The small turnout for these three under-the-radar but talented performers raised the question about whether there is an audience in Dublin for more hardline country. Or if it is simply a lack of awareness from a potential audience for such an evening. Is it a lack of promotion, the lack of radio support or simply a lack of an interested music supporter prepared to go out on a Sunday evening? All pertinent questions to the state of live roots/country music in the capital.
However, the small turnout didn’t seem to affect the commitment of the three artists taking the stage. The show opened with singer and radio/TV personality Kerry Fearon accompanied by Ags Connolly on guitar and occasional vocals. Her opening set featured a selection of songs that Fearon expressed a liking for and they included San Antone Rose, Today I Started Loving You Again, To Ramona, Chase Wild Horses (a song which she introduced by explaining that the Kim Richey song touched her with its lyrics which she was able to relate to her own family). Elizabeth Cook’s Mama’s Prayers was another song that had a personal significance. There was a duet on the traditional Red River Valley which both Fearon and Connolly had included on separate albums. Fearon thanked her tour mates for the opportunity to play these Irish dates together and despite obvious nerves she acquitted herself well. It will be interesting to see how she develops her singing career with original or less well known songs.
Leo Rondeau was up next to play some songs from his latest album Right On Time. There was a wryness to his songs that look at his own family history and also to the nature of the relationships he has had over time. Rondeau grew up in North Dakota surrounded by country music. He is now based in Nashville having moved there from Austin, Texas. There was a certain amount of humour amid the tales of mishap and misadventure. He opened his segment with two songs from the album - the title track and If You Don’t Love Me. Other topics he discussed included driverless trucks, the tale of pool playing Dwayne Felkin and a song that listed the various inherent problems his family had in a song that laidout the limited possibilities he might face, concluding that “It doesn’t look good for me”. He said that he found the audiences here to be very polite as he was used to a lot of noise and seeing dancers in front of him when he plays with his honky tonk band in the States. He had started out being “all into lyrics and shit” but that it was more fun “to make people dance.” Now he tries to combine both. It would be fun to see Rondeau with a band but as solo performer he emphasised his more lyrical side with some great lines and a voice to match.
Next up was possibly England’s finest country singer (certainly one of them) Ags Connolly who was playing for his second time in Dublin. He delivered some songs from his just recorded new album which would be out once he is able to sort out the complexities and practicalities of that. Hopefully it won’t take too long as these songs, in this raw state, sounded well up there with his best and again emphasising just how committed a singer Connolly is. Something that has little to do with his nationality and more to do with an innate love and understanding of traditional country music and writing song that fit that context.
As well as the new material he included such favourites as I Saw James Hand, about whom he told us was a personal hero and a person Connolly had met and befriended in Austin, although he noted had met him in a drunken stupor one night that there was no recognition on Hand’s part. In contrast a few days later they met again and Hand, as he was sober, greeted him. Hand was on his way to a gig, having checking himself out of the hospital to do so! Connolly also spoke of the fact that he travels to Austin less these days after a romance there had broken down. Humorously remarking that that was often the lot of country singers. ”Brimming with positivity” he later joked about the content of his own songs before finishing his set with an appropriate example in I Hope You’re Unhappy.
The evening concluded in fine style with Rondeau joining Connolly for a well matched duet on Wille Nelson’s, Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain. Earlier Rondeau had, with a female companion danced a Texas Two Step in front of the stage at Connolly’s behest. One hopes that both, or either, of these traveling troubadours will return - but with a more substantial audience to appreciate the respective talents, as did the small audience present tonight.
Review by Stephen Rapid Photography by Kaethe Burt O’Dea