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Heartbreak and hope: The Fire Inside tells lyrical stories with Celtic vibe
It’s an old story. The young man is leaving his homeland for America, to earn his fortune and return to his sweetheart. Promises are made: He’ll return some day.
“They didn’t always come back,” says Tami Curtis, whose ancestors departed Ireland generations ago. “They found new homes, new dreams, a new honey, and turned their back on their old land.”
Those tales of heartbreak, of lots of looking ahead, and a little looking back, are at the heart of the tunes that Curtis, songwriter for the Eastside band The Fire Inside, and her bandmates weave. Some are based on family history, but loosely.
“Why let the truth get in the way of a good story?” asks Curtis.
The Fire Inside plays at 4:30 p.m. Saturday on the Arts Stage at Railroad Park, and 7 to 9 at the Sno Falls Brewpub. Listeners can get a taste of the band’s new sound, which references Curtis’s heritage.
Her songs depict the era when many Irish left their dwindling homeland prospects and headed to America. She follows characters who end up in Nevada, working the silver mines, intermingling sadness, humor, betrayal and beer.
Based in Issaquah, Snoqualmie and Redmond, The Fire Inside is led by accomplished musicians Ashley Sullivan on fiddle and Daniel Horn on the uilleann pipes and whistles. Both have played music since the age of 4. Michael Hurtenbach of Snoqualmie leads the rhythm section on guitar, providing vocals, and concertina on several jigs and hornpipes.
Hurtenbach is a Valley school bus driver, who pulls out his concertina and plays for students at stops.
Curtis, of Issaquah, is a writer, mom and community activist, who offers vocals and bolsters the rhythm section with her Irish drum, the bodhrán.
Rounding out the group is David Edfeldt of Issaquah, who plays mandolin and bass ukulele. A programmer, he just got his walking papers from Microsoft, but just two months before he planned to retire, so it’s OK. Now, there’s more time for the band.
Like any band, The Fire Inside has evolved and changed over time, adding and losing members. Its origins were in the fiddlers’ jams in Issaquah, when Edfeldt and others started learning old-time Americana music.
Soon, a group coalesced around Irish music. Starting with the fiddlers, they added other instrumentalists—a penny whistle here, a drummer there, later a guitarist—who came and went.
“We’re down to a group of five who really get along well,” Edfeldt said. “We can read each other well, without barriers, and exist in a really creative environment. The flow is so tight right now.”
Last March, The Fire Inside was chosen to play at the prestigious Irish Heritage Festival at Seattle Center during “Irish Week,” an honor bestowed upon only four bands over two days. They released their first album “Strike the Match” in December. A new album, “Spark,” comes out this fall.
These musicians range in age from 34 to 63, most fitting in families and jobs with year-round touring.
“We play a lot of different audiences,” said Curtis. “We do senior homes, which is great—they listen to our every word. You can tell these stories that they laugh and get… you can unfurl a story.”
But The Fire Inside also plays the pubs, where it’s a different vibe by far.
“You have 10 seconds in a pub to get a story across,” Edfeldt said. Go too long, and you will be hollered at.
When you’re in a pub, listeners don’t need instrumentals or tales.
“Rowdy is good in a pub,” says Edfeldt. “People want songs. Particularly, naughty songs.”
“One of the biggest struggles is that we are Northwest,” said Curtis. “We have a fiddler who grew up on a combination of bluegrass and classical music.”
Sullivan plays in the classical style, distinct from the old Irish tradition.
“We could walk on a stage, and an Irish player might snub us if they didn’t look at us with more of a global view,” she said. “We are five individuals creating something that’s not quite one category.”
North Bend resident Greg Sterns, a former band member who is from Ireland, taught Curtis how to play the bodhrán, and gave the group their name.
“He said, ‘Despite any faults in our youth and our wallets, we will always have the musical fire inside,’” she recalled.