Irish, U.S. fests showcase talent

Michigan’s the Moxie Strings will be on stage at the Great American Irish Festival in Frankfort, N.Y., in July.

By Colleen Taylor

Festival season is here and in full swing. Summer festivaling marks a way of life for many Irish musicians--and many Irish music fans to boot. As a music buff myself, festival season is one of my favorite times of year because it means the chance to check out up and coming talent.

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Last year's Body & Soul festival was full of impressive musical introductions. While there, I became fans of Jape and the September Girls, and warmed to the entire electro genre in general. This year's lineup looks equally promising. Body & Soul, which is set out in Ballinlough Castle in Westmeath, does a commendable job of giving equal stage time to international superstars and homegrown talent. So while Leftfield and Savages might draw the crowds this year, bands like Sleep Thieves and The Eskies will represent Ireland well.

Dublin’s the Eskies are a unique choice, and their music will be unlike anything else heard throughout the weekend. The band has labeled their style “sea soaked Gypsy folk,” but that description doesn’t quite cover it. This band blends modern electro-pop with the most interesting vaudeville-esque inspirations from the past. Their music is the stuff of saloons of the early 20th century. They blend jazz, Italian tarantella, noir, ballroom waltzes, their own Irish influences, and seemingly anything else that was lively and interesting in the music halls of old. Their music is a spicy melting pot. The Eskies are ones to check out if only for the way their music stands out from the crowd. Their single “Fever” is particularly lively, and the band has recently just announced the release of their first full album, “After the Sherry Went Round.” The Eskies are hot and getting hotter, and I encourage your giving them a listen. This is like nothing else you’ll hear on the radio—it’s the thrill of centuries-old parties brought back to life.

The Eskies, a Dublin band that are not like anything you’ll hear on the radio, are hot and getting hotter.

Another Dublin band, Sleep Thieves, will be treating the crowds at Body&Soul to their interesting new sounds. If The Eskies are straight out of the ‘20s, Sleep Thieves are the stuff of the ‘80s. They blend disco, electro pop, and a touch of new age influences to make their light, fresh sound. Just off the release of their album, “You Want the Night,” Sleep Thieves are not only impressing people in Ireland, they’re gaining fans in New York and L.A. as well. This hints toward an American break for the Irish band soon. Maybe the ‘80s aren’t dead after all.

The wild card at Body&Soul will be The Young Folk, a band who is just what their name says: a youthful, fresh take on folk music. The festival at Ballinlough is known for its electro music, but The Young Folk will bring tradition and heritage to the stage. And that’s just what I like about this band: their genuine commitment to the roots. No doubt they are breaking new ground and producing original material in their new approach to folk and Americana music, but all in all, they are standard Folk at the end of the day, just as their name proclaims. This band is the proof that something doesn’t have to be ground-breaking to be good music. In fact, The Young Folk are singing proof of the folk tradition’s immortality in Ireland. They will be performing material from their new album, “The Little Battle,” which will be available in the States on June 30 and which I’ll be reviewing in full in a couple weeks.

On this side of the Atlantic, Irish music fans are gearing up with anticipation for the Great American Irish Festival, which will take place at the end of July 24-26 in Frankfort, N.Y. The lineup boasts of some of Irish Music’s superstars, from the incomparable Eileen Ivers, to two of Canada’s best Irish bands, Searson and the Glengarry Boys, as well as Celtic rock legends, Hair of the Dog.

But there are some new names there of interest as well – for instance, 1916, a young Celtic punk rock band out of Rochester. While a lot of their music’s thematics have to do with boxing (which isn’t exactly my area of expertise), their cohesive sound is surprisingly worth commending. They produce an unforced mix of electric guitar, punk interpretations from the Pogues, Celtic influences, and their own New York flare. They will no doubt take the stage very loudly in Frankfort, showing the punk legacy of the Pogues still thrives.

The Young Folk will bring tradition and heritage to the stage at Ballinlough Castle.

Michigan’s the Moxie Strings call themselves “a new string initiative.” The young trio, formed in 2012, blends Irish instrumentation and Americana music with a touch of rock n’ roll through their signature electric cello. In short, this band is old music seen through fresh young eyes. Their instrumentation is unimposing, yet vibrant; they’ll have you hearing old, familiar tunes like you’ve never heard them before. The Moxie Strings are full of energy, youth and the future of Irish trad, which increasingly in this decade has been harmoniously coupled with Americana.

Summer is no doubt an exciting season for Ireland and Irish America’s new bands. Get yourself to the Great American Irish Festival to hear Moxie Strings for yourself, or if you happen to be in Ireland and in the mood for a trip to Westmeath, check out the Young Folk or the Eskies. I can promise they’ll be more to come on these bands in future.