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The love of the Irish
The Blarney Tones, comprised of Dave Carper of Wiota on the fiddle, Peggy Miller-Steil of South Wayne on the penny whistle and Joe Steil of South Wayne on the guitar, perform at the Bullquarian Brewhouse March 14. The group formed more than two years ago and plays traditional Irish music. (Times photo: Marissa Weiher)
MONROE - A recent name change for a trio of performers was just in time for its busiest time of the year.

St. Patrick's Day offers a day of revelry, complete with green-tinged beverages and boisterous celebration. Irish-themed music generally accompanies the merriment, which Dave Carper, Peggy Miller-Steil and Joe Steil are only happy to provide with their band, The Blarney Tones.

"It's really hard to listen to Irish music and not feel joy in the music," Miller-Steil said. "It's just very happy."

Miller-Steil and Carper have been playing Irish music together for nearly a decade but didn't form the band with Steil until roughly two years ago. With Carper on the fiddle, Miller-Steil on the penny whistle and Steil with a guitar, the group spends every other week playing traditional tunes at Bullquarian Brewhouse in downtown Monroe. All of the members said they appreciate the establishment welcoming their group since it opened.

They travel to other locations in the area. Carper, who has Irish roots and used to sport long locks of flaming red hair, plays a variety of instruments and the group regularly entertains with bluegrass music as well.

"Irish is Bluegrass mountain music's cousin," Carper said, noting he has been playing in bands since high school in the early 1970s.

"It's one of those things that if you love it, you can continue to improve," Carper added. "There's just so much style and nuance to it."

Miller-Steil said she first became interested in the music over 10 years ago when she visited Irish Fest in Milwaukee and witnessed penny whistle player Kathleen Keane, whose performances were featured in the movies "The Road to Perdition" and "Cinderella Man." Miller-Steil hunted down a tutor to learn the instrument commonly used in Irish music and learned through online sessions. She said she has noticed a resurgence in the popularity of Gaelic tunes.

"I think people like it," Miller-Steil said. "We have a lot of Irish pub songs, which is fun. Irish are also the best poets in the world, so you have happy music and then you have a bunch of beautiful ballads."

The group plans to take part in the St. Patrick's Day parade in downtown Monroe today and performing at Bullquarian afterward, likely moving to the Pecatonica Beer Company Taphouse in Warren, which they play at regularly as well, by the evening.

"Everyone wants to be Irish for that one day a year and we are more than happy to oblige," Carper said. "We enjoy the people who enjoy the music. We really enjoy the folks who come down. They're really supportive."

Each member of the group said they enjoy the music because of its traditional feel and the casual nature of performing it.

"We enjoy the fact that it's traditional music and the instruments; it's acoustic, so it's really fun to play around the kitchen table," Carper said. "It's the kind of music you can take with you in the station wagon."

Steil said the casual atmosphere "is very Democratic" and Irish music can encourage audience participation, from an Irish jig being danced spontaneously to talented vocalists lending their time to a song while the band plays.

Carper also plays the squeeze box in some numbers while Miller-Steil said she sometimes switches to the Irish flute. Carper and Miller-Steil agreed "Joe does a really nice version of Galway Girl," which is one of their favorite songs to perform.

They said it is the love of the music which keeps them going performance after performance.

"I never get tired of it," Miller-Steil said. "We love Irish music, we never get tired of it. I was at the very first parade and there was 10 people and we marched around ... now it's this big event in Monroe. So it's been very fun watching the evolution of Irish music in Monroe."