The Dardanelles are relative newcomers, but this Newfoundland group has prided itself on “changing the way you think about traditional music.” By all indications, so far, so good.
“Thanks to the nurturing and support in a lot of cases, a lot of people got turned on to traditional music,” said Tom Power, guitarist and vocalist for The Dardanelles. “But I think something that lost itself along the way was that this music was supposed to be played with joy, socially. On the weekend, there would be a dance, and they would play some of these old tunes and dance. It was a way to socialize with one another.”
Power continued, saying that the tradition of dance is important to what they do. “The idea of people sitting and listening, or simply studying it, and people just nodding their heads to it…I feel like you’re not going to be able to preserve traditional music if you do it that way. The tradition was dancing.”
Carrying the traditions into the present, The Dardanelles bring the energy of a 3-piece punk rock band to combine with the styles of the traditional folk acts. The band is made up of five twenty-somethings from Newfoundland. In addition to Power, Rich Klass plays bodhran and percussion, Matthew Byrne is a vocalist and plays bouzouki and guitar, Aaron Collis plays the button accordion, and Emilia Bartellas plays the fiddle.
“Matthew in our band has had the greatest lineage of all. He comes from a family of folk singers, the Byrne family. So he grew up singing ballads, and shanties, and folk songs his entire life,” said Power. “My parents – we sang a lot of Newfoundland songs, but we sang a lot of the popular ones. But also, we listened to a lot of American folk music. As I got older, I listened to rock n’ roll music – Korn, Marilyn Manson, Led Zepplin. When I was about 15 years old, I listened to the “O Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack. My brother had it and I adored it. So I learned to play banjo and I still love it.”
From traditional to American folk to rock to movie soundtracks is an interesting road to get back to Newfoundland traditional music. But before getting there, Power took a side trip…to Ireland.
“I went to Ireland for a trip and stayed there for a while. I fell in love with Irish music and the idea of Irish music,” said Power. “When I came home I was playing Irish music with my brother-in-law, Duane Andrews, who is a very accomplished guitarist. He said, ‘I know you love this Irish music, but did you know that Newfoundland has its own style of music?’ So I discovered it, and fell in love with it and that’s when the band started.”
In less than eight years, The Dardanelles have brought their dynamic live show to international festivals as far away as Australia and to Celtic Connections in Glasgow while releasing two studio albums. The band says they play traditional music because they think it is simply great music with uplifting melodies and compelling stories.
While Matthew Byrne has toured Maine as a solo act, The American Folk Festival will be The Dardanelles first Maine performance as a group.
“When I was about 5, we drove to Florida and I went to L.L. Bean driving through Maine,” recalled Power. “We’re always looking forward to sampling the local beers and local food. And we’re looking forward to hearing a lot of great music from the other acts at the Festival.”