ALBANY — The Albany Symphony Orchestra is throwing a St. Patrick’s Day fundraiser party that will feature Wolf & Clover, a quartet that specializes in Irish music.
Performing with Wolf & Clover at The ASO’s Eat, Drink & Be Irish Party set for 7:30 p.m. March 17 at Merry Acres Event Center will be Robert Sharpe, an Albany guitarist who was a founding member of the band.
“There hasn’t been a St. Patrick’s celebration in Albany in a long while. I can’t remember one,” Albany Symphony Executive Director Mari Wright said last week. “When we were discussing it (the event), several people said it has been too long.”
Wolf & Clover has only been performing together for a year. Its members are Justin Belew, rhythm guitar and accordion; Jessica Bennett, fiddle; Matthew McCabe, tenor banjo, bouzouki and bodhran; and Stephanie Payne, winds.
“They’ve got a lot of performances (online),” Wright said. “Their name is growing and their popularity is growing.”
All four Wolf & Clover members are associated with Columbus State University. Belew, Bennett and Payne attended the CSU Schwob School of Music, where McCabe is an assistant professor of audio technology.
About five years ago, McCabe asked Payne to join a group he was putting together to perform at a Columbus church’s St. Patrick’s Day event, a one-time event. After the Ringgold native completed her master’s in art administration at Florida State University and returned to Columbus to be executive director of the Youth Orchestra of Greater Columbus, she got an email from McCabe asking her if she’d like to start a group that would perform Irish music. She said she was and it went from there.
“Matt and I are the only ones (in Wolf & Clover) with any Irish descent,” Payne said last week in a phone interview. “I grew up with it. My family listens to it a lot.”
McCabe, Payne, Belew and Sharpe formed the original quartet.
“Robert had to bow out because of his school and work obligations,” Payne said. “Justin (who had been playing fiddle) moved to guitar and we brought on Jessica Bennett, who is a friend of Justin and me and also had gone to Schwob at Columbus State as a fiddle player.”
Clover has obvious Irish connections and the wolf is a figure in Irish mythology, but Payne said she wasn’t familiar with any intentional underlying meaning of the group’s name. “Matt came up with it and we thought it sounded really cool, so we just went with it,” she said.
The group also has taken an approach to Irish music that makes it unique to the region. While there are some other groups in the Atlanta area that play Irish music, she said, “We look at it comprehensively. We do everything from instrumental things like jigs and reels to traditional songs to even a couple of drinking songs you’d hear in a bar. As far as we know, we’re the only Irish folk band in this region.”
The instruments they play, she said, are traditional to the music.
“In Irish folk music, there’s not really a standard instrumentation,” Payne said. “It’s not what you’d see at the symphony, where it’s a string quartet or a symphony orchestra. It goes back to much more casual times where you have a tune, a melody, that people know and then whoever shows up with whatever instrument plays it. We play instruments that are common in Irish music, but it’s not like a set group like a string quartet would do.”
She said Wolf & Clover has seen steady growth in its first year, with increases in both frequency of gigs and likes on social media such as Facebook.
“For a group that’s only a year old, I think we’ve been very successful,” she said. “All four of us are local to Columbus and we’re already performing in the area. We came into the group having independent connections that we could use to benefit the group. Each performance we do, it’s been nice growth.”
Wolf & Clover has its first single out on iTunes, Pandora, Spotify and other major streaming sites and stores Si Bheag and Si Mhor. They’re also working on a full album, which they are recording at Bibb City Sound.
So what can those attending the St. Patrick’s Day Party expect from the group’s first trip to Albany?
“They can expect to have a fantastic time,” Payne said. “We are energetic and excited to come. There’ll be everything from dance tunes to songs to reels, all kinds of things. There’ll be tunes you know already, as well as tunes you might not have heard before.
“Robert Sharpe will be featured on a couple of our pieces. We’re real excited to bring him back and showcase his amazing talent.”
Wright said she thinks it’ll be a fun evening.
“People need something to do right now,” Wright said. “It should be just a lot of fun. I think it’ll be a nice evening for people, one where they can laugh and have fun.”
Tickets for the ASO’s Eat, Drink & Be Irish Party, which is being sponsored by the Fred Taylor Company, are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. They can be purchased at the Albany Symphony office, 308 Flint Ave., and at U-Save-It pharmacy on Meredyth Drive. Merry Acres Event Center is located at 1504 Dawson Road.