Just The Two Of Them

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

“Devoutly Irish in musicality and divinely American in spirit” is how husband and wife duo Matt and Shannon Heaton describe themselves, and when you hear their music you’ll see exactly what they mean.  With originals as well as traditional tunes performed on Irish flute, whistles, accordion, guitar and vocals, the Heatons provide a fusion of styles with a sound as uniquely Irish-American as a St. Patrick’s day green bagel.  This Thursday evening, they make their first ever appearance at San Jose’s Espresso Garden in an event sponsored by the Monterey Bay Celtic Society.

The Heatons, who have been playing together for 10 years, trace their musical history back to Chicago, where they met.  Shannon Heaton attended Northwestern University in Evanston, where she obtained a degree in ethnomusicology and was introduced to Chicago’s thriving Irish music scene.  She recalls, “I was taken out to sessions and was taught the tunes by the guys at the Irish American Heritage Center.”    It was at these Irish sessions that she met Matt, and the two began playing together. 

The Heatons claim their distinctive sound as being the result of the varied musical influences they both received during their formative years.  “We grew up listening to American folk, rock, jazz and Irish music.  So when we’re arranging and presenting songs, we’re pulling in arrangement ideas from the Tulla Ceili band to Hank Williams to Robin Holcomb.”

The Heatons lived for 7 years in Chicago before moving in 1998 to Boulder, CO, where they formed Siucra, a critically-acclaimed trio with vocalist Beth Leachman.  Siucra have recorded two CDs and continue to play live, even though the Heatons now live in Boston, MA. They have also spent extended periods in Ireland, experiencing the best of traditional music from Co. Clare and Co. Galway.  They have broadened their musical horizons still further by performing not only as a duo, but as members of Aoife Clancy’s band, and are becoming in demand as backing musicians.   In addition, they are active members of Boston’s traditional music scene, both as performers and as teachers.  Matt regularly gives guitar workshops, and this coming fall Shannon will be teaching traditional music at Harvard as part of a program run by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann, the national Irish cultural society.

This current tour is the Heatons’ first as a duo and they are very excited about it.  Whilst they enjoy playing in a larger band, said Shannon, playing as a duo gives them a lot more freedom to improvise musically and experiment with the overall sound, allowing the material to develop.   Says Matt, “The real joy and art in what we do comes in the details.  We never just slap stuff together.” They have also just completed the recording of their first, self-titled, duo CD which they hope to have available for release in the summer.  

First published in “411”, The Salinas Californian, May 22, 2003

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