Think of Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken,” in which the narrator, walking in a wood and facing two divergent paths, takes “the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
STad (pronounced “shade,” it means both “path” and “jewel” in Irish) is also following in those less familiar footsteps. This talented new quartet consists of Julee Glaub (vocals, guitar, bodhr_n, flute), who’s from Charlotte, N.C., but now resides in Canton Center, Conn., and New Yorkers Jerry O’Sullivan (uilleann pipes, Scottish smallpipes, Irish warpipes, whistles), Brian Conway (fiddle), and Brendan Dolan (keyboards, flute, whistles). Besides Irish traditional music, which makes up the bulk of its repertoire, STad will be performing some Appalachian-flavored songs, Scottish strathspeys, and even a French baroque piece.
“We’re committed to traditional Irish music,” Glaub said, “but we’re also not afraid to show how that tradition sits so well with, say, the Appalachian tradition. I think it’s wonderful to sing an Appalachian song from North Carolina and give it a traditional Irish setting. Getting deeper into these traditions, I think, is what made people fall in love with ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ and ‘Down from the Mountain.’ ”
The success of the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” movie soundtrack (multiple Grammy winner with sales exceeding five million) and the “Down From the Mountain” documentary soundtrack has helped to pave the way for a band like STad. But the quartet are not interested in aping any trend or hopping on any musical bandwagon. Exploration, not exploitation, is the sole catalyst for their repertoire.
“I’ve had this idea of playing Irish traditional music with some Appalachian and other kinds of traditional music for quite a while, at least since ‘The Gift,’ ” said O’Sullivan, referring to the 1998 solo album he made for Shanachie that featured Irish, Scottish, Cape Breton, French-Canadian, baroque, and American old-timey music. On that recording, the piper’s fondness for Appalachian music is evident in”Mike in the Wilderness,” a traditional tune from East Kentucky that he recorded with old-timey banjo/guitar player John Hermann and fiddler Rafe Stefanini.
From Carolina to Ireland
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
For those who follow Irish traditional music, perhaps the least-known member of STad is Julee Glaub. She was raised in North Carolina, a state where old-timey, bluegrass, and other roots music flourishes. At Wake Forest University, Glaub studied literature and music, but it was her first encounter with Irish poetry as a sophomore that sparked her pursuit of Irish culture ever since. “I was hooked,” she said.
After graduation, “I planned on spending a year in Ireland,” Glaub recalled, “but I fell in love with the country and wound up staying for six.” She did ecumenical, social, and youth work among the poor and homeless in Tallaght. “It’s a rough part of Dublin,” she said. “I gave assistance and guidance to single moms and many others, both Catholic and Protestant. It was the most formative period in my life.”
Halfway through her six-year stay in Ireland, Glaub, who had studied classical flute as a child, learned to play the guitar. “I also started to pick up songs,” she said. “I went to Hughes’ Pub in Dublin for sessions, and I visited out in the West of Ireland. Then I discovered Dublin’s Irish Traditional Music Archive. Even now, my friends there kid me about my archive visits. They say, ‘Going to the cave again?’ I couldn’t get enough of it, which is why they didn’t get to see me that much.”
Returning to the U.S. was not an easy decision for Glaub. “I left because I worked myself out of a job,” she said. “There were 30 people bawling with me at the airport on the day I flew back to North Carolina. My mindset and my heartset had become Irish, and my friends still think of me as the Irish sister who emigrated to America.”
Glaub’s mother was Irish. “She was left as an infant on a doorstep in St. Louis, Mo., with a note asking that she be taken to a Catholic school,” Glaub said. “Her name was Goodwin, which is Northern Irish, but I know little else about my family tree.”
The six years Julee Glaub spent in Ireland established a connection that “has made the songs I sing stronger,” she said. Glaub formed a folk group after returning to North Carolina, where she managed an outdoors store (canoes, fly-fishing gear, camping equipment) for seven years. Later, she joined an Irish band called Cucanandy. Glaub moved to Connecticut to teach English in a private school in West Simsbury, but after a year of teaching, she decided to pursue music full-time.
What prompted Glaub to take up music full-time was her first visit with legendary actress Katharine Hepburn, now age 92, who lives in Old Saybrook, Conn., and whose sister Peg happens to be Glaub’s landlady.
“I saw up close how music can change people when I sang for Katharine Hepburn, a woman who had given her life to the world as an actress,” Glaub said. “She talked, laughed, and cried. It’s been a gift for me to give something back to her.”
Other members of STad
Glaub first met fiddler Brian Conway in the Catskills and later saw him perform at an Irish American club in New Haven, Conn. “He played the melody to ‘Were You at the Rock?’ and I was stunned,” she remembered. “I had never heard a fiddler play like that. I walked up to him to say hello, and he asked if I brought my guitar along, which I did. So we sat down and played some tunes. I sang ‘The Castle of Dromore,’ not knowing that Brian’s father came from County Tyrone, which is where the song comes from. It seemed fate was playing a hand early on in getting STad together.”
Conway and Glaub began to perform more and more, often with keyboardist Brendan Dolan, son of Felix Dolan, one of the most revered piano accompanists in Irish traditional music. “We were playing together in different sessions,” Brendan Dolan explained, “and it was always enjoyable. Not long ago we did a concert in this intimate theater in Connecticut and got a standing ovation. All three of us knew we were onto something special.”
The trio were mulling over the possibility of becoming a formal band around the same time Jerry O’Sullivan was mulling over the possibility of getting a band together on his own. When he contacted Glaub, the two ideas merged, and the trio turned into a quartet.
“It’s a natural fit all around,” said Conway, a three-time All-Ireland champion fiddler and a lawyer in the district attorney’s office in White Plains, N.Y. “We all have a deep respect for the tradition of Irish music and for what each of us can bring to it.”
Teaching the fiddle (one prize student, Pat Mangan, is an All-Ireland champion) and anchoring two music sessions a week (Wednesday nights at Dunne’s Pub in White Plains, Saturday nights at O’Neill’s Pub in Manhattan) keep Conway busy. “I never pushed in the past to be a member of a band because I have all these outside interests,” he said. “But the idea of having musicians of the caliber of Jerry, Brendan, and Julee on stage with me was too strong to ignore. I’m excited and elated about the band we formed. In San Francisco, Jerry and I had talked about playing on each other’s next album, if not doing a full-fledged duet album. Now we have STad.”
Conway is not the only band member with a crowded schedule. O’Sullivan has played with the Eileen Ivers Band for the last three years, and he does an occasional short tour with Scots-style fiddler Bonnie Rideout. At the 2002 Celtic Connections, a large showcase of Celtic musical talent held in Glasgow each January, O’Sullivan joined in the premiFre of “Duan Albanach,” a new work composed by former Ossian member Billy Jackson.
Dolan performs frequently withh the Cathie Ryan Band and th Clancy Tradition. He also plays at various ceilidhs and sessions, including the one anchored each Sunday by Glaub at the Porter House in Montvale, N.J. His credits range from co-writing the soundtrack for the 1994 indie film “Go Fish” to performing with klezmer-bluegrass virtuoso Andy Statman.
Variety is spice of STad
The diverse musical interests of individual band members will be reflected in STad’s concert repertoire. “Expect a lot of less-known or less-played Sligo tunes, including a few associated with Martin Wynne and Lad O’Beirne,” O’Sullivan said. “Brian is a great source for those. Also expect ‘One Rose,’ a gorgeous song written by Tommy Thompson and Tony Ellis that Julee can really give an Appalachian touch to in her singing.”
Rounding out this impressively eclectic repertoire will be “The Ocoee Waltz,” written by Vermont fiddler and former Metamora member Pete Sutherland; some tunes written by Paddy O’Brien of Nenagh, Co. Tipperary; a slip jig that Joe Derrane plays, and a couple of Turlough O’Carolan tunes not in wide circulation. “Our music will be mainly Irish,” O’Sullivan summed up, “and our goal is to present it and other traditions with as much taste and care as we can muster.”
If all goes well, STad hopes to record an album eventually. “It would be a disappointment to all of us if we didn’t record as a band,” said Conway, who has a solo album coming out this July on Smithsonian Folkways. He, O’Sullivan, and Dolan also played on Glaub’s solo CD last year, “Fields Faraway,” another indication that they have plenty to offer as a quartet.
STad’s first concert ever will be this Friday night, April 19, at The Turning Point, 468 Piermont Ave., Piermont, Rockland County, N.Y. Shows are at 7:30 and 10. Reservations: (845) 359-1089.
The band will also perform on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 12, at 8 p.m. on at the Towne Crier Cafe, 130 Rte. 22, Pawling, southern Dutchess County, N.Y. Reservations: (845) 855-1300.