Ian Byrne, the lead singer of The Elders, was born in County Wicklow in Ireland, but traveled with the family to Scotland and Wales as his father worked as a mining engineer. He was apprenticed as a woodworker, but kept his love of music. Drums and percussion were and are his instruments of choice. He joined a pipe band in Arklow County Wicklow. They already had too many drummers so he learned to play the bagpipes instead. He married his Kansas City girlfriend Kathy Quinn (currently a Fox 4 reporter) and had a son Kian. He immigrated to the United States in 1987 and went to work for a remodeling company. In 1990, he started Byrne Custom Woodworking Inc.

Over the next 11 years, he played some music with some local bands and also participated in some recording sessions with various artists. While The Elders formed in 1998 with Michael Bliss as lead singer; Byrne joined in 2001 after Bliss relocated to the East Coast. The couple also has two daughters, Andreina and Kaitlin.

1. The Elders mark their 15th anniversary as a band during 2013. Does it surprise you to front a group that can mark this sort of success?

The time has indeed gone by very quickly. The music is obviously the biggest asset a band can possess. However, the music must be presented to an audience. We present our music to our audience with honesty and dedication. We love what we do. We love our music. A band cannot get on stage and pretend to be someone or something they are not! An audience will see right through that façade. We stay and chat with our fans after every show. … The relationship and respect we have for each other as well as the support and understanding of our families is the reason we are still enjoying great success. …

2. Give the KC Studio audience a brief tutorial in music by the Elders. What should we know before seeing The Elders in concert?

Our music has been described as Americana with an Irish influence. Our personal influences are extremely vast! We have all come from all kinds of musical backgrounds: Steve, Bluegrass and rock and roll; Norm, rock and Irish ballads; Joe, jazz and blues; Kian, Reggae and Irish fiddle tunes; Brent, John Waite; and me, a little of all the above! Our live show is lively with lots of vocals, lots of drums and occasional tears! We have fans and friends who have declared our music has changed their lives! It has changed ours.

3. The Elders are strong veteran musicians who are known for touring. Do you have a favorite venue for a live music experience? What does it mean to perform in front of the hometown crowd such as The Irish Center’s Gala April 18?

In these 15 years, we are blessed to have many homes all around the North America, Canada, Europe especially Ireland. However, Kansas City is our number one home. We are always enamored by the passion and the support we receive from our Kansas City fans. We play our annual Hoolie every year in March. We love our Sunday night appearance at the Kansas City Irish Festival on Labor Day weekend. This year we will be playing the Irish Gala to help support the Irish Museum and Cultural Center.

4. You are from County Wicklow in Ireland. What from Ireland remains with you and your performance style?

Music, poetry and all forms of the arts are a huge part of Irish culture. The Irish love to sing! Even if there is not a note in their heads they will still sing! It must be the hundreds of years of oppression and invasions and tyranny that has given us this “let’s just keep singing no matter what” attitude. I am a shy person by nature.

Nobody ever believes me when I tell them that. I never expected to be a lead singer with an international touring band. I am actually a drummer. The Elders asked me to come out front and be the lead singer. The first time I did this lead singer stuff with them; I surrounded myself with percussion instruments and sort of sang and hid at the same time. Fifteen years later, I have a microphone and stand, a Bodhran (Irish drum) and my battle drum.

5. And now you have brought your son into The Elders … what does it mean to have him playing drums for the group?

The unfortunate truth about this profession is we have all missed many priceless family events. Birthdays, sports, violin lessons, dance lessons as well as multiple other precious moments. Kian has grown up with The Elders. He is extremely talented. A lot more talented than I will ever be! The relationship with him and rest of the lads is like family.

Kellie Houx

Kellie Houx is a writer and photographer. A graduate of Park University, she has 20 years of experience as a journalist. As a writer, wife and mom, she values education, arts, family and togetherness.

  1. rick bernier says:

    i am from frankfort and am a volunteer at the great american irish festifal.your band is the best band that has ever played the festival.your music is great and i look forward to seeing you every year.can’t wait till the last weekend of july…….rick

  2. Mary Bundy says:

    It is true, I felt this song “Men of Erin” as if the band sought me out when I was a my deepest point in my life, I had just lost my father and here was this band that expressed my feeling, and before the end of “Send a prayer out there” I had started healing. Few months later my childhood dream answered before we toched down in Ireland, with this band and my mom and a few siblings 8 years later I share four generations of my family with this wonderful,heave sent, prayers answered band THE ELDERS. And I thank them everytime I hit play, it should say SAVED!!!!!

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