As most of you know, IrishFest in Milwaukee is the largest Festival of its type in the world. There are 16 stages blasting away, and this year there was a record turnout of traditional music for the real Irish/Scottish music fan. Friday night of the Fest saw a truly stunning storm. Big time. I talked to a woman who said, “I’ve lived in Milwaukee all my life and I’ve never seen anything like it.” Open air stages were closed for roughly an hour, while the tempest of a storm went through. Wow! Great crowds for the rest, even though Saturday and Sunday had really hot weather underneath a blazer of a sun. However, it was lovely in the many venues under roof, with a breeze blowing through the open sides.
Any big news this year? YES. Dallahan! Every year, an act sweeps the Fest. Dallahan was there last year, but I, along with many, missed them. This year theirs was the “new” concert to be at. This wondrous Scottish quintet is Jack Badcock: Guitar/Vocals, Jani Lang : Fiddle, Vocals, Ciarán Ryan: Banjo/Mandolin/ Fiddle, Paddy Callaghan: Button Accordion, and Balázs Hermann: Double-Bass. There is nothing more fun than discovering the new and fantastic. I can tell you this. I’ve been going to this for 32 years, (this was their 35th!), and I have not enjoyed a group this much at the Fest since Barachois from Prince Edward Island,
Canada and the original La Bottine Souriante. Dallahan is like a world music festival in one group. It is all trad, all Scots, all world and all totally, completely new. These young guys are already virtual masters of their instruments, blazing away in extremely rich and complex arrangements. The music nonetheless maintains a driving beat, and the vocals are perfect. Two standing ovations from the crowd of over a thousand, and a long line at the cd sales table, showed that Fest-goers agreed. This is a stunning development. Let’s hope the group stays together for a good while. Formed in 2013, they are almost done with a new album, so we have our fingers crossed for their future!
What do the groups of Moloney, O’Connell and Keane and John Carty, Matt Molloy and Arty McGlynn share with Liz Carroll? They were all at Fest and they were all superb. They are trad legends. Rightly. No, they’re not new to the scene, as is Dallahan. They are the top of the trad mountain and have been for decades. What you get with Dallahan is a stunner of something new and wonderful. What you get with these two groups, and Liz, is perfection. You go, and you love them because they never, ever disappoint. They are, literally, perfect musicians playing traditional Irish music perfectly. They are like your favorite blanket. You wrap yourself in their music and all is well with the world. Truly. Perfection.
Lunasa said they were there for the first time in 14 years. That does not seem possible. But—we think it is true. Lunasa is also perfect. Lunasa’s traditional music means incredible world tunes like selections from Brittainy and France. Lunasa has been on the scene for years, yet they remain fresh and new every time. They are arguably the best instrumental group in the business. We have seen them several times in person. Never go to one of their shows and think you know what you are going to see or hear. Quintet spokesman and incredible flautist, Kevin Crawford sees to that! Radio co-host, Imelda Bhroga and I were yet again submerged in their lovely playing and their own great brand of perfection.
Another Shocker, and it should not have been, was Brendan Power. Saying this former Riverdance star is Ireland’s greatest harmonica player is not sufficient. He ranks with the likes of Toots Thielemans, Charlie McCoy and Larry Adler as supreme artists and real masters of their instrument. He was set for the Fest with one of our favorite guitarists, Tim Edey. Unfortunately, Tim had to stay home due to a very serious family illness. On the night Imelda and our music associate, Dominique Genereaux caught him, Jack Babcock on guitar and Balázs Hermann on bass—both from Dallahan, sat in with Brendan for either the first time ever, or the second. (Unsure on this number!) Unbelievable. It was a little later in the evening in the pub tent with a small crowd, everyone there agreed they had seen something truly special. Imelda says it tied Dallahan for the musical moment of discovery at the Fest. We won’t argue. We had known of Brendan Power and heard him over the years on cd’s. Nothing prepared us for the live show. A true, honest-to-God master. And, we got to hear a song from Jack Badcock that was simply more perfection. Magic!
We couldn’t see everyone we wanted to during the time parameters of our stay. What we did catch was the best Fest trad in years. Big audiences for these fantastic acts also showed there is a large and substantial audience for trad, thank God. You don’t need footpads and drum kits bangin’ away to bring in a big crowd. Those tools have their place, but thank heavens the center of it all remains real acoustic music played by brilliant musicians.
Best ever? Hard to say. Answer? Yes-if you love and live in trad!!