘Hummingbird Love’ is a new song we’ve been playing,” Howley says.
“It’s a love song that, I suppose, speaks to my own experience of love. Sometimes those with bold hearts scare people away a little bit.
“I tend to be that type myself. It’s a real lovely song.”
The gigs will share We Banjo 3’s revamped shows, which pivot and change throughout the set.
“I don’t think we’ve ever played a show all the way through without changing it,” Howley says. “Sometimes the song on the setlist isn’t the right song. The whole room becomes its own feeling.
“Everybody in that room — our band and the audience — becomes a shared emotion. You just have to go with it. If you’re too strict then it’s rehearsed and it’s a ‘show.’ It’s fine, but that’s not what we do. The magic of We Banjo 3 is we’re two sets of brothers. I don’t have to tell them what’s next.”
Howley is looking forward to visiting Arizona. The first time the quartet visited the Grand Canyon State it rained the entire time. Fans or folks they ran into had the same comment about the Irishmen coming to town.
“They always ask, ‘Did you bring the weather?’” he says with a laugh. “We heard that joke at least 800 times. Every time was as charming as the last.
“We love Arizona, though. It’s so different from the landscape we’re used to. It feels very foreign. But there’s something in the people. There’s an openness and an openness to us there. We’ve felt very welcome over the years. We try to put Arizona at the end of tours. Some of the lads in the band may end up staying for a couple of days after.”
Each performance day has multiple stages, he says. The first is the morning coffee ritual during which they seek out the best, old and hallowed coffee spots.
Step two is Howley’s favorite stage.
“We had a rule early in the band that we always eat good food,” he says. “There are so many bands who go on tour and eat terrible food for six weeks and come home with scurvy. We’ve had the best sushi—outside of Japan — in Phoenix, Arizona. The sound engineer and I had a meal that meant we needed to tour for six more weeks afterward to pay it off.”
He also enjoys the state’s Mexican food.
“We’re a strange Irish band,” he says with a laugh. “We’re not big, massive drinkers. We’re more coffee and food centered. We just get coffee and have mild palpitations until dinner.”
We Banjo 3