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Name a musical act after one of the great warriors of Irish legend, and you’d better be prepared to crank out some energetic, larger-than-life performances.

That’s precisely why Culann’s Hounds has been a favorite on the San Francisco scene for six years—and is now bringing their self-described punk-Irish-hoedown sensibility to a larger audience. The melodies of Steve Gardner (fiddle) and Renee de la Prade (button accordion); harmonies of Mike Kelleher (guitar); and rhythm of Scott Marshall’s bodhran meld with rich vocals that are a staple of the Irish tradition.

The Hounds connect with their audience because they are as adept with traditional arrangements as they are with bringing their eclectic artistic backgrounds to an original brand of Irish-inspired music.

The band boasts an impressive musical pedigree: Gardner played Red Rocks with Grammy winning favorites Blues Traveler; and wows crowds with his work on fiddle, guitar, mandolin and vocals. Kelleher’s ability to connect with and uplift a crowd with raucous humor and hard driving songs is a key; Marshall’s years drumming for punk band The Nuns gives him the straight ahead power that he harnesses on the bodhrán (and instrument he learned at the beginning of his stint with the Hounds); and de la Prade the Berklee graduate (barely, she says) started her love affair with the Cairdin Irish button box backstage at a Pogues show.

Four very different musical paths have converged to create performances rambles.net described as having ”the innate strength of Cuchullain.”

Considering that Cuchullain fought with the ferocity of a berserker, that’s quite a claim for any band. But when you spend a little time speaking with members of the group, or attend a live show, you see the proof: there’s creative zeal simmering beneath the surface that bursts out when these artists start talking about Irish music.

In their early years, Culann’s Hounds opened for musical greats Paddy Keenan, Martin Hayes, Liam Clancy, Lunasa, Tommy Peoples, The Boys of the Lough, Solas, Susan McKeown, Josephine Marsh, Gary Shannon, Andrew McNamara, Tempest and Seven Nations. They made their debut as a headlining act at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek in 2000. Recurring gigs for a variety of West Coast events followed soon after.

In 2006, Culann’s Hounds debuted their second CD, Year of the Dog, at a March 17 headliner at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. The band’s latest is enriched by collaborations with Blues Traveler harmonica virtuoso John Popper; East Clare button accordion master Andrew McNamara; Irish singer Susan McKeown; bassist Ben Bernstein; and Hounds alum Conall O’Raghallaigh, one of the West Coast’s best uilleann pipers.

Popper’s collaboration on Year of the Dog, and the musicians’ openness to stretching their genre it rpresents, speaks to where Culann’s Hounds is likely to find itself next: grounded in the mythic energy and spirit of traditional Irish music, and performing in front of entirely new audiences yearning for something different.


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