Thursday, February 11, 2016

Black Irish Band to bring Gold Rush-era sound to Benicia Historical Museum

(Originally published in the 2/11/16 edition. An update was made because Rick Restivo was initially- and rather inexplicably- unmentioned.)

   The Benicia Historical Museum loves its Celtic folk bands, and next weekend, one of Northern California’s most popular Celtic bands will be playing.
   The Black Irish Band, based out of Sonora in Tuolumne County, will be performing at the Museum to celebrate more than 25 years of playing together as a band. Lead singer Patrick Karnahan and guitarist Rick Restivo met in 1989 on the set of the Western-themed “Back to the Future Part III,” where they played members of the Hill Valley Brass Band. Another bandmate, Steve McArthur, also had a speaking role in the film, and the three would talk about the idea of starting a traditional Irish folk band that crossed cultural barriers. 
   Shortly thereafter, The Black Irish Band was born, eventually recruiting Jim Nelson to play long-neck banjo and provide vocals. The group blends its Celtic folk stylings with Italian and Spanish genres, and their songs are laced with a heavy nostalgia for the Old West. Since the members all hail from areas that were the centers of the California Gold Rush, many of their songs are inspired by that era. 
   According to Benicia Historical Museum Curator Beverly Phelan, The Black Irish Band have been playing the museum since 2000.
   “Our president at the time came up with the idea of having these Irish concerts and that we needed to find a variety,” she said. “The Black Irish were very different than the other groups we were getting. They didn’t sing only the traditional Irish ballads and jigs, but they did the Gold Rush and railroad folk songs.” 
   Phelan also described the band as very instrumental and having a variety of vocalists, including one member who yodels. 
   Additonally, Phelan says the band is well-liked in Benicia, and the group helps make the show interactive. 
   “They include the audience in some of their songs,” she said. “They just love to work with the audience.”
   The band will be promoting their newest album, “Give Us All Yer Whiskey: Songs of Hard-Rock Miners & Hard Luck Sailors,” released in November. The album includes a variety of originals and traditional folk songs, including “Oh! Susanna” and “Buffalo Gals.” The album is available to purchase on and will be available at the show during intermission. 
   Overall, Phelan believes The Black Irish Band will continue to do what they do best: provide an upbeat, foot-stomping show packed with great Celtic music. 
   “They will give you a two-hour show that you will thoroughly enjoy,” she said.
   The Black Irish Band will perform from 8 to 10 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 20, at the Benicia Historical Museum’s Stone Hall, located at 2060 Camel Road. The doors will open at 7 p.m., and there will also be a no-host bar. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at, the museum’s gift shop and at Bookshop Benicia, located at 636 First St. For more information, contact the museum at 745-5435. 


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