While the St. Paddy’s Day Parade and festivities will be held in Boone on Saturday, March 14, Tuesday, March 17 is when the annual ethnic holiday truly takes place. Honoring all things Celtic and especially Irish, St. Paddy’s Day is a chance for the large numbers of Americans who can trace their ancestry back to the Emerald Isle to celebrate their heritage. In these modern times, however, people from all bloodlines are included in the fun.
The descendants of Irish immigrants can be found in virtually every part of the North American continent. From big towns like early New York City and Chicago to the Appalachian Mountains and further west, Irish immigrants and their diaspora have made their mark on the culture.
Here in Boone, St. Paddy’s Day will be celebrated by a host of bands that will be sporting some reels and jigs on their instruments and hopefully wearing some green in the clothing. On March 17, the Boone-based band Sláinte will be stirring up the festivities with a wee bit of Irish jams at Lost Province Brewing Company.
The word “sláinte” means “health” or ‘cheers’ in both Irish and Scottish Gaelic and is used as a toast when sharing some brew. The members of the band Sláinte include John Carson on guitar and Shane Watson on the fiddle.
John Carson was born in upstate New York and then moved to North Carolina with his mother, a violinist and music therapist. Despite having a musical parent in the house, Carson didn’t take an interest in the guitar until he was in his teens. His first musical road stop was the heavy metal world. But, his taste in music soon began to expand.
“One summer, I was visiting my grandparents’ house up in upstate New York, and they had a CD with some classical guitar on it, and after listening to it, I was primarily interested in that style of guitar playing,” said Carson. “The CD was made by a classical guitarist named Manuel Barrueco, who is originally from Cuba. After going to high school in the small town of Roxboro, which is about 20-30 minutes from Durham, I decided to go to college and major in guitar performance, and I chose Appalachian State here in Boone learning under Andy Page, Dr. James and others.”
After getting his degree, Carson decided to stick around the mountains to save up some money, play music and work at the Misty Mountain Threadworks company in Valle Crucis.
The Celtic side of Carson’s repertoire came from his father, who turned him onto the genre when he was a kid visiting his relatives back in New York.
“I played in this group at App State known as the student run ASU Irish Ensemble,” said Carson. “Then, in the spring of 2016, we decided to do our own Celtic music thing because we were playing at some breweries in town, and Shane and I were old enough to drink, yet we didn’t want any of our professors to hear about our shenanigans. So, we decided to make our own group and after going through some different names, we chose Sláinte.”
During the years, Carson’s love of Celtic music is both a matter of fun as well as acknowledgement of the Celtic roots that are in his family bloodline.
“I think for me, personally, there is a pretty big nostalgia factor when it comes to Celtic music,” said Carson. “Ever since I was a little kid, I was exposed to Scottish and Irish music. While I would go through phases when listening to other styles, the genre that I never stopped listening to over the years was Celtic music. Yes, there is a lot of overlap with Celtic music and bluegrass music at times, but there is something really unique about the sound of Celtic music.”
Carson and Watson are working on some special sets for their Lost Province Brewery St. Paddy’s Day show.
“We have a lot of new stuff that we’ve been playing, as we have been pairing some new tunes with some old tunes to make some new sets,” said Carson. “We have also been working on a couple of sets that will be completely new and that were put together specifically for this St. Paddy’s show. There is actually a Scottish tune that Shane and I play called ‘The New Rigged Ship’ that is a Shetland and Orkney Isles tune that has a slight Scandinavian fiddle influence in it. Those combined influences are one of the things that I really like about Celtic music.”
More than anything, Irish music has been known to bring together folks of all walks of life and cultures, and that is the approach that the band Sláinte will have on St. Paddy’s Day evening.
“The Irish have a term that is known as ‘the craic,’ which refers to togetherness and fun and having a good time together,” said Carson. “That is what I like the most about the Celtic music scene. It’s about having a good time while playing music together and having the audience clapping and tapping their feet and dancing.”