HJ/EDMarch 20, 2006

Local band plays traditional celtic music with a contemporary twist

By Dave Cox
Staff Writer

Big Spud Daddy and the Guinness Aires have developed a loyal following by bringing their unique blend of celtic music to local venues, and with the release last week of the band’s second CD, “Not,” fans will be able to bring some of that music home.

The CD is the result of a year and a half of work by the band, and was recorded in the home studio of founding members Dennis Stearns and Dr. Sandy Savage of rural Howard Lake.

Stearns and Savage have taken their love of the music of Ireland and Scotland, and carved out a local niche for themselves.

“We have been messing around with this in one form or another for seven or eight years, and this incarnation of Big Spud Daddy has been together about three years,” Stearns said.

Rounding out the band are fellow musicians Kyle Knock, Tedd Ronning, and Ellie Fregni, and together, the group has developed a loyal following of fans who enjoy its unique style.

“Our main interest continues to be traditional folk music of Ireland and Scotland. We have three original tunes on “Not” that we like to think fit into that idiom,” Stearns commented.

The band models itself after “Danu,” “Dervish,” “Old Blind Dogs,” and other groups that play traditional music with contemporary twists that bring a new energy and passion to age old tunes, according to Stearns.

“Our music is more along the lines of traditional folk music; jigs, reels, and ballads, but not drinking, soccer hooligan-type tunes, nor Irish-American tin pan alley types of songs,” Stearns said.

You will not hear this band play songs like “Danny Boy” or “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” which many people associate with Irish music, but which are, in fact, not Irish at all.

The members of Big Spud Daddy play serious music, but they do not take themselves too seriously.

Jokes and stories are part of every live performance.

Audience participation is encouraged, and fans old and new find themselves joining in for a hand-clapping, boot-stomping good time.

“We hope that if folks don’t find what we are doing appealing, that they at least might find it amusing.” Stearns quipped.

The members of Big Spud Daddy come from different backgrounds and have a broad range of experience, but say that Celtic music offers new and unique challenges that are rewarding beyond expectations.

The players

Stearns has been playing guitar for nearly four decades. His resume includes work in Los Angeles in the 1970s, a 15-year stint with a jazz big band, and “too many rock and roll bands to count.”

“Who could imagine finding musical nirvana in Celtic music?” Stearns wondered.

Sandy “Doc” Savage said her music career started in fifth grade when she had to choose an instrument for school.

She played alto, tenor, and later baritone saxophone.

These days, to save carrying a multitude of instruments, Savage plays a breath-sensitive wind synthesizer, affectionately known as “The Weasel,” to reproduce the sounds of a penny whistle, flute, accordion, cello, and pipes.

“After a few trips to Ireland, I am hooked on Celtic – music that speaks through the soul,” Savage said.

Tedd Ronning’s musical interest also began when he was young.

“Constant exposure to my dad’s big band records resulted in an early appreciation for hot rhythm and a good groove,” Ronning said.

“A few years back, I caught the Celtic music bug after seeing performances by “Dervish,” “Old Blind Dogs,” and “Danu.” Their complex rhythmic layers supporting the ‘deedle dee dees’ blew me away, and with the bouzouki playing a key role in creating the groove, I had to get one!” Ronning explained.

“Playing with Big Spud is fun, and we hope the audience is having as much fun as we are,” Ronning said.

Knock’s first instrument was the piano, starting with lessons at age 6, and he has been playing drums for 26 years.

“Bored to death with Minnesota radio stations, I was inspired by music from Africa, India, South and Central America, and the Caribbean,” Knock said.

“My story started when someone slipped me a violin at an early age,” Ellie Fregni said.

Fregni also plays piano and viola. Her musical influences include jazz, swing, bluegrass, blues, rock, and Celtic.

“Well-meaning friends and relatives suggested I get a real job, but it was too late. I now spend my time either surrounded by other music-loving junkies, or hooking small children into the musical lifestyle,” Fregni commented.

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