There aren’t many Santa Barbara bands as institutional as Dannsair. You may have jigged or downed a dram or two to their Celtic fusion music; you may have been warmed by their hearty sounds on your seasonal snowbird escape; or you may have loved them on St. Patrick’s Day even if you don’t remember. For 18 years, Dannsair has been enlivening Dargan’s Thursday nights with its twists on tradition.
On December 3, Dannsair releases its sixth album, Caledonia, which was recorded over two years at Santa Barbara Sound Design, with all members cowriting the stories and instrumentals within. The songs range from contemporary originals such as “Can’t Get You Out of My Mind” to age-old classics, such as the several-hundred-year-old ditty “Crabs in the Skillet,” all done in the spirit of reinvention and reimagination.
“Everybody’s trying to box the tradition in, but doing that ossifies it and calcifies it, and it dies,” said leading lad Russ Doherty, adding that Dannsair keeps tradition alive by pushing it into the future. The music of Dannsair has more interwoven styles than a Wicklow weaving, with its many members bringing in musical backgrounds such as Motown, Broadway, classic viola, and Latin percussion.
“We still play it in a relevant way, but with our accent,” said guitarist Jay Galvin. “From beginning to end, there’s so many different influences and ideas.” Ask any one member about a song, and stories will unfold of the song’s history or the knowing inflections and influences that define their modern interpretations. So encyclopedic is the band’s collective knowledge that it’s difficult to believe it all started when Doherty researched Irish music to aid his daughter Siobhan’s Irish-dancing pursuits. The pet endeavor became a shared family passion — Siobhan eventually joined the band.
With a songbook roughly nine hours long and a storied cast of alumni, Dannsair continues to keep the tradition alive while continuing to grow. Join them for their CD-release party Thursday, December 3, at 5:30 p.m., at Dargan’s (18 E Ortega St.).