Caolaidhe and Meghan Davis are the quintessential happy married couple, constantly touching one another on the shoulders and hands. They can’t go five minutes without one side-eyeing the other a glance of endearment. Our table is near the stage at the Lahinch Tavern and Grill in Potomac, Maryland, a platform they have shared countless times as members and founders of the 19th Street Band. As we break bread, the two tell me about their fan base – a raucous following built through constant playing.
“230 times a year,” Caolaidhe tells me, enthusiastically nodding his head.
One admirer even flew them to Key West, and showed up at the multiple shows they booked down there for networking. Here in DC, they’ve played at venues including the 9:30 Club, and countless other spots of various shapes and sizes. They perform with bassist Brian White, drummer Patty Dougherty and banjo player Tom Verratti.
“It’s been a full-time thing ever since Meghan quit teaching about three years ago,” Caolaidhe says. “We’ve been to the Dakotas and Canada, and I have a homecoming at the beginning of August in Northern Ireland.”
He recalls a 2 a.m. conversation with Meghan when she told him she didn’t really want to teach anymore, and then she asked him to write a song for her.
“We’re dreamers. We’re glass half full people. I pushed record on my iPhone and played three chords over and over and over. About 20 seconds into it, the melody came to me, and after that, the song came to me all at once. I was singing about Meghan. It’s called ‘The Things That Matter,’ and it’s the title track to our album.”
The 19th Street Band started with cover songs, and eventually branched out to original pieces. When Caolaidhe tells me he was influenced heavily by country and Bob Dylan, it makes sense. His melodic vocals sound an octave lower than when he speaks.
Meghan, who says she never sang much growing up, helps harmonize the choruses and provides the high-pitched strings. Each song contains mantras of living your life doing what you want, dreaming big and of course, love.
Both Caolaidhe and Meghan picked up instruments young. Caolaidhe’s father put a guitar in his lap when he was 11 back home in Northern Ireland. The first song he learned was Elvis’ “Love Me Tender.”
“I’ve always known I wanted to do this,” Caolaidhe says. “I could never see myself doing anything else. I’m not a good reader or writer; I’ve always been more interested in artistic creativity. My dad was a documentary filmmaker, and so my brother and I always gravitated toward the arts.”
Meghan, a Baltimore native, bugged her parents for a violin when she was six. They waved it off because the attention span of a child is notoriously short, but for an entire year she pressed on and eventually got what her heart desired, along with classical lessons. She continued playing through her days at Catholic University, where she studied music education.
“I liked listening to popular music with fiddle in it,” Meghan says. “I did some Irish fiddle lessons in high school, but I never imagined myself in a band or onstage.”
The two met in 2007, two years after Caolaidhe received a visa to work in DC. When he was looking for a fiddle player, Meghan auditioned. She asked innocently where the sheet of music was, and he simply told her there wasn’t one, and to just play. When they tell this story, the two can’t help but smile at one another, most appreciative that they encountered each other at all. Caolaidhe says all of this was eerily close to never happening.
“I didn’t know where I was going to be,” he says. “I just wanted to be in America. The first application I applied for was in York, Pennsylvania, and the immigration office actually disqualified me because I had too much experience. I don’t really know what that means, but luckily it fell through.”
Instead he ended up in the nation’s capital, where he met the woman he would eventually marry, and formed a band with whom they plan to record many albums. He even stayed in the country illegally after his visa expired because he felt he was finally building a life for himself, one he couldn’t have back home.
“My dad poisoned me with American music,” he says. “When my visa expired, I stayed illegally for about four years. It was a big risk coming over. I missed weddings, funerals and birthdays, but everyone knew I had a good thing going on over here.”
Yes, the dreamers have accomplished their dreams. But the funny thing about dreamers is that they’re always looking for new clouds to leap toward – constantly seeking new challenges and more opportunities to create.
“We need to remove ourselves and go off in a log cabin,” Meghan says, looking at Caolaidhe and then back to me. “We have to get lost in our imaginations. We have to make time in order to make that possible. Maybe we’ll get lucky with a long weekend here and there.”
She tells me this won’t be for awhile as she looks through her calendar. Nearly every box is filled with gigs taking them throughout the DMV and beyond. One show they’re particularly excited about is on August 17, part of the Buy a Lady a Drink summer concert series at 201 Bar in Capitol Hill. The performance will help raise funds to provide clean drinking water to people in need.
“We’re super excited to play for such a great cause,” Meghan says. “Anytime you get a chance to perform at an event like that, it’s fun, and it’s all for the greater good. We’re not just playing for money. We’re playing to help people.”
For more information on the band, visit www.19thstreetband.com. And catch them at 201 Bar on August 17.
201 Bar: 201 Massachusetts Ave. NE, DC; 202-544-5201