Steel City Rovers
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Steel City Rovers

Hamilton, Ontario, Canada | Established. Jan 01, 2012 | AFM

Hamilton, Ontario, Canada | AFM
Established on Jan, 2012
Band Folk Celtic




"Five Questions: Steel City Rovers' Ryan McKenna"

Five Questions: Steel City Rovers' Ryan McKenna
by Jeremy D. Bonfiglio
October 9, 2014

Ryan McKenna describes the music of his Steel City Rovers as a new stew made with an old recipe.

The Hamilton, Ontario-based ensemble – which features McKenna on vocals, accordion, whistles and washboard; his brother Joel McKenna on guitar; Dave Neigh on fiddle; journeyman Mark Fletcher on whistles, small pipes, mandola and more; and Jess Gold on drums and other percussion – echoes the traditions of Cape Breton fiddle styles and Appalachian swing filtered through a lens of original Celtic roots music.

Although the band has only been playing together since 2012, its untitled demo EP was nominated for Ethnic/World Recording of the Year at the 2013 Hamilton Music Awards. McKenna, who spoke by telephone from Hamilton, says the Rovers are currently working on their first full-length album and road-testing songs.

Q The first thing I found interesting about the Steel City Rovers is that you are largely a Celtic traditional band except you are playing new original music. Many Celtic and Irish bands don't seem to deviate much from, well, traditional tunes, so how do you find that balance – between new and old – in the music?

A I think the exciting thing about this outfit is that it's all original music. There's a lot of writing, both instrumental and lyrical pieces. There's a whole lot of instruments that get thrown into the mix as well. Some traditional things like Scottish small pipes and mandola, which is a bigger mandolin, some whistles, accordions. It's really rich in texture.

With traditional music there can be a temptation to imitate what has gone on in prior generations. So people are imitating certain styles, certain inflections, even certain players from the past in an effort to reclaim some of what was going on. ... We have all these things we enjoy from the past. We identify with the kind of rhythm and natural, acoustic tones of the tradition, but we're also alive now in 2014 and playing this music now. So for us the music is a context and a setting for us to do new and creative and current things.

Q That also comes out in your live shows, which is unusual for a band that's been together for such a short time. Can you talk about the certain ease the comes across when you're together on stage?

A We're very comfortable with our instruments; we're very comfortable with each other. We get along so well as people that when we interact on stage we're inviting everybody else to be part of the same space. I think sometimes there can be an artificial divide between people on stage and the audience that's only bridged by call and response invitations or some storytelling, but we really interact with people and try to share the music unpretentiously. It feels very loose and we're having a lot of fun with it.

Q The band is formed around you and your brother, Joel. So what was it growing up in the McKenna house that led you both into a career in music?

A Our parents were very religious and used to play a lot of music with the church. We were really steeped in that as kids. Mom was always singing in the kitchen. Dad had a traveling duo that went around a little bit. Music was a steady part of our lives. We would go to these house parties where we would just stay up into the wee hours singing songs. That evolved into Joel and I as teenagers trying to do something more serious together. We quit school because we were sure to be rich and famous and take on the world (laughing) ... and we found a home in Celtic music. There's a sensibility and an ethos to it, and it fit well with how we were built because we were taught that music was always valuable and important and spoke about things that mattered.

Q What is it that bridges the religious music of your upbringing with Celtic music to play today?

A I think Celtic music has a sense of the spiritual to it - not necessarily religious, but the mystical. It's also very grounded in the real world almost in the same way as say country music. Classically, as a caricature, country music has "I lost my truck and my dog and my wife left me," but similarly in the Irish (tradition) it's "I couldn't get to work, I'm broke and I'm having a beer." It's all very similar in that way.

Q What did it mean for you and the band to have your demo EP recognized at the Hamilton Music Awards, and when can we expect to hear that first full-length Steel City Rovers album?

A To be appreciated and recognized in the community in which we live is just extra encouragement. The name Steel City Rovers comes from Hamilton, Ontario, because I love where I'm from. There's always this sense of possibility in Hamilton, and that speaks to our whole life. As we're moving forward, we're certainly going to be doing more recording. We want to tell the story of us through more music. It's a huge priority. There's a couple of new songs on the website now and we're hoping to have that first full-length recording out certainly within the year so it can live beyond just our live shows. I mean, that's why we do this. We want the music to be part of people's lives. - No Depression

"The Steel City Rovers Have Talent. Who Cares Whether They Win The HMA?"

Don't doubt me. I want The Steel City Rovers to win the Hamilton Music Award. They're freakin' good, not just because they make good music, but because they are FUN to watch. They know what it means to put on a show. We have yet to see the best of what this group will produce.

I suspected I was in for a treat when I headed down to the Baltimore House to see the Rovers. They were one of the dozens of showcased bands who were given gigs at local venues as part of the Hamilton Music Awards festival. Tonight the Baltimore House was hosting the "Ethnic/World Recording of the Year" category to which the Rovers belong.

Ryan McKenna is a many-talented front man. He loves the stage, the audience, and the show. He showed his genius in banter, in charisma, in dancing, and of course in song. Brother Joel, in terms of talent, is Ryan's equal. But it's expressed through superb backup vocals and rhythm guitar.

Mark Fletcher plays, well, everything. A seasoned veteran, he can be seen switching from guitar to mandolin to Scottish Smallpipes to tin whistle. He anchors the group in its Celtic roots. On fiddle and backup vocals is Dave Neigh. And with the happiest, sunniest expression on her face the whole night long, "quiet but ferocious" Jess Gold kept the beat on drums.

The Steel City Rovers have carved out a healthy place within a genre that is both strict and forgiving.

Musical forgiveness was easy to grant when they played an extremely funky version of a tune. The freedom of being able to blend styles, musical idioms, and beats with alternate instrumentation is remarkable. No need to try to be "pure" when the world's smorgasbord of music is enticing and tempting you in so many ways.

The test of authenticity came near the end of the set. The Steel City Rovers performed an a capella song with multiple verses and vocal harmonies that reminded me of an Irish pub song. My experience of Celtic bands isn't all-encompassing by any means, but I remember the Poor Angus concert back in September at Oktoberfest. I learned that, first, these pub songs have at least ten verses. Second, they tell a story about the life and feelings of the common man. Third, they are done a capella, which means without accompanying instruments and freely blending vocal harmonies.

When the Rovers were singing their "a capella" tune near the end of their set, the room fell silent.

The band had the room spellbound. That's worth a half-dozen Hammys! - Greater Hamilton Musician

"Steel City Rovers Continue To Spread Celtic Love"

Here's the latest from Mark:

"As per Steel City Rovers, wow we're really looking forward to 2015. We are nicely busy at home in Ontario through Jan. and Feb. and still adding a few dates, but we've already got some big bookings in the U.S. on the club/concert and festival circuits. We have a full tour looping through Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania in conjunction with the big St. Patrick's Day run up, with the tour closing down in Pennsylvania doing a concert at Penn State Univ.'s Erie campus on St. Pat's Day.

We have been asked to return to the International Washboard Music Festival in Logan, Ohio in June and have been confirmed as well to return to Trenton Scottish-Irish Festival. It's their 25th anniversary, so will be a big weekend.

Anyhow, we're pretty pumped. The group continues to write and create new music, our big push aside from gigs in 2015 will be to get airplay. I think we finally have some work worthy of the Internet radio/Public radio and CBC 2 type markets... here's hoping!

Anyhow cheers!" - Greater Hamilton Musician

"Trenton DBIA introduces Steel City Rovers to city hall"

The Steel City Rovers made their debut at city hall on December 3, as part of the DBIA Christmas celebrations.

“They're a great band,” said DBIA chair Pat Clark.

The band performed in the council chambers after the Jingle Bell Walk and opening of the Nativity Celebration. Students from Trenton Christian School and Murray Centennial School sang for the crowds in Fraser Park's Christmas Fantasy and on the steps inside city hall. DBIA office administrator Jane Collett-MacDonald and member Wendy Ouellette poured hot chocolate and hot cider and offered plates of cookies for the families.

“We decided to add some Celtic music this year,” smiled Pat Clark.

The Steel City Rovers are from Hamilton and have performed here at the Trenton Scottish-Irish Festival. The band consists of Ryan McKenna on lead vocals, accordion and washboard, Joel McKenna on guitar and vocals, Mark Fletcher on whistles, small pipes, accordion, guitar and mandola, Jess Gold was on drums and percussion and Dreadlocks Dave Neigh on the fiddle and vocals. The small crowd loved the musicians who played Celtic as well as their own Christmas songs.

“This is the first time we played in a council chamber,” laughed Mark “the Silver Fox” Fletcher, “but it was a near perfect setup for a concert. A fun crowd, and we had a blast! Thanks Trenton!” - (Metroland Media)

"Canada’s Steel City Rovers to bring high-energy Celtic Music to Mangiamo Italian Grill"

Acoustic Routes Concerts is proud to present the Steel City Rovers of Hamilton, Ontario live at Mangiamo Italian Grill (upstairs), 107 W. Michigan Ave. in Saline, on Sunday, May 18 at 7:30 p.m.

The Steel City Rovers’ music is Celtic in root, but they skate effortlessly into other genres with echoes of French Canadian and Cape Breton fiddle styles, bluegrass, Appalachian swing and southern blues.

Add to that some unusual instruments, including Scottish small pipes, tenor mandola, and horse jaw (yes, horse jaw), and you have the makings of a truly unique evening.

The Rovers are led by Mark Fletcher who has performed at the Saline Celtic Festival with Rant Maggie Rant. Fletcher, active in the music industry for close to 40 years, is known for his multi-instrumental skills and in any given performance can glide form Scottish small pipes to mandola, accordion, or Irish whistle.

His solo CD, “The Unbroken Line,” was nominated in the Celtic Instrumental of the Year category by Just Plain Folks Music Awards in Nashville in 2008.

The other band members are Ryan McKenna (lead vocals, accordion, whistles, jaw), Joel McKenna (guitar, vocals), Jess Gold (drums, percussion, vocals) and Dave Neigh (fiddle, Vocals).

Cover is $10 at the door (all proceeds to the artists). Reservations are recommended and priority seating is offered to Mangiamo Italian Grill dinner guests. Call (734) 429-0060 to reserve a table.

About Acoustic Routes

Acoustic Routes was founded in April 2013 to provide an intimate and affordable concert experience in Saline. A wide range of styles have been featured, from country blues and bluegrass to Cajun, indie folk, Americana, ragtime and more. Concerts are held at least once a month in the restored 19th Century building home to Saline’s Mangiamo Italian Grill. - The Saline Reporter


Steel City Rovers
Steel City Rovers Two



The Steel City Rovers are definitely in the zone of Progressive Celtic, but even that is too restrictive in defining the group. Influences from Bluegrass, Appalachian Swing, and Southern Blues, spice up the groups foundations of Pan Celtic offerings.

The groups fans have started to call them "Celtibilly". Where else will you hear a 300 year old Breton AnDro, brushing up against a fiery Scots fiddle reel, then followed with a driving Bluegrass riff, or enjoy a vocal number that could fit into any Country music dance hall, backed by the sounds of Scottish Smallpipes!

It's this cross pollination of roots sub genres, unique instrumentation and powerful vocals that has brought this group to mainstages at both festivals and concert halls throughout Ontario and the N.E. US so quickly. Only 24 months into their journey they have played nearly a dozen short tours into the U.S. with many more scheduled for 2015. They were nominated for Best World/Ethnic Recording at the Hamilton Music Awards in 2014. "Seven Beer Itch" is one of the exciting new pieces that appears on the group's second EP.

Full bios of the individual members can be viewed via the bands website!

Notable Past Shows: Canterbury Folk Festival,Highlands of Durham Scottish Festival,Kalamazoo Irish Festival,Trenton Scottish-Irish Festival, Savour Stratford Culinary and Music Festival, Hamilton Place Molson Canadian Studio Theatre, Acorn Theatre, Three Oaks, Michigan, Victoria Jubilee Hall, Walkerton, Mary Webb Centre, Highgate.

Band Members