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An Dro nominated for Best Traditional Album in Jammie Awards

An Dro, local Celtic and world beat band, is playing at the WYCE Jammie Awards this Tuesday, February 14th at The Intersection. An Dro has been nominated for Best Traditional Album award and Outstanding Male and Female Artist awards.
Underwriting support from:

An Dro will be playing at the 13th WYCE Jammies

An Dro is Fred Willson, Michele Venegas, James Spalink and Carolyn Koebel. An Dro’s album "Tribe' is nominated for a Jammie as the Best Traditional Album. Venegas and Koebel are both nominated for Outstanding Female Artist. Willson and Spalink are both nominated for Outstanding Male Artist.

An Dro at The Ark in Ann Arbor, MI

An Dro at The Ark in Ann Arbor, MI /Kristine Carpenter

An Dro, a West Michigan Celtic/World Beat band, is described in the WYCE Fresh Picks Blog as “a feast of Celtic sounds from an esteemed collection of the area’s finest traditional musicians." It isn't easy to classify this band’s beautiful sound. 

David Tamulevich, of Tamulevich Artist Management, calls them "remarkable and compelling, as writers and performers...there is something very special and rare here." 

An Dro is Fred Willson, Michele Venegas, James Spalink and Carolyn Koebel. An Dro’s album "Tribe" is nominated for a Jammie as the Best Traditional Album. Venegas and Koebel are both nominated for Outstanding Female Artist. Willson and Spalink are nominated for Outstanding Male Artist. The band sat down recently for an interview at Venegas’ music studio, Joyful Sounds. Koebel was not able to be there during the interview, but the rest of the group shared their candid answers to the interview questions.    

Describe the type of music you play.

Venegas: “With no vocals, the music can mean whatever it needs to mean for you. When you have words to it, they take you where they want you to go, or where they’ve been. They define that, what you are to feel and to think. And when you have instrumental music it can mean whatever it wants to, to you. I think it’s Longfellow who says 'Music is the universal language of mankind.' And it is one way that we can all communicate with each other in whatever language.  You know we can sit down with somebody from Zimbabwe or China and you can communicate that way. So I prefer to have no vocals just because it’s a lot more freeing. We can feel what we want, the audience can feel what they want and oftentimes we feel it together. You can tell!”

Willson:  “Shared experience.”

Venegas: “Yes, shared experience, and there’s not one word said.”

What brought this group together?

Venegas: “We all kind of knew each other from before, and I had played with Carolyn [Koebel]. I sat in with Archive [Willson and Spalink’s duo].”

Willson: “That was the beginning.”

What’s the biggest challenge you face as a band?

Spalink: “My biggest challenge is keeping up with my bandmates, which is what I love. This is the first band where I actually have to hold up my end because I play with such really talented people. I don’t want to be the weak link in the chain. We challenge each other.”

What sort of inspirations are there for your original songs?

Spalink: “We all come from such disparate upbringings, ethnically and otherwise and what a strange turn of events that brings us all together. Riki, who is my grandmother, is Michele [Venegas]’ grandmother. And her Uncle Julio is my Uncle Julio. You know, because we talk about our families. We are one collective family. It’s very odd it happens that way but the people that are in the band, and the people that listen to us as well, it’s like we’re all kind of going someplace.”

So the inspirations come from your lives, and there’s a synergy among you as well that comes into it?

Spalink: “People bring their own experiences and their own approaches to music. We are very much like that. That’s our life’s blood. I’ll write music, but I’ll deliberately write it open because I know that they’re going to put their creative energy into it as well. Make it ours. My so called writing is the skeleton. They put the flesh on the bones. I’ll bring something and I’ll put the music out and the minute Fred and Michele play, it’s something else again.”

Tell us about "Tribe."

Willson: “We know that what we’re doing is different. It’s hard to categorize it. It’s Celtic. We throw a lot of traditional stuff in it because we’re all really into Celtic music, but with the original stuff it’s kind of almost as if we sort of circled the wagons and we can only identify with each other because we are so specific in what we do. So we really feel a strong sense that we are like a clan or a tribe. And the people, the friends and family that surround us are like part of that tribe. A lot of the songs are about our own experiences, about our own families.”

Willson: “It’s a perpetual giving.  We all have to give to the music. And the music is kind of the metaphor for the relationship.”

Okay, "Tribe" is out there; how do you decide when it’s time to do another one. What’s the process? What makes the next one?

Willson: “The short answer is Carolyn [Koebel]. She’s a driven woman. She felt it was very important for us to have a new product, a new project for this year. And she’s right.”

Does your next project have a different theme or personality than "Tribe?"

Spalink: “[It’s] mostly original stuff, almost an extension of "Tribe," in a way. [It's] based on stories, storytelling: Personal stories or fables, parables. It’s just all about stories."                     

Both Spalink and Willson play instruments that were built by a local luthier, Mark Swanson. Willson plays a Swanson guitar that looks as beautiful as it sounds. Spalink plays a Swanson bouzouki, or Irish mandolin that is equally beautiful in both ways. 

The band plays in many of the local music venues through West Michigan and beyond. One Trick Pony, The Strutt in Kalamazoo, Hennessey’s in Muskegon, Fiddler’s Hearth in South Bend, IN and recently at the legendary Ark in Ann Arbor. An Dro has a busy schedule after the Jammies on February 14th at The Intersection in Grand Rapids.

They will be playing March 3rd at Quin and Tuite’s in the afternoon and at Saugutuck Brewing Company in the evening. They will play at the Cascade Township Library on March 4th, then at Salt of the Earth in Fennville on the 11th. St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th, will bring three chances to see the band, first at 10:00 a.m. at Hopcat, then at 3:00 p.m. at Curragh Irish Pub in Holland, finishing up at 7:00 p.m. at the New Holland Brewing Company. For a complete schedule, visit their website.

Music festivals are a mainstay for An Dro. The band has played at the Noreast’r Music Festival in Mio, Mich.; Spirit of the Woods Festival in Brethren, Mich.; Michiana Celtic Festival in South Bend, Ind.; the Michigan Irish Festival in Muskegon, Mich., the Kalamazoo Irish Festival; and the prestigious Wheatland Music Festival in Remus, Mich. “It was the coolest thing and we got a way bigger response than we expected. We just kept getting more and more people, and the energy that was on that stage," said Venegas of being at Wheatland. "Being able to share that with these guys, and just being able to have that experience was really cool, because at that point, and I mean it still is, I think that that was the biggest show that we’ve ever played. The energy, but the reputation of Wheatland, so it was I think for me, just performance wise, that was big.” 

An Dro has a busy summer schedule of festivals shaping up, too. The East Lansing Art Festival, May 19th, Buttermilk Jamboree June 8-10 in Delton, Mich.; Blissfest July 13-15 in Cross Village, Mich.; and Milwaukee Irish Fest August 16-19 are locked in now, but more will be added to the schedule as they are confirmed.

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