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Band will bring Irish energy to Bethel stage for HBPA event

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The high-energy Irish David Munnelly Band made a big impression on south central Kansas when they first appeared at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield several years ago, and now they’re coming to Bethel College.

The band is the fourth artist group in the 2008-09 Hesston-Bethel Performing Arts series season. They will sing, dance and play on the Memorial Hall stage Sunday, March 1, at 3 p.m.

The David Munnelly Band was part of last season’s lineup at the Old Settlers Inn in Moundridge and appears at HBPA in collaboration with Miner Seymour and Old Settlers. The band has also been a fan favorite at the Walnut Valley Festival since they made their 2005 debut there.

In addition to their Sunday afternoon concert, the David Munnelly Band will play in Bethel’s convocation Monday, March 2, and give free clinics in Irish dance and fiddle that afternoon at Bethel College Academy of Performing Arts, 123 East Broadway in downtown Newton, from 3:30-5:30 p.m.

“I was able to see the David Munnelly Band for the first time last year,” says HBPA director Matthew Schloneger, “and was amazed by the incredible musicianship and tight sound that this group produces. They are quite simply some of the best in the world at what they do, and we’re thrilled to include them as a part of this year’s HBPA series. We’re also happy that we’ve been able to collaborate with Old Settlers Inn in order to make this event possible.”

Irish button accordion player David Munnelly, a native of County Mayo on Ireland’s west coast, founded the band in 2000. He had previously toured and recorded with both the Chieftains and De Dannan. The band combines button accordion, fiddle, guitar, mandolin, banjo, piano, bodhrán and flute for an instrumental sound colored with jazz and ragtime, plus extraordinary percussive dancing (currently by Jessie Nieves) and the singing of All-Ireland champion Shauna Mullin.

Called “the Irish band to see” by Irish Voice, the David Munnelly Band has won special acclaim for incorporating the Irish music sound of the 1920s and ’30s and such bands from that era as the Flanagan Brothers. awarded the David Munnelly Band Concert of the Year for both 2006 and 2007.

In addition to his playing, David Munnelly is an active composer, receiving Composer of the Year awards in 2004 and 2005. The band has been featured on the BBC World Television program Destination Music: Ireland, in a two-part concert on the National Public Radio program Celtic Connections and in a PBS television special.

The band’s first CD, Swing, released in 2001, represented an effort to craft a sound reminiscent of the free-spirited exuberance of the American Irish dance hall scene of the Roaring ’20s. In 2003, the band joined the prestigious Irish Unplugged tour of Europe with Francis Black. They released their second CD, By Heck, a year later to critical and popular acclaim in Ireland. Their 2005 appearance at the Walnut Valley Festival was part of the band’s U.S. debut tour.

Singer Shauna Mullin, from Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal, attributes much of her repertoire to her family, namely her great-uncle, Paddy Tunney, a highly respected singer in traditional music circles. In 1999, Mullin won an all-Ireland title in English-language song. Her style of singing has been influenced by artists such as June Tabor, Dick Gaughan, Dolores Keane and Iarla O’Lionard. Mullin has performed extensively on the Irish circuit and recently finished her debut album with guitarist Alan Colfer, One April Morning. She studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, Glasgow, and received her M.A. in Irish music and dance at the University of Limerick.

Kieran Munnelly (flute, bodhrán, snare and vocals), David Munnelly’s younger brother, has performed with, in addition to the David Munnelly Band, world renowned musicians such as Bobby McFerrin and leading traditional artists ranging from Matt Molloy to Kieran Goss. Kieran Munnelly is an honors graduate of the University of Limerick, where he is currently studying for a master’s degree in traditional music.

Fiddler Paul Kelly, Dublin, is a versatile multi-instrumentalist proficient in a wide variety of musical genres. He has performed and recorded with, among others, Sharon Shannon, Townes van Zandt and ex-De Dannan singer Eleanor Shanley. His 1998 release, A Mandolin Album, has been described as “a defining CD” in Irish music for that instrument. A book of 110 tunes selected from Kelly’s vast repertoire (including some of his own compositions), published in 2007, is widely distributed in the United States by Mel Bay. His fiddle playing is also featured on Grand Theft Auto IV, the world’s biggest selling video game.

Ryan Molloy (piano), from Pomeroy, Co. Tyrone, began his musical life on the fiddle, with piano following in his teenage year. He has been described by the Irish Times as “...the funkiest piano this side of Dr John” and by the Irish Echo as a “...secret weapon on rhythm.” He has recorded on many critically acclaimed albums, including Humdinger with noted musicians Paul Brock and Enda Scahill. Currently teaching in Armagh, Molloy is also studying composition at Queen’s University, Belfast.

Guitarist Philippe Barnes is known first as a flautist, equally at home in the Irish, Celtic, flamenco, jazz and classical genres. His on-air credits include the BBC, the Discovery Channel and MTV. He has appeared onstage with numerous artists, including Lulo Reindhardt, the Irish Folk Ballet Company, Shakira, Franc O’Shea’s jazz fusion group Alkimia, the funk band Mooose and Keith Emerson.

Dancer Jessie Nieves, born and raised in southeast Michigan, has been dancing for 16 years. She has studied a wide variety of percussive styles, including rhythm tap, clogging and traditional step dancing of all sorts, with teachers such as April Verch, Martine Billette and Chanda Leahy. A recent graduate of Central Michigan University, Jessie is continuing her pursuit of percussive knowledge and is currently collaborating on a handful of different musical projects.

Tickets for the David Munnelly Band are individually priced between $14 and $17. Discounts are available to students and senior citizens. For tickets, call 620-327-8158 or 316-284-5205 or e-mail For information about the fiddle and Irish dance master classes, call BCAPA at 316-283-4902.

The final concert in the 2008-09 HBPA season will be the Russian folk group Trio Voronezh (3 p.m., Sunday, April 5, at Hesston Mennonite Church).

The David Munnelly Band’s appearance is supported by Mid-America Arts Alliance, with generous underwriting by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kansas Arts Commission and foundations, corporations and individuals throughout Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas, as well as Excel Industries/Hustler Turf Equipment of Hesston.

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