Note: this article first appeared in the March 23rd issue of the Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune.

St. Patrick’s Day revelry was in full force last Thursday at Esther Bricques Winery, where the Notorious 3 performed an evening of traditional Irish – and occasionally not-so-Irish – folk music.

The trio, consisting of Mariliz Romano, Leaha Passaro, and Angela Marie Cross, had prepared an eclectic mix of songs and instrumental pieces for the evening. Armed with their exotic array of instruments and stellar vocal talents, they came ready to enchant.

The setting at Esther Bricques felt like a fitting match for the showcase of Irish musical heritage that the Notorious 3 offered. Pastoral pieces like “Swallow Tail,” a playful arrangement of Romano’s harp and Cross’s flute, were right at home amongst the rolling hills surrounding the winery. At the same time, the dark winter chill and foggy rain outside formed the perfect setting for seafaring shanties. The spirit of Irish pub songs was alive and well too. On “Finnegan’s Wake,” for example, a song that tells the story of a man brought back to life when whisky spills on his corpse during his wake, the Notorious 3 unleashed a raucous, boot-stomping performance that had the audience singing along.

“Finnegan’s Wake” wasn’t the only song in which the audience joined in the music-making. The Notorious 3 led the crowd at Esther Bricques in sing-alongs throughout the evening, from the boisterous “Whisky You’re the Devil” to the gentle “Morning Has Broken.” One particularly enjoyable sing-along was “Danny Boy,” in which nearly the whole gathering at the winery joined in song, creating a beautiful, communal performance of the bittersweet folk song.

Another poignant piece was “Lagan Love,” with Cross performing on her 12-string guitar and Passaro on vocals. Passaro prefaced the performance by telling how the Irish would often write songs that were, on the surface, simple love songs, but which actually spoke more deeply of love for Ireland and a yearning for freedom and independence.

The song also held special meaning for Passaro personally. “Ten years ago,” Passaro recalls, “I wasn’t really singing anymore. A girlfriend came from Switzerland, and when she heard that I’d stopped, she demanded that I start up again. We recorded a video, and the song I chose to sing was ‘Lagan Love.’” Though she felt rusty at that new starting point, Passaro continued to practice and develop her voice. “After that, I sang in the bathroom for two or three years, trying to gain control back in my voice. So singing that same song ten years later was a really special moment for me.” However out of practice Passaro may have been singing “Lagan Love” a decade ago, she was in full form on Thursday. Paired with Cross’s masterful guitar accompaniment, Passaro’s performance captured the bittersweet heart of the song, creating a goosebumps-on-the-arms musical experience.

The trio also shone particularly in their three-part vocal harmonies. Their rendition of Sinead O’Connor’s “In This Heart” slowly layered voices on top of one another, weaving a hauntingly beautiful tapestry.

Throughout the evening, the trio’s versatility and well-honed musical talent were continuously on display. Yet what was equally apparent was the infectious joy and fun that the three women shared together on stage. “I think that though a lot of our music is really musically challenging,” Cross remarks, “our intention is always to have fun above all else. That makes it even easier for us to take risks, because we can always laugh and celebrate whether those risks go as intended or not – there’s not a fear of failure or ego-bruising.”

Their sense of joyful adventure and musical risk-taking were on full display during their performances on a set of three classical recorders. Passaro recently received the set as a gift, which included a tenor recorder (imagine a huge, two-foot version of the instrument that you probably played in grade school) and a bass recorder (imagine a cross between a recorder and a three-foot pepper grinder). Though they only started practicing on the esoteric instruments a few weeks before Thursday’s show, the trio were determined to play the set on St. Patrick’s Day, if for no other reason than how much fun they had with them. “When we rehearsed together,” Passaro notes, “we couldn’t stop giggling while playing them.”

There was laughter Thursday too – from both performers and audience – at the curious instruments, but a genuinely enthralling showcase of the instruments too. The three recorders together created an odd combination of breathy, dreamlike tones and classical composition, like a ride on an enchanted baroque carousel. The performance opened a window into musical history as well. “We tend to think of recorders as kids’ instruments,” Cross says, “so it’s easy to forget that recorders are the predecessors to more ‘high-tech’ descendants like flutes and clarinets. I think it’s fascinating to play and listen to instruments that might sound awkward and clunky to us today, but sounded absolutely magical and angelic to audiences hundreds of years ago. It really gives an auditory perspective into how our tastes have evolved over hundreds of years.”

In all, the Notorious 3 put on a wonderfully unique and charming St. Patrick’s Day show, continuing the success of their well-loved holiday sing-along show this past December. Whenever they might perform next, and whatever that performance might entail, you can count on the talented trio to deliver an unforgettable musical journey.