3hattrio “plays American desert music,” and is made up of, from left to right, Eli Wrankle, Greg Istock, and Hal Cannon.

Hailing from southern Utah near Zion National Park, 3hattrio, in their words, “plays American Desert Music.”

In its brief existence, the trio has staked out a sound that draws from their diverse musical backgrounds to create a modern and timeless musical representation of their homeland.

In early 2018 the band – whose name is pronounced three hat trio – released its fourth album, Lord of the Desert. In praising the album, American Songwriter wrote, “There aren’t many bands brave enough to create something as different, captivating and defiantly non-commercial as 3hattrio.”

Swallow Hill is excited to present 3hattrio in Daniels Hall on Friday, January 25, where they share the bill with Mollie O’Brien and Rich Moore.

3hattrio is made up of Hal Cannon on banjo, guitar and vocals, Eli Wrankle, on violin and backing vocals, and Greg Istock on bass and vocals. We recently caught up with Hal via email. He told us more about the band’s sound, how they came together, and what audiences will hear at their concert on January 25.

For fans who know you as a solo artist, or as a performer with the Deseret String Band or Red Rock Rondo, what can they expect from 3hattrio?

3hattrio is totally different and defies most categories. It is music inspired by the desert country where we live. It is an alternate kind of western music. We find most people who value their ears really find something uplifting in our music.

I fear if you come with expectations of hearing traditional old-time cowboy music like the Deseret String Band, or if your tastes run toward a highly arranged folk ensemble like Red Rock Rondo, you will hear nothing quite like these groups I’ve been part of in the past.

Hal Cannon

Hal Cannon

How does 3hattrio fit in with the musical traditions you’ve explored with those other bands? And how is it different?

Sure, the members of 3hattrio come with our individual tastes and musical experience. We have a hard time finding anything to listen to on the road that we can all agree on. I’ve been following folk, old-time and cowboy music for many years. Greg Istock played with great Caribbean groups for years. Eli Wrankle, the youngest in our group, is classically trained but loves to improvise on the violin. We bring this all together and hope there aren’t too many musical collisions along the way.

The members of 3hattrio come from diverse musical backgrounds, as well as being a multi-generational group. How did the band come together?

3hattrio was born when violinist Eli was 15 years old. His family held a small recital in their home to raise funds for his high school orchestra to perform at Disneyland. After the recital Greg and I asked if Eli wanted to jam. He had never played music that way before but agreed. When we finished, he asked for more. We were born purely out of friendship, localness, and musical chemistry. Eli will turn 22 in January so that is six years of music together.

Will 3hattrio be joining Mollie O’Brien and Rich Moore at Swallow Hill on January 25? What will that be like?

We love Mollie’s singing and Rich’s guitar playing. They are dear friends. Last year we shared the stage in Colorado Springs and it was a magical evening. In a way. it is an unlikely pairing but when our music comes together it makes a soulful mix.

Beyond your musical endeavors, you have championed Western arts and culture throughout your career. What are some exciting things happening in your world, musically or otherwise?

I spent most of my life as a folklorist advocating the creative lives of ordinary people. I did this as the state folklorist of Utah, the founding director of the Western Folklife Center and its main event, the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. For the final fifteen years of this career I produced cultural features for NPR and PBS. I’m proud of this work but when I was done with it I got back into music, which has always been my first love. Music is my life. I feel really lucky to have found the other hats in the trio. We’ve had the opportunity to share our music in Europe and the US over the past years and feel like this music will have a long life, long after we are gone.

See Mollie O’Brien & Rich Moore with 3hattrio, presented by KGNU, on Friday, January 25.