Shannon Lambert–Ryan studied music, theater and history at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, and they all serve her well as the founder and lead vocalist of the Contemporary Celtic ensemble Runa.
Runa headlines Savannah's 22nd annual Tara Feis — a family–oriented Irish celebration, with a second stage for children's entertainment — March 9 in Emmett Park.
"One of the things that I really like to do as a performer is focus on the entire performance," Lambert–Ryan explains. "It's not just the sound. It's not just about the visual. It's about both of them combined, and the overall experience that the audience is receiving and sharing in."
Storytelling is a major component of Irish and Scottish music — that's where a solid sense of history comes in handy.
"If you watch the band, everybody is very physically involved in what they're doing, too. It's not just 'OK, we're sitting down and we're playing music. The audience can listen, and that's all.' It's about the entire performance, and it's a very different experience — hopefully — when that happens."
A Runa show, which also includes fiddle, bodhran, mandolin, pipes, flute and whistle, is extremely audience–interactive. There's lot of step–dancing and singing along involved.
Lambert–Ryan and her husband, guitarist Fionan de Barra, formed the group after years of working — individually and together — with a varied roster of Irish performers, including Riverdance and Clannad's Moya Brennan (in his case) and the Guy Mendilow Band (in hers).
Last year, she was nominated as Best Female Vocalist by the Irish Music Awards.
Lambert–Ryan's other credits include the world premiere of Il Sogno di una Notte di Mezza Estate (Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream) with the International Opera Theatre Company, and small (very small) roles in films including The Village (she was billed as "Sweeping Girl Who Picks the Red Flower") and Bereavement (as "Body in Freezer").
She's always been a shelagh–of–all–trades. "I started out as a stepdancer when I was much younger," she says. "And through school, all the way through college, I was doing a lot of theater. I've always performed classical music, but it was usually a part of choirs and things like that. In college I really started to focus on classical performance."
All roads led, ultimately, to the folk music of the Emerald Isles.
"Several of the a capella groups I was in did some different folk stuff, but I'd always been around folk music," Lambert–Ryan adds. "Both of my parents were cloggers as well, so it was in the blood, so to speak, for quite some time."
As if that wasn't enough, Lambert–Ryan is also Runa's full–time manager. With the exception of the concert–booking (there's a bigshot agent for that), the group's frontwoman is also the group's boss of all business.
"It's such a hard job," she says, "but it keeps in perspective how lucky we are to get to do this for a living. And how special the musical side of things is. Our time playing up on stage, that is our play time.
"Because we would do that in our own homes. That's the icing on the cake."
Where: Emmett Park, eastern edge of Bay Street
When: 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturday, March 9
11 a.m.: Opening Ceremony
11:20: Savannah Pipes and Drums
11:30 Glor na Daire Irish Dance School
12:15 p.m.: Harry O'Donoghue
1:15 p.m.: Runa
2:30 p.m.: Irish Dancers of Savannah
2:45: Runa meet & greet/autograph session
3:20 p.m.: Tom O'Carroll, Colleen Settle,Harry O'Donoghue
4 p.m.: Runa