After cold-calling pub after pub in Montreal, student band Bowdoin Éireann Ye Olde Neo-Celtic Ensemble (BEYONCE) played its first Canadian show at Pub McLean in Montreal this past weekend.
The band formed in the fall of 2019 when Natsumi Meyer ’23 and Luke Bartol ’23 returned from their Orientation Trip.
“We were doing a backpacking orientation trip, and we just kind of started talking about fiddle music, Irish music and Irish dancing for the four days we hiked together. Then after coming back we formed the original BEYONCE, which was a club with Luke and I and our orientation trip leader, among other people that have now graduated,” Meyer said.
Later they brought in Sydney Cox ’23, Mia Schwartz ’25 and Colin Vernet ’25. Schwartz has become their “gig master,” frequently cold-calling venues to inquire about performing. When the band became interested in playing in Montreal, Schwartz lived up to her title. The call to Pub McLean ended in success, but they didn’t know what to expect when they arrived.
“We didn’t know if the crowd would be receptive or if they would like the style of music we played, but it was truly a hit,” Meyer said. “People were really into it.”
The members spoke about the individuality of Irish music and how the uniqueness seems to bring people together. They said this trend continued in their Montreal performance.
“It’s so obscure that almost nobody can really relate to it, but then everybody can relate to it because it’s so specific,” Schwartz said.
Vernet echoed Schwartz’s sentiment.
“If you market to everybody, you market to nobody, so if you market to nobody, you market to everybody,” Vernet said.
The band felt that the show in Canada was especially exciting and acknowledged that there lies a thread of spontaneity in the setlists of each performance.
“We definitely do a lot of reading a crowd or thinking about who’s going to be listening to us. And what I really like is that we’re never super set on the order in which we do things, and I think that helps our relationship with our audience,” Meyer said.
In Montreal, their sentiment of spontaneity rang true when an audience member asked to play the drums for them.
“He came up to us and was like, ‘No one’s playing the drums. Can I?’” Schwartz recalled. “It sounded funky, but it was a lot of fun.”
BEYONCE, currently working to rebrand as Yonce, maintains a focus on the fun it has as a group throughout everything.
“I think that’s the root of it. It’s cool to make money from these gigs and to perform, but at the end of the day we’re all just having a blast,” Bartol said.
Vernet plays guitar and occasionally the fiddle; Schwartz mostly plays the fiddle and sings; Meyer fiddles, sings or dances in addition to sometimes drumming; Bartol plays the fiddle and the mandolin and Sydney Cox ’23 fiddles, dances and drums. Clearly, each member takes on a variety of roles within the band, with everyone having varying degrees of knowledge about most of the instruments involved.
“We’ve actually tried to do a song where we all rotate our instruments because we’re almost at the point where we can all kind of do everything,” Meyer said.
BEYONCE’s music didn’t go unnoticed in Canada.
“We had people come up to us and say, ‘I need to give you a hug,’ or people were taking pictures with us,” Schwartz said.
The songs BEYONCE plays are mostly traditional ones that have been passed down for generations, meaning that many who listen find tunes that resonate with their personal history or traditions.
“It’s really nice to see how much the music applies to people no matter what their ages are. It really is for everyone,” Schwartz said.
The band has plans to record its songs, but for now it will be continuing at the College and playing whenever it can.