With a whiff of soda bread and Guinness in the air, St. Patrick’s Day, a busy season for The RavensFire Band, is just around the corner. The band’s jigs and reels are just what’s needed to help the Jameson go down and make everyone feel a little Irish.
The RavensFire Band started with husband and wife Larry and Melissa Schmidt. Larry, a trained luthier, plays guitar and sings. Melissa plays mandolin and whistle; in addition, she sings, writes and arranges music for the band.
The pair has been married for 43 years. “We’ve been playing and performing ever since we met,” says Melissa, adding, “Larry has built me some very beautiful mandolins. I never wanted a diamond ring.”
The couple toured Ireland twice with the “Irish Minstrels Band.”
“Someone asked me if we knew of any traditional Irish band that could perform for a newly written Irish Medieval Dinner Theater…Not knowing any Irish music at all, but not wanting to miss any chance that might be fun, we said ‘sure, we can play Irish!’ We crash-course learned a dozen tunes that first year and named ourselves
“The Irish Minstrels,” says Melissa.
While Larry and Melissa’s initial foray into Irish music was sudden, Melissa’s song-writing skills eventually landed her recognition: “I was very surprised when I got a phone call saying that I had won first place in the Milwaukee Irish Fest’s international songwriting competition. The prize was an all expense paid trip to Ireland and a band recording session for a full length CD at the renowned Walton’s Music Studio in Dublin.”
For the last three years, Larry and Melissa have been performing in the Rochester area as The RavensFire Band, a trio that includes Judy Havelick on bodhran and vocals. In 2016, the band recorded a ten-track, self-titled folk CD at North Coast Productions which includes traditional tunes like “Whiskey in the Jar” and Melissa’s originals.
The CD’s cover includes a picture taken in Dingle, Ireland from the band’s tour there. Judy’s husband Guy, who manages the band’s publicity, describes the post-session picture at Curran’s Pub: “I crossed the street, snapped a few casual shots with my phone, and thought to myself, ‘That’s the CD cover’.”
“We were in a pub in Macroom, sitting by the peat fire, singing and playing and sipping our Guinness. One of the local fellows honored us by singing a beautiful ballad. This was our final evening together [in Ireland], and as he was singing, everyone in the pub got misty eyed,” reminiscences Judy, describing her fondest memory of the band’s Irish tour.
Part of the magic of The RavensFire Band is Larry’s guitar building and performance technique. “When I play flatpick style with alternate bass, it makes a much bigger stronger rhythm. This guitar I built 35 years ago, played for 35 years, too, is my favorite one,” says Larry.
What’s the best thing about being part of a band that plays Irish music? Melissa quips, “If the crowd loves you, they buy you pints of Guinness!”