Lunasa brings Irish music to Clovis

By Tova Fruchtman: CNJ staff writer

Sean Smyth and other members of the Celtic band Lunasa play the music of their fathers and their fathers’ fathers.
“It’s the music that we would have grown up with as kids,” Smyth, who plays fiddle, said.
Clovis residents can experience the Irish band’s music on Saturday at the Lyceum Theater as part of the Clovis Community College cultural arts series, “Brining the World to You.”
The group is touring in the United States.
When Smyth was in college in Ireland he said he spent much of his time at “sessions” — musicians meeting in pubs in Ireland to play together and learn from one another.
“Out of playing in sessions I decided to take it a step farther and go on the road,” Smyth said.
In 1996 Smyth, Donogh Hennessy (guitar) and Treveor Hutchinson (bass) were invited to play in Scandinavia, Smyth said. Soon after the freshly formed band released an album titled Lunasa — named for an ancient harvest festival in honor of the Irish god Lugh, a patron of the arts.
Smyth said the music is more about self-expression than Irish culture.
“We don’t … come to America to teach people about Irish culture. We came to express ourselves,” he said. “I personally find it a great release to play music.”
“You want to get to a place where you’re not conscious you’re actually giving a performance,” Smyth said. “A moment of surrender — when that happens it’s a great moment.”
Christy Mendoza , cultural arts director at CCC, has been instrumental in bringing this series to Clovis, according to members of the cultural arts advisory board. Mendoza also helped plan a welcoming party for Lunasa.
The Gaelic welcoming party will follow the group’s performance at the Holiday Inn, Mendoza said. The party called “Meet for a Pint” was planned by Josephine Keane, from Ireland and wife of Maurice Kean, chief executive officer of Southwest Cheese. The party will include Celtic dancers from Sante Fe.
“In the past we’ve done (the arts series) at a small level,” Mendoza said. She said they were able to expand the offerings this year because of sponsors.
“We’re very proud of the season this year because it’s so terrific,” Mendoza said.
Upcoming events include the USA Ballet doing Cinderella, Perla Batalla and Gregory Popovich’s Pet Theatre.
“We’ve got all sorts of wonderful things,” Mendoza said.
“I love it. For me it’s just a broader horizon. I just get to learn about the music,” Clara Hawkins, member of the cultural arts advisory board, said. She said that she learned what an “oud” was when Iraqi oud player Rahim Al Haj performed in Clovis.
“It opens the doors to the world for people that don’t often get exposed to things like this,” Kathy Elliot, member of the cultural arts advisory board, said.
As for Lunasa, Elliot said it’s all about having a good time. “Forget being different, cause it’s just fun. It’s for everyone,” Elliot said.
Smyth agreed.
“I suppose we want to have a good time and if the audience has a good time, we do too,” Smyth said. “They don’t have to know anything about the Irish to come. The music we play is very primal, in lots of ways the dance music is hypnotic. It can be sad or happy. It’s high energy. It can be very engaging.”