Originally published January 19, 2007
Meet the band: Tanager's Irish melodies entice dancers
By Mary Leslie

It's not often you find a classically trained trio in Tallahassee that charms people onto their feet to dance to music from foreign lands, but Tanager does.

The group specializes in traditional Irish music and played a contra dance last week for the Tallahassee Community Friends of Old-Time Dance at the Tallahassee Senior Center. "It used to be that we played before a tepid crowd of 40 to 50 dancers," said flutist Jim Cox, "but during the past two years, the crowds have swelled to well over 200 people at a dance. Seems they have become one of the best ways to burn off some of that end-of-the-week excitement."

Cox, who plays the wooden flute, whistle and Irish bagpipes, began playing in the early '80s, performing throughout Florida and helping to form another Tallahassee Irish band - Barley Thar. He's toured in Ireland, England, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, picking up various stylings along the way.

He joins Lynnsey Smith - the 2005 Florida Folk Festival state fiddle champion - who also plays harp, tenor banjo and bodhran (a traditional Celtic drum).

Rounding out the bunch is guitarist Steve Hodges, who also plays octave mandolin and tenor banjo. Hodges toured throughout the Southeast, playing as one half of a folk duo, before anchoring down in Tallahassee. He's since played with local contra dance band Blue Velvet and Barley Thar with Cox.

Tanager has been asked to compose the soundtrack for a new PBS documentary on historic Florida and will be playing upcoming tour dates around Atlanta.

You can catch the group, along with a host of other trad musicians, today at the Warehouse, 607 W. Gaines St., from 8 to 11 p.m.

If we weren't musicians, we'd be:

Teaching bird-watching classes to city planners in eastern Latvia.

Our strangest engagement was:

A wedding where the bride asked us to play both tenor banjo and Uilleann pipes during the processional. She approached with great spring in her step, but the parents and groom seemed greatly perplexed. We trust the couple is still married following this decidedly eclectic start, but we hope the Florida Legislature will finally define marriage as something that never involves a tenor banjo and Uilleann bagpipe.

Our music would be the perfect soundtrack for:

Any video or film not centered on NASCAR, hockey or who might be the next offensive coordinator for the FSU football team.

Our first gig was at:

The Warehouse, the home of traditional Irish music in Tallahassee for well over 15 years.

Our biggest fan is:

John Sullivan, when he has taken appropriate medications.

The CD we share is:

"The Ring Sessions" by James Kelly and Zan MacLeod. Kelly's fiddling has that unmistakable driving pulse that defines Irish music. Lynnsey studied with Kelly for months and mastered the intricacies of bowing needed to put the sound of dancers stomping the floor into her fiddle. It's a special talent to be enjoyed. MacLeod's guitar work is certainly fine on this CD, but Steve has as much to offer for local audiences who don't want to travel all the way to Washington, D.C., to see Zan play at a dance or session.

What's in our CD player:

Jim Cox: Songs of birds of eastern North America.

Steve Hodges: Lunasa's "Redwood."

Lynnsey Smith: The Bothy Band.

The last thing we bought was:

A new microphone to handle the wonderful tones of Lynnsey's fiddle.

When we're not composing, practicing or playing, we're:

Researching the intricate history of Irish music, netting birds, climbing tall pines and monitoring the flow of bikes along the streets of Tallahassee. (Cox is an ornithologist. Hodges is a planner for the city. Smith is studying Eastern European folk music and traditional Irish music.)

We fight over:

How little we should charge for an engagement that looks to be much more fun than work.

Our favorite Tallahassee venue to play is:

The Warehouse on the third Friday of each month.

If we could have lunch at Captain D's with one famous person from history, it would be:

Captain Ahab or, preferably, Moby Dick.

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This page last updated on October 26, 2007.