What do Celtic music and northwestern Nevada have in common?
“More than you might think,” responds Tina Carlsen, fiddler and vocalist for the local Celtic group Cíana “The Comstock Lode was discovered by an Irishman. Irish miners helped settle this area. Unfortunately, when the mines started to dry up, most of the Irish miners packed up and moved to San Francisco or Butte, Mont., following work, and they took their music with them. We aim to bring it back.”
Formed in 2010, Cíana is composed of Gardnerville residents Joe and Kathy Bly, and Carlsen is from Minden. Joe is the group’s primary vocalist and plays Irish flute and whistles. His wife Kathy plays guitar and Irish accordion.
The group grew out of the local Celtic session scene.
“Irish or Celtic sessions are gatherings of Celtic musicians, usually in a pub, for the purpose of sharing good music and good conversation,” explains Joe. “While most performances are for the audience, an Irish session is primarily for the musicians, although listeners are welcome.”
After playing together at sessions in South Lake Tahoe and Reno, the trio decided they wanted to share their love of the music in performance settings and formed Cíana. The trio derives their name from an old Irish word roughly translating to “distance and time,” reflecting the spacious expanse of northwestern Nevada. The group performs a combination of high-energy instrumental tunes and traditional songs, all done with a distinctive Nevada flair.
“Our music is not what many think of as “Celtic” music, with a softly flowing, gentle New Age sound,” says Kathy. “This is hard-driving, edgy music with a lot of character.”
“Anyone who loves energetic, traditional, acoustic music will love this music,” continues Joe. “It has a lot in common with bluegrass and old-time music — and ultimately country music — primarily because these forms of music evolved from the music brought over to America by the Scots and the Irish.”
The group weaves their music using traditional instruments in unique tunings, which adds to the distinctive sound.
“When I’m on stage, I’ll notice other guitar players staring at me when I play,” says Kathy. “They come up to me during a break or after a performance and ask me what in the world I was playing, as they didn’t recognize any of the chord patterns.”
Kathy explains that she plays her guitar in DADGAD tuning, as opposed to the standard guitar tuning.
“This allows me to use strings and chords with a full, open sound which gives the music a characteristic Irish quality.”
The group has been greatly influenced by early, folk-revival Irish groups such as Planxty, as well as newer groups such as Lúnasa and Dervish. In particular, Molly’s Revenge, a group from the central coast of California with an energetic, hard-driving sound, has had a significant impact on the evolution of Cíana’s sound.
“We’ve been fortunate to share the stage with Molly’s Revenge at the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City and at the Reno Celtic Celebration,” says Carlsen. “We just finished recording our second CD at Tanglewood Productions in Reno, and were extremely lucky to have David Brewer from Molly’s Revenge as our producer.”
Tentatively titled “Loneliest Road,” Cíana’s latest CD is due out in late April or early May.
“The title is a nod to Highway 50 as it crosses the “Big Empty,” that large expanse of Nevada’s interior, as well as the lonely road it can sometimes be to play Celtic music in Nevada,” explains Joe.
While the month of March is obviously a busy month for a group that plays Celtic music, Cíana stays busy year round.
“Once someone has listened to us for the first time, they realize our music is not just for St. Patrick’s Day. Our sound fits well in outdoor concerts, music festivals, farmer’s markets, pubs, restaurants—any place where great, live, acoustic music is appreciated,” says Kathy. Ciana has performed at the Americana Festival in Virginia City, the Reno Celtic Celebration, and the Concert in the Park Series in Markleeville, as well as many other venues in western Nevada. Recently, they’ve been doing monthly, mid-week performances at Flight Restaurant on Airport Road in Minden.
“This has turned into a great, family-friendly venue for us,” Carlsen said. “Folks will have dinner and then stick around to listen, and we often have fellow Celtic musicians from around the area join us as well as step dancers.”
Cíana will be busy during the week leading up to St. Patrick’s Day with performances at Flight Restaurant at 6:30 p.m. March 12, and at Plan:b in Carson City at 8 p.m. March 14 and in Virginia City at the Red Dog Saloon and the Ponderosa Saloon, and Ceol Irish Pub in Reno throughout the weekend of March 15 and 16. Cíana’s full schedule can be found at cianamusic.com.