St. Patrick’s Day is a perfect time to celebrate Irish culture, a big part of which is Irish music. I don’t know about where you are, but in my hometown of Chicago, St. Patrick’s Day parties and parades take place all over the city. If you’re hosting a party, or even attending one and enjoy introducing friends to new music, I’ve got some solid suggestions for your St. Patrick’s Day playlist. And, full disclosure, I first learned of most of the following bands during my 2019 and 2020 trips to Temple Bar TradFest in Dublin.
The best way I can describe Boxing Banjo is “high energy”. I first saw these young lads perform at Milwaukee Irish Fest in 2019 and was completely impressed by their ability to really get the crowd moving. People of all ages were totally into it, including the kids. I knew then that Boxing Banjo was something special. So, when I found out they’d be performing at TradFest 2020, I wasted no time in adding their show to my itinerary. Boxing Banjo’s catalog includes plenty of Irish trad, along with modern rock and even some bluegrass. They get extra points from me for covering one of my favorite songs, “Kansas City” by The New Basement Tapes, which I’ve seen them play twice now. The “high octane folk” of Boxing Banjo will definitely get your St. Patrick’s Day party rocking!
“A band this young shouldn’t be this good.” From Songlines Magazine, that is one of many rave reviews for Connla. The quintet hails from Northern Ireland and is making quite a splash on the folk/traditional music scene. I caught their set at TradFest 2020 and was immediately captivated by Ciara McCafferty’s sweet vocals. Then they played “Wayfaring Stranger” and it moved me close to tears. Connla’s two commercial releases feature a mix of traditional songs along with modern tunes. And if you’re lucky to catch a live performance, you may even be treated to their cover of Eric Clapton’s “Layla”. They played it during their TradFest set and I was blown away. That’s saying something because I don’t care for the original at all.
I haven’t stopped gushing about Corner Boy since I saw them at TradFest 2019. They opened for The Lost Brothers and I wasn’t even expecting an opening act so I was doubly surprised. Corner Boy hails from Wexford, in the southeast of Ireland. The band has been putting out music since 2012 but it’s their 2018 EP, Goodbye Old Holy, that garnered a whole lot of attention. They opened their TradFest performance with the song, “Goodbye Old Holy”. I loved the sound from the first few notes but when frontman Mick D’Arcy bellowed out that first, “Gone!”, I was blown away! Corner Boy reminds me a lot of Mumford & Sons circa 2010 and there are also some hints of Adam Duritz and even Ray Lamontagne in certain songs. But it’s their ability to create this fresh, invigorating sound while incorporating just enough Irish trad elements that prompted me to declare them my new favorite band. Their driving rhythms and almost anthem-like verses will be a rocking addition to any St. Patrick’s Day party playlist.
Thanks to the power of social media, I came across Billy Treacy and his music months before my arrival in Dublin for TradFest. Billy, often with his bandmates Anna Mary Donaghy on fiddle and Anthony “Anto” Warde on banjo, regularly play in the pubs of Dublin. What interested me most is that Billy typically streams his Dublin gigs to a global audience via Periscope. I think it’s genius! So, I was able to get a taste of the Dublin pub scene ahead of time and be introduced to Billy’s music. During his gigs, he and the band play covers and traditional pub favorites (think “Whiskey In The Jar”). But Billy also has a catalog of original music, some of which you’ll hear during his pub gigs. From the catchy and cheeky “Temple Bar”, to the bittersweet tribute, “Ma”, Billy’s music will have you toe-tapping and raising a pint to loved ones in no time. (Check out my interview with Billy on the Roots Rambler Podcast!)
The Henry Girls
I was lucky enough to catch one of The Henry Girls‘ intimate Front Row pub sessions during TradFest. From the moment they started playing, I was mesmerized. Each of the three sisters – Karen, Lorna, and Joleen McLaughlin – is a master vocalist and talented musician. Their lyrics and storytelling paint pictures of both true romance and love lost. And their three-part harmonies will melt your face off. But more than anything, The Henry Girls’ style appeals to such a wide audience. Think The Andrews Sisters accompanied by fiddles and accordions blended with a country edge and you have The Henry Girls.
The Kilkennys are another band I got to see at a TradFest Front Row pub session. I was familiar with their name because they played Milwaukee Irish Fest a few years ago, but what I didn’t know is just how energetic and entertaining they are. The Kilkennys are known as a folk and ballad band and they add youthful exuberance to even the most traditional songs. By touring globally and being musically eclectic while staying true to their roots, The Kilkennys have established a diverse fan base, spanning continents and age groups. Their single, “You Couldn’t Have Come at a Better Time”, off their latest release Blowin’ In The Wind, is sure to be a St. Patrick’s Day party favorite!
While technically not Irish, Carlos Núñez is from Galicia, Spain, which has strong Celtic connections. Carlos capitalizes on those Celtic connections with his mastery of the gaita, traditional bagpipes from Galicia. The gaita dates back to at least the 11th century and is not very well known outside of Spain. Because of his unrivaled talent, Carlos has become Galicia’s foremost traditional music ambassador. His performance at TradFest ranks up there in my top 3. He and his band had audience members dancing in the aisles – literally – and even up on stage! To see one of Carlos’s live performances is an absolute treat. But if having him perform at your St. Patrick’s Day party isn’t an option, adding his music to your St. Patrick’s Day playlist is a must!
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