Seamus Egan is back on the market.
After more than 20 years as a creative linchpin with traditional Irish band Solas, Egan became a musical free agent when the band went on hiatus last spring. Forming his new group, the Seamus Egan Project, has been equal parts liberating and divergent.
"It's exciting," Egan said. "I've not really had the time to try and put anything together that I would take on the road because Solas was all-consuming. We were on the road quite a bit, and I wasn't really looking for opportunities to be out on the road with other entities. It's been a learning experience. It's been like getting back into the dating world. I'm having a blast."
While the Irish-American artist still operates within some territory he did in Solas, his process, specifically his eagerness to go off script, has changed.
"When a group has been around for 20 plus years, it develops its way of doing things, for better or worse," Egan said. "It has its own set of demands. (With my new project), I'm doing different types of material. There's no sort of expectation of what things should sound like. You feel a sense you can try this or that and it grows into what it wants to be."
Egan, who will headline the first weekend of the Anchorage Folk Festival, was born north of Philadelphia, but his parents returned to their Irish homeland when he was a toddler.
As an instrumentalist, Egan is both versatile and steeped in American and English folk traditions.
He counts banjo, guitar, mandolin and Irish flute among the more than half-dozen instruments he plays.
"Growing up in Ireland I'd hear something on the radio or an album, and it was the sound of the instrument I was drawn to," he said. "I was fortunate. If I showed interest in an instrument, our parents made sure that instrument found its way into our hands. Usually it was a cheaper model to see if there was genuine interest. If I took to it, I took to it. If not, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I was lucky to have that opportunity."
Egan eventually returned to the U.S., where he gained notoriety in 1995 for his work on "The Brothers McMullen" soundtrack. He either wrote or performed on a half dozen on the album, including co-writing the Sarah McLachlan hit "I Will Remember You."
On the heels of that success, he founded Solas in 1996 with singer/violinist Winifred Horan.
"The whole thing was very innocuous," he said. "We enjoyed playing together and (singer Karan Casey) said 'Let's make an album and everyone can go on their way.' There wasn't much thought of doing a second record. But that first record got a positive response and suddenly we were doing tours."
Twenty years later, Egan and Solas have become a portal to Irish music for a generation of listeners.
"It's strange to view yourself in that role," Egan said. "You still view yourself as starting out and looking up everything you were listening to."
Bringing Egan to the folk festival is part of a renewed effort by organizers to bring a diversity of sound to the annual event.
"We've been hearing for a couple years that we're stuck in bluegrass and cajun and old-time theme," Folk Festival President Kate Hamre said. "We did some outreach and I had the idea of inviting Solas, but didn't realize they were no longer playing together. Their agent said, you should try Seamus Egan Project. I know her well, so I said 'We'll give it a try.' He's been to Alaska before and there's a great community of Irish music fans who follow him."
The variety will extend to the second weekend, where the Gonzalo Bergara Quintet will headline.
Bergara, a native of Argentina, plays modern gypsy jazz with a Latin flair.
Aside from the headliners, the festival will also feature two weekends of performances by local artists on the Wendy Williamson main stage. Another of the perennial favorites at the festival are the instructional workshops in both performance and dance.
Among the new features is a pair of open mics, including one for younger performers under age 18 at Middle Way Cafe.
"It's very multi-generational," Hamre said. "There are kids that are 5 and people that are 90 and everywhere in between."
The entire festival spans two weekends with "Folk Week" in between, and kicks off with a party Wednesday at 49th State Brewing.
Anchorage Folk Festival highlights
For a detailed schedule see anchoragefolkfestival.org
Wednesday: Kickoff Party, 7 p.m.-11 p.m. at 49th State Brewery. With Kat & Ryan, Tyson Davis and Friends, The Cheapest Key, Naked Mabel
Thursday: Main Stage Performances, 7 p.m.-9:45 p.m. at Wendy Williamson. Contra Dance 7:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m. at Wendler Middle School with music from Fat Weasel, caller Jim Haack
Friday, Jan. 19: Main Stage Performances with headliner Seamus Egan Project (8:45 p.m.). Show is from 7 p.m.-9:45 p.m. at Wendy Williamson. Folk Festival Dance Hall from 8 p.m.-11 p.m. at 49th State Brewery (Weasel Gras, Ten Dollar Bet, Dangertown, Nuther Brothers). Late night jam from 11 p.m.-midnight at Spenard Roadhouse.
Saturday, Jan. 20: Dances/instrument workshops from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at Wendy Williamson. Main Stage Performances from 1 p.m.-5 p.m. with headliner Seamus Egan Project (4:30 p.m.) at Wendy Williamson. Seamus Egan Project downtown 7 p.m.-midnight at Williwaw. $20
Sunday, Jan. 21: Dances/Instrument Workshops, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wendy Williamson. Main Stage Performances with headliner Seamus Egan Project (8:30 p.m.) 1 p.m.-5:15 p.m. and 7 p.m.-9:30 p.m. at Wendy Williamson
Monday, Jan. 22: Folk fest movies at Bear Tooth Theatrepub. 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. "Song of Granite"; 8-10 p.m. "Throw Down Your Heart." Tickets $6
Thursday, Jan. 25: 7 p.m.-9:45 p.m. Main Stage Performances at Wendy Williamson. Contra Dance from 7:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m. at Wendler Middle School (music: Big Chimney Barn Dance; caller: Brian DeMarcus)
Friday, Jan 26: Under-21 open mic from 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. at Middle Way Cafe. Main stage performances with headliner Gonazalo Bergara Quintet (8:45 p.m.) from 7 p.m.-9:45 p.m. at Wendy Williamson. Open mic from 8 p.m.-10 p.m. at Williwaw. Late Night Jam from 11 p.m.-midnight at Spenard Roadhouse
Saturday, Jan. 27: Dances/instrument workshops from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at Wendy Williamson. Main stage performances with headliner Gonazalo Bergara Quintet (4:30 p.m.) from 1 p.m.-5 p.m. and 7 p.m.-11 p.m. at Wendy Williamson. Gonazalo Bergara Quintet from 7 p.m.-midnight at Williwaw.
Sunday, Jan. 28: Dances/instrument workshops 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at Wendy Williamson. Main stage performances 1-5:15 at Wendy Williamson