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The featured guests for Alaska Folk Festival this year will be The Murphy Beds, a New York City string duo performing folk and traditional music. While on the road, Jefferson Hamer (guitar, mandolin, vocals) and Eamon O’Leary (bouzouki, guitar, vocals) took some time to discuss their music and how they wound up coming to Alaska.
Murphy Beds featured Folk Fest duo 040517 AE 1 Capital City Weekly The featured guests for Alaska Folk Festival this year will be The Murphy Beds, a New York City string duo performing folk and traditional music. While on the road, Jefferson Hamer (guitar, mandolin, vocals) and Eamon O’Leary (bouzouki, guitar, vocals) took some time to discuss their music and how they wound up coming to Alaska.

Left to right: Jefferson Hamer and Eamon O'Leary, the duo that forms The Murphy Beds. Photo by Jesse Daniel Smith, courtesy of The Murphy Beds.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Story last updated at 4/3/2017 - 6:59 pm

Murphy Beds featured Folk Fest duo

The featured guests for Alaska Folk Festival this year will be The Murphy Beds, a New York City string duo performing folk and traditional music. While on the road, Jefferson Hamer (guitar, mandolin, vocals) and Eamon O’Leary (bouzouki, guitar, vocals) took some time to discuss their music and how they wound up coming to Alaska.

“We were delighted to do it,” O’Leary said about The Murphy Beds being asked to be the featured guest at Folk Fest. “I’ve heard so much about (Folk Fest) for so many years, had a lot of friends tell me about the festival, so it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. It was very nice to be invited to come play.”

O’Leary grew up in Dublin, Ireland and moved to New York City in the early 1990’s. While he immersed himself in the traditional music scene there, he met Hamer, who had come from Boulder, Colorado, to New York in 2008. Each had a background in folk music. They ended up clicking. The Murphy Beds’ name came from one of O’Leary’s jokes, Hamer said, and it just stuck.

Two other band members played with O’Leary and Hamer in the beginning, but now the two of them perform as a duo.

The duo released their self-titled debut album in late 2012, a collection of 10 traditional folk songs. The way they harmonized their voices and their stringed instruments created a unique sound.

“Irish traditional music has always been the framework around our project together. What it is that we do has always been enabled by and supported by the traditional Irish music community,” Hamer said.

While Irish folk music is a big part of what they do, they don’t limit themselves to just that. They play folk music from England, Scotland, and America too.

“We don’t want to put down a traditional song and call it traditional unless it really is an original vision of that song.Otherwise it’s a cover; it’s somebody else’s vision. Even if the words are old, you still have an obligation as an artist to either give credit to someone else for the work that goes in presenting the beauty of the old song or you have an obligation to reimagine it yourself. If you’re not reimagining it yourself then I think it’s still a cover,” Hamer said, of the difference between covers and the songs on the duo’s album.

Both musicians have released solo work, like O’Leary’s album “Old Clump” (2012) or Hamer’s original songs on the 2016 album “Great Shakes” by Cambridge, Massachusetts ensemble Session Americana or “Child Ballads” with Anais Mitchell in 2013. They play original songs live, as well.

The Murphy Beds expect to release their sophomore effort in the next year or so.

In between recording, they’re kept busy with their solo projects and touring around the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Both O’Leary and Hamer have played in Alaska before, but this will be the first time they will play in Juneau together as The Murphy Beds. They met Alaska folk musicians while at the Black Pot Music Festival in Louisiana, and shortly thereafter, were invited to perform at Folk Fest.

“One of the things that I love about these kind of events is that sometimes what happens after performances is often so much music-making that happens in common … from what I’ve heard of Juneau, it’s often the case that people get together after hours to play music together,” O’Leary said, adding that he was looking forward to jamming with other local musicians. It’s a small world of folk musicians, he said, and that shared music knits them together.

“One of the amazing things about playing folk and traditional music is that you can go anywhere in the world and meet people who have a shared repertoire and some things in common, so perfect strangers can often play music together. It’s a nice thing and not something to take for granted,” he said.

The Murphy Beds will play on Thursday, April 6 at 8 p.m. at Centennial Hall, again on Sunday, April 9 at 9 p.m. In addition to performing at Folk Fest, they will lead two workshops on Saturday: “Song of the Sea” in the Egan Room from noon-1:30 p.m. and “Harmony Singing” in the Egan Room from 3-4:30 p.m. That night from 9:20-10:50 p.m. at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center, The Murphy Beds will play folk dance music that they don’t generally perform. To get a taste for their sound, have a listen at murphybeds.bandcamp.com/album/the-murphy-beds.

 

Contact Capital City Weekly staff writer Clara Miller at clara.miller@capweek.com.