This was the 22ndFestival and one that continues in the tradition of quality artists, from the Friday kick off, through to the wind-up party on the Monday evening. It’s amazing that the sense of community and the spirit of the gathering has not become something bigger and out of control over the years. The true essence of the Festival lies with the organising committee all the way through to the volunteers and the business people of this magical city who come together in unison to ensure that everything works seamlessly, year after year.
From the humble beginnings back in 1998 and the steady hand of both Tom Stapleton and John Cleere on the rudder, over the intervening years, the sense of pride in a job well done is matched only by the outpouring of love & affection that greets each new year as it comes around.
As always, Rollercoaster Records is something of a spiritual hub for the Festival with much activity around collecting tickets, swapping tickets for gigs over the few days, buying music to support the shop and just hanging out to chat or listen to the in-store sets that are run in the afternoons. Not only do Dave Holland, Garrett Kehoe, Roisin Erin Knopek and team, provide plenty of information with a smile from the store but they also play pivotal roles in the sound at many of the gigs, manning the mixing desk at the Set Theatre or elsewhere. Super heroes all…!!
Starting off with William the Conqueror on Friday night and a rousing set, played with great élan and energy, by this trio from Cornwall whoare making great waves at the moment with their vibrant sound and good-time stage presence. Catching up with old friends in Cleere’s Bar is an essential first night ritual and the chance to meet new friends is never far away as the rendezvous from other gigs takes place amongst stories of what was missed and who was just sensational…
Day two ramps up the activity and Michael McDermott at Ryan’s Bar delivers a set that is compelling, honest and packed full of wonderful songs; all performed with total conviction and skill by an artist who is surely on the cusp of something great. Solo gig of the weekend for me. My wife, Donna, attends a clashing gig at the Set Theatre which features Jason Lytle (Granddaddy) and Malojian, in what is a tribute to the late, great Willie Meighan, whose presence is never far away from the collective consciousness. Her appraisal of the show was that time stood still as both artists performed beautifully.
Alejandro Escovedo played later (much later) with the Don Antonio Band from Italy and he really knocked it out of the park with a performance that cracked with raw energy and a punk ethic that suited the mood perfectly for the audience, who just wanted to dance and party the night away.
Sunday was my highlight with a sublime set in the afternoon from The Delines, Amy Boone fronting a 5-piece band which featured David Murphy from Cork guesting on pedal steel guitar. A rousing performance from Patty Griffin followed that evening and a closing gig from the Sadies that had everyone bouncing around to their high energy songs and machine gun guitar rhythms. So much great music to savour.
Monday was a day of coming down from the highs of the previous days and no better way to do this than experience the stripped down, gentle sound of Dori Freeman,who played a lunchtime set at the Pumphouse. Songs that are delivered with an easy charm, deceptive in their simplicity but still very well received by the audience. A closing party gig at Billy Byrne’s was the real icing on the cake with a localcover band, the Backyard Band, really impressing over a set that saw everyone dancing on the floor and enjoying the dying embers of a weekend that will live long in the memory as the Summer kicks in and the bigger Festivals take centre stage. However big they are, there will only ever be one Kilkenny Roots Festival! Until the next time….
Many of the above-mentioned gigs have been reviewed in greater depth in this collective report by my talented colleagues, Declan Culliton and Stephen Rapid.
One of the shows that they did not touch upon was Patty Griffin and my thoughts around her performance centre on her wonderful gift to take an emotion and run with it until we all feel part of a common experience. She sings from her boots and whether you enjoy the vocal gymnastics that her soulful blues delivers; you have to sit in awe of her power to raise the feeling of joy and recognition among the audience. Her show centres very much around the new release, the eponymous Patty Griffin, and while she plays 10 tracks from the release out of the 16 performed, it is her Gospel tinged renditions of Move Up, Standing and Heavenly Day, that really capture the imagination in their delivery and resonance.
Patty divides opinion on the night concerning her vocal delivery and maybe it was down to the sound in the theatre; from my position she sang with a wonderful intensity and gave everything to the performance which was beautifully elevated by the wonderful talents of both David Pulkingham (guitars, piano) and Conrad Choucroun (drums, percussion, bass, guitar, piano). Such stunning interplay between the players was a joy and the band highlight for me on the weekend
Review by Paul McGee
Well, it’s come and gone again, another memorable Kilkenny Roots Festival and a time for reflection. Once more we were treated to a full on and action packed few days of incredible music and merriment, among friends, old and new.
Organiser John Cleere and his merry committee men have the well-seasoned recipe for not only keeping the punters happy, but also insuring that the performers are drawn into the whole vibrancy and enjoyment of the weekend. The additional goodie on the menu this year was a brunch and interview with Allan Jones of Uncut fame (and Melody Maker for those of my vintage). He regaled us with tales of interviews - very few orthodox or with happy endings – with legends like John Martyn and Van Morrison. He also marvelled at the joys of being granted a whole weekend to review a fourteen CD Bob Dylan boxset for Uncut!
The musical highlights were countless. John Perry on stage with Alejandro Escovedo and Don Antonio Band, blasting out Another Girl, Another Planet, will remain in my memory bank for some time. Smiling faces and bleeding ears exiting Langton’s after a blistering set of Neil Young covers by Psychedelic Pill. Tears and laughter in equal parts were the order of the day at The Set, courtesy of Malojian and Jason Lytle, recalling memories of shows arranged by Willie Meighan at the same venue. The long overdue return of The Sadies was never going to disappoint and U. K’s dynamic live act William The Conqueror at Cleere’s brought the house down. Patty Griffin and her sensational two-piece band were idyllic early evening listening at The Watergate. Two jaw dropping sets from psychedelic art rockers Susto at Kytelers. A simply glowing Amy Boone fronting The Delines was a joy to behold after her traumatic few years recovering from injury. The ‘special gig’ at Billy Byrne’s offered the perfect late Monday afternoon ‘come down’ of classic tunes and dodgy dancing. It also afforded the organisers and their many helpers the opportunity to wind down and congratulate themselves on another festival expertly delivered. However, it’s seldom only all about the bigger events. John Murry accompanied by Ger Moloney on accordion delivering a few songs to about fifteen people in Paris Texas on Monday night was the perfect curtain closer for me to another extraordinary weekend. See you all again next year.
Review and photography by Declan Culliton