Islands tend to be great places for creating musicians. Especially isolated islands where long traditions and even longer winters feed the creative energy.
Making music on an island is something fiddle player and singer Rowen Gallant, 22, knows quite a bit about. Collectively, he, his brother Caleb, 20, and friend Jesse Périard, 22, are Ten Strings and a Goatskin, a bilingual three-piece band hailing from Prince Edward Island in the Canadian Maritimes.
On July 31, the trio will be making music on another island — this one — when Sylvester Manor presents the first of three Creekside Concerts scheduled in the coming months.
“We’ve been touring three and a half years and have been together longer than that,” Mr. Gallant said last week in a phone interview from Vancouver Island, where the band was performing as part of the Vancouver Island Musicfest. “We started playing in the basement and at local fundraisers. It’s only last few years we started to take the touring thing seriously. We reached the age where we can.”
Besides having the opportunity to share their music with new audiences, Mr. Gallant and his fellow band members enjoy the fact that festivals like the one in Vancouver allow them to meet other musicians from around the globe, compare experiences and engage with one another.
“It’s quite lovely and really interesting to see how traditional music communities are formed,” he said. “Lots of young people are doing weird and unusual things. PEI is a bit more conservative in the way that it appreciates its music. Then you go to British Columbia where people seem to be using that musical genre in different ways and in different areas.
“It’s more widely appreciated and the demographics are touching a bit wider. It’s pretty cool that people are trying to reconnect with their roots.”
PEI may be best known as the home of Anne of Green Gables and some of the world’s finest oysters, but the island is also a place where a lot of people make music. Despite their tender age, Ten Strings and a Goatskin already have some serious experience under their belt. Just last month, the band released its new album “Auprès du Poêle,” which means around the woodstove. Their repertoire is influenced by the island’s Maritime culture and its Acadian and Celtic traditions as well as those short days and long, cold nights that inspire islanders to hunker down and warm their souls by playing music.
“On top of being on an island, we also have pretty harsh winters,” Mr. Gallant explained. “Shelter Island, I think is the same way. There’s not much to do. But people also benefit from that because players from isolated regions are often the best. The islands off the coast of Quebec are much smaller than PEI, but they produce amazing musicians naturally because there’s not much to do in winter.
“It harkens back to what our ancestors had to deal with in the early 1600s,” he said.
Though their style may be rooted in traditions of the past, as the band’s name implies Ten Strings and a Goatskin is hardly a traditional folk band. Instead of the full compliment of instruments, their sound comes from a fiddle and a guitar (that’s four strings played by Mr. Gallant and six strings by Mr. Périard) rounded out by Caleb Gallant on the bodhrán and other percussive instruments.
“We’ve always discussed the possibility of having another member,” Mr. Gallant said. “But since our last record, we’re happy with it for now. As a trio with a member devoted exclusively to percussion, it’s difficult to achieve a full large sound. The bands we listen to and want to emulate have that huge sound and they blow you away.
“But it forces you to think outside the box in terms on how you use elements in your performance,” he added. “We’re always thinking of ways to fill up where that other instrument would be.”
One way the band achieves a more complex sound is by tuning the two bottom strings of Mr. Périard’s guitar down an octave in order to create a drone-like bass. Another method is the use of two-part vocal harmonies.
“It’s new and super scary,” Mr. Gallant said. “It harkens back to the innovative quality I was talking about. Caleb will also use foot percussion quite a bit. It’s interesting and we’re always looking for new ways to increase our output.”
Opening for Ten Strings and a Goatskin at the July 31 concert will be the Gawler Sisters — Molly, Edith and Elsie. Edith is the wife of Sylvester Manor Educational Farm founder Bennett Konesni, who is also a musician, and Mr. Gallant is looking forward to making some great music while he’s here.
“We’ve never been to Shelter Island, but Bennett and Edith are our good friends and we’ve spent tons of time down in New England,” Mr. Gallant said. “The traditional music communities in the Northeast are amazing. We feel almost as home down there as we do in PEI and the Maritimes, especially in parts of Maine and Vermont.”
“There are people there who have almost rejected elements of what’s considered a modern culture — communities that include trad music, singing and dancing,” he said. “That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve witnessed.”
The Creekside Concert series opens with the Gawler Sisters followed by Ten Strings and a Goatskin and will be held on the lawn at Sylvester Manor on Sunday, July 31. The music starts at 5 p.m. and families are invited to bring low-profile beach chairs, blankets and a picnic or to sample food from on-site food and beverage trucks. Tickets are $25, available at syvlestermanor.org or by calling (631) 749-0626.