One of Greater Boston's most enduringly popular Irish music and cultural events will pass a significant milestone this month when the Irish Cultural Centre of New England (ICCNE) hosts the 20th annual Irish Festival at the ICCNE campus in Canton Sept. 17-19.
Highlights of the festival will include performances by the internationally renowned ballad group The High Kings; the band McPeake, which carries on the tradition of one of Ireland's most famous music families; acclaimed Irish-American singer Andy Cooney, whose repertoire ranges from classic Irish ballads to more contemporary sounds; Canadian Celtic rock band Glengarry Bhoys; and contemporary singer-songwriter Padraig Allen and The Whole Shabang.
In addition to music - the line-up also includes local performers Erin's Melody, The Gobshites, the Andy Healy Band, Curragh's Fancy and Erin Og as well as Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, and Ceol Tradisiunta na hEireann - the festival will feature dancing, films, cultural exhibits and children's activities.
The ICC Festival began at Stonehill College in Easton, then moved to its present-day location in 2004, when it took on a more international and musically diverse character as the Irish Connections Festival and later the ICONS Festival. Last year, the festival was organized on a smaller scale and with more of a local and regional focus.
"The ICC's festival is a wonderful family event and it draws people from all over North America," says Festival Chairman Seamus Mulligan. "It's affordable, easy to get to, offers free parking, is handicapped accessible and gives people a real taste of greater Boston's rich Irish cultural heritage."
This year, the festival's local-regional flavor will be supplemented by the five headline musical acts:
- Renowned vocalists and musicians Finbarr Clancy, Brian Dunphy, Martin Furey, and Darren Holden joined forces two years ago to form The High Kings, whose sound derives from the classic Irish ballad style that swept into popularity during the 1950s and 60s through such bands as the Clancy Brothers and The Dubliners. The High Kings - whose PBS special helped earn them a world-wide following - bring a 21st-century perspective to the Irish tradition, combining modern songs in the folk idiom with some of the classic ballad repertoire.
- The McPeakes' presence in traditional music goes back nearly a century, and their contributions to the folk revival of the 1950s and '60s are numerous and memorable - they were the first to record "Wild Mountain Thyme," the immensely popular song credited to Francis McPeake, who was also a legendary piper. After a period of inactivity following Francis's death in 1971, the band reformed in the 1980s and began playing again. Now known as "McPeake," the group - under the direction of Francis McPeake IV - mixes the traditional music that has long been part of the family legacy with more contemporary rhythms and styles.
- Long Island native Andy Cooney has been singing professionally for a quarter-century, and since launching his solo career in 1994, has performed at venues large and small across the country, as well as internationally, offering renditions of familiar Irish favorites like "Danny Boy" and "Galway Boy," and his hit records "The Irish Wedding Song", "Boston Rose" and "Daughter of Mine." He has worked with prominent entertainers including Ronan Tynan, Crystal Gayle, Seamus Egan, and Charlie Daniels, and been featured on CD and DVD as well as on broadcast TV.
- Based in Ontario, the Glengarry Bhoys play a rock-and-roll hybrid of Canadian Highland Scots and French Canadian musical idioms with widely acclaimed musicianship and a healthy dose of humor and energy. The band, comprised of Graham Wright (vocals, guitars), Zig Leroux (vocals, drums, percussion), D'Arcy Furniss (fiddle), and Ewan Brown (pipes, whistles), has toured internationally and appeared on US and Canadian television. Their most recent album is "Eight."
- The Whole Shabang, which started life in 1992, features the charismatic singing and songwriting of Padraig Allen, who originally joined the band as its bass player. Their "super band sound" is a distinctive mix between old Irish Celtic folklore and contemporary pop-rock Celtic music. The quintet appeared at the Irish Festival during the Stonehill College period, and has played at the Milwaukee Irish Festival, Hunter Mountain Irish Fest, and East Durham Irish Fest, among other venues.
The complete performers lineup and schedule will be available on the ICCNE website, at irishculture.org.
Irish step dance showcases and participatory ceilidh dancing, perennial favorites for festival attendees, will once again be featured. Children and their parents can partake of family-friendly games, activities and amusements - including Mike "The Music Man" Slattery and storytellers Sharon Kennedy and Big Joe.
Other aspects of Irish culture at the festival will include a display of Irish art from the Aisling Gallery and artist Mary McSweeney, and screenings of popular Irish films such as "The Commitments," "Once," "The Quiet Man," "The Secret of Roan Inish" and "The Wind That Shakes the Barley." The "Old Homestead," the ICCNE's authentic Irish cottage, will be the site for singing sessions, talks by authors, knitting demonstrations and other activities that will offer a flavor of life in rural Ireland.
General admission to the festival will be $15 per day and $35 for the weekend (Friday-Sunday); the cost for current ICC members will be $10 per day, $15 for the weekend. Children 12 and under are free when accompanied by a paid adult. On Sept. 17, the festival will offer free admission to current ICC members (with member ID) and Canton residents (must have ID with Canton address).
For more information, see irishculture.org or call 888-GO-IRISH (888-464-7474).