The Irish vibes are hard to resist when Daymark gets up and plays

SOUTH EGREMONT — While many of them are centuries-old, traditional Irish tunes can still be party-starters.

"It's social music, and most of it comes from more rural areas where people didn't have as much access to a lot of different social [stimuli], so this is what they did for fun," Daymark guitarist and vocalist Eric McDonald told The Eagle during a recent telephone interview.

When McDonald, Dan Foster (fiddle) and Will Woodson (flute, border pipes) play in The Barn at The Egremont Village Inn on Saturday night, the trio will try to honor the sounds emanating from the southern regions of Scotland and northern regions of Ireland in bygone eras. The band members are certainly in sync; during separate interviews, each of them described the group's music as "driving." Essentially, they aim to get people up and moving, and they don't have to deviate much (if at all) from the original numbers to succeed in that endeavor, according to McDonald.

"You should always be innovating but also honoring what came before," he said, "so this music was always social music, and that's its purpose. And if we lose the feel and the vibe of that — of what came before — it won't feel right."

That vibe is festive and inclusive. In traditional Irish music, multiple instruments are often played at warp speed simultaneously, with repeating parts allowing the uninitiated to join in with the toe-tapping, mug-clunking or leg-kicking likely surrounding them.

Traditional Irish music has remained relevant in contemporary culture, but the band's youth (McDonald is 30, Foster is 27 and Woodson is 29) still might surprise some. How did this young bunch become so dedicated to this old genre?

For Foster and Woodson, geography and family figured prominently. The former has spent much of his life in northern England, refining his "back strings" Irish fiddling technique. He met McDonald and Woodson at the 2016 Northern Roots Festival in Vermont, an encounter that ultimately led to Daymark's formation. Foster's musical chemistry with Woodson has helped the band create an aggressive sound.

"Will and me play very tight together," said Foster, who now lives in East Windsor, Conn., with his wife, Courtney Jay, who is an Irish step dancer.

Though he grew up in the U.S., Woodson attended the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, earning a master's degree in traditional music. His interest in the genre had distant family precedent; his great-grandmother was a fiddler in Ireland. (Incidentally, Woodson lets Foster use her instrument on occasion.)

While living in Brooklyn, N.Y., after returning to the U.S., Woodson spent part of his time on pipemaking, a craft he still focuses on today. He crossed paths with McDonald in Boston several years ago, and the two formed a duo that preceded Daymark.

Woodson's bandmate was a less likely entrant into the Celtic music world.

"I sort of fell into it," McDonald said.

Raised in Medford, Mass., McDonald played bluegrass in high school and later entered the string program at Berklee College of Music, attending from 2007 to 2009.

During his time at Berklee, McDonald began contra dancing for fun, hearing "a melting pot" of traditional music in the process.

"That just kind of drew me right into the Celtic music," he said, noting that Berklee had a "pretty rich" collection of Celtic-focused musicians that was buoyed by Boston's appreciation for the music.

Both the fiddler and Woodson cited the arrival of "Riverdance," the popular theatrical performance featuring Irish music and dance, in the mid-1990s as a seminal moment for Celtic music in the U.S. But the show isn't perhaps as authentic as many spectators are led to believe, according to Foster.

"The music was pretty watered down," the fiddler said, also stressing that Celtic music should be treated as an umbrella term for a number of genres from the region.

Foster and the rest of the trio now have an opportunity to submit their version of traditional Irish music on stages and in their EP, which is set to be released in December. (An LP will follow shortly thereafter, Foster said.) Videos on the group's website offer glimpses into their vision for their more substantial works. In "The Wild Irishman," the trio's hands move rapidly on and around a guitar, fiddle and flute, generating a lively sound. But it's their bobbing legs and beaming faces that are perhaps most telling.

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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