By Peter McDermott
You know you’re on the map if National Geographic magazine says you are. By that measure, people should be able to find their way to Joe Hurley’s 12th Annual All-Star Irish Rock Revue at the Highline Ballroom on March 12.
Last year, the famous magazine rated the event the “#2 star attraction” in a piece entitled “The 10 best places to celebrate the St. Patrick’s Season in America.”
“If I’d known that it would be 12 years, I would have given it a much shorter title,” Hurley said. “That’s for certain.”
The simplicity of Hurley’s idea – to have mainly non-Irish performers sing Irish rock and folk standards – has long struck a chord with the city’s mainstream media.
The “Irish Songbook” has included the Undertones, the Dubliners, Elvis Costello, the Pogues, Morrissey, John Lydon (Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols), Dusty Springfield, U2, Stiff Little Fingers, Dexy’s Midnight Runners and Sinead O’Connor.
“The songbook is of Ireland but for everyone,” said Hurley, who will lead his own band, the Gents, on the night. “New Yorkers from all backgrounds singing them: That’s what the show is about. There’s no other songbook that translates so well across the world.
“The performers will include a core group of top New York City stars from punk legends to Tony-winning Broadway stars to rising local singers.
“There’ll be a fantastic mix of Grammy award winners, Oscar winners and a National Book Award winner, Colum McCann,” Hurley added about this year’s four-hour extravaganza.
Among the many confirmed guests in the above categories are Dolores “LaLa” Brooks of the Crystals and Bob Dylan’s long-serving sideman Tony Garnier. The “Beehive Queen” Christine Ohlman, the lead vocalist of the “Saturday Night Live” band, will also make a return performance.
“There are a greater number of unannounced guests this year,” he said.
Among them are an act that is soon to be inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, a special guest from Ireland about to tour the U.S. and a “New York guitar legend” who will play the late Gary Moore’s Gibson Les Paul.
Moore died on Feb. 6, and the Irish Rock Revue will pay a special tribute to him and his Thin Lizzy front man Phil Lynott, whose 25th anniversary occurred in January.
Last year, backed by a video montage, Hurley and guests honored three people who had passed away in the previous 12 months: punk rocker and poet Jim Carroll, author Frank McCourt and folk musician Liam Clancy.
Hurley’s late soccer heroes George Best and Bobby Moore usually get a mention at some point. The London-born rocker made a pilgrimage to Best’s grave at Roselawn Cemetery in East Belfast in one of several trips to Ireland last year.
It’s been an extraordinarily busy time for the Manhattan-based musician. Among the notable highlights was his narration with Johnny Depp of the audio-book version of Keith Richards’ “Life.”
Hurley found that he liked the Rolling Stone’s memoir. “When you read the book, you feel that Keith’s sitting in his favorite armchair, reflecting on and sharing his wild ride and his life with just you,” he said.
And the critics in turn admired his work on it. “Hurley captures the voice of Richards throughout, narrating in a gritty growl that is spot on,” said Publishers’ Weekly, adding praise for his and Depp’s “wise, charming, and textured narration.”
“A very talented Hurley reads the bulk of this with a rough British accent and lots of brio,” the Cleveland Daily News said.
Hurley has also continued his collaboration with McCann and he expects the Dublin-born novelist to sing a song from the Highline stage a week from Saturday.
Literature is heard from Irish Rock Revue stage, too. Last year, for instance, Irish Consul General Niall Burgess read poetry in both Irish and English.
“I’ve asked Noel [Kilkenny, Burgess’s successor] to come down this year,” Hurley said.
For its founder, the revue isn’t just about the music.
“The appeal of it is that the Irish are the great storytellers and everyone loves a good story,” he said.
The Irish Rock Revue will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 12 at the Highline Ballroom, 431 West 16th St. (between streets 9th and 10th Avenues). Doors open at 6 p.m. and the event will end at 10:45. Proceeds will go to the Bowery Mission.