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Elders’ new fiddler Diana Ladio brings moxie to Celtic music

Diana Ladio doesn’t have the time to be any busier than she is, and it’s exactly how she wants it.

“I knew going in what this schedule was going to be like,” she recently told The Star from her home in northern Michigan, “and that’s what makes it so appealing.”

In October, Ladio became the fiddler in the Elders, the longtime Celtic rock band from Kansas City. She was already a fiddler in the Moxie Strings, an instrumental trio she co-founded more than six years ago. Both bands tour heavily, but Ladio said yes to the Elders because it was an offer she couldn’t refuse.

“I wasn’t sure how I would make it work schedulewise,” she said, “but it was such an amazing opportunity, I had to figure out a way to do it.”

Ladio met the Elders in 2014 at the Great American Irish Fest in Frankfort, N.Y., but she was already a fan. Colin Farrell invited her to join the Elders onstage for a couple songs at the after-party.

“I was totally geeked,” Ladio said. “I’d known about them for so long, but our paths never crossed. So, to meet them and play with them was a huge highlight for me.”

A year later, the Elders were anticipating a lineup change.

“Colin, who is now a dear friend, his career was taking off and he was getting all these great opportunities,” she said. “So the Elders were exploring other options. I was lucky and touched that they recalled that sit-in experience I’d had with them the summer before, and they got in touch with me and asked if it was something I’d be interested in.

“So I sat down with the Moxie Strings, and we hatched a plan to make sure both bands could function and collaborate, which is the most exciting part. And it’s working well so far.”

Ladio grew up in Michigan, in a town outside Ann Arbor. She started playing strings in grade school, where the training was classical. In high school she developed another interest.

“Fortunately, my high school has a program that introduced the fiddle to string players,” she said, “and I immediately knew I’d found a niche and discovered how much I enjoyed being onstage and playing something other than orchestral music.”

She enrolled in the music school at the University of Michigan, where she received a degree in performance on the viola. After graduating in 2010, she taught music for a year, but then she and her mates in the Moxie Strings — Alison Lynn and Fritz McGirr — determined it was time for a change.

“We decided to have a serious go at travel and touring,” she said. “So we all left our ‘real jobs’ and pursued the band hard. It worked out. We’ve been touring full time ever since.

Ladio is the frontwoman for Moxie Strings. “I carry most of the melodies and do a lot of the banter between songs,” she said. The band plays a fusion of styles: “bluegrass, jazz, rock, some what sound more like electronic and pop styles.”

That music and the performances differ significantly from the Elders. Getting up to speed took some quick work.

“Any band that’s been around that long has an unbelievably large repertoire,” she said. “I had to cram like I was preparing for a test so I could learn a large amount of songs in a short period of time. And they’re still throwing things at me. I thought I’d heard the whole catalog but some tunes are from so long ago that I haven’t heard them. So we will play some tunes at the hoolie that I haven’t played with them before.”

She also studied the work of her predecessor, Farrell, whom she called “one of the absolute greats.”

“I had to learn a lot of his parts,” Ladio said. “He’s a very traditional player, so to transcribe his parts and learn his style was hugely beneficial and helped me hone in on what it means to sound authentically Irish. It’s really the small, minute details, like the tiny bow strokes or the small flicks of the fingers, Irish-style ornamentation with the left hand. It all had an affect on my playing.”

Ladio is the first woman in the 18-year-old band, but she has fit in comfortably with her bandmates.

“She has a great stage personality that is genuine and uncontrived,” said Ian Byrne, the Elders’ lead singer. “Her smile and personality is magnetic. Add her amazing passion and her ability as an accomplished musician as well as her humble admiration for all the possibilities in the creation of music, and you pretty much end up with the perfect bandmate.”

Kian Byrne said, “Diana is full of fresh ideas, and almost comes from a different place, musically, than the rest of us.”

Norm Dahlor said, “It’s really a blast playing with her and creating new music with her. She’s our sister.”

Ladio will be in Kansas City this weekend with the Moxie Strings who will also perform at the hoolie. They also will accompany the Elders on a trip to Ireland in October. She will be on the road a lot this year, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Starting Wednesday, between the two bands I’ll be on tour for four or five weeks, bouncing back and forth between the two,” she said. “This is exactly what I want to be doing right now: traveling and playing as much as possible and meeting great people. I’m at a time in my life — probably the only time in my life — where managing a schedule like this is comfortable and exciting.”

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain

Saturday

The Elders will host their annual hoolie at the Garage at Knuckleheads. The Moxie Strings and Celi at the Crossroads also will perform. Showtime is 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 and $40. A VIP package is $60.

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