Finbarr Clancy, Darren Holden and Brian Dunphy are the High Kings.
Music Notes / By Colleen Taylor
Being an American in Dublin, I often have friends or new acquaintances tell me about their holidays in the States—their nostalgia and desire to return, their excitement about an upcoming trip. But no Irish citizen is more excited to return to the U.S. than the folk supergroup, the High Kings. I spoke to two of the three kings, Darren Holden and Brian Dunphy, as they wrapped up a summer Irish tour and expressed enthusiasm and appreciation for their upcoming American one. Whether the High Kings are more excited to return to the States, or American fans are more excited to have them playing New York and Boston again this July and September—well, that’s a comparison that will remain unquantifiable.
First things first, mark July 25 on your calendar. That’s when the High Kings will return to New York’s City Winery for two shows, launching their American tour, which will cover the Great American Irish Festival in Frankfurt, N.Y. and, by popular demand in the form of 15,000 emails from fans, the Milwaukee Irish Festival. The band is particularly excited to return to Milwaukee after missing the festival last year, but New York remains a favorite location. By Holden’s estimation, “there is no better place in the world to kick off a tour than New York.” All three Kings consider New York City a second home. Holden, of course, performed on Broadway as the lead role in Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out.” Moreover, both he and Dunphy did year-long stints in the Big Apple as part of the “Riverdance” cast. Although they played the big theatres on Broadway, Holden and Dunphy are as much at home in City Winery’s more intimate setting. Holden described the venue as “our little spiritual enclave in New York” where the atmosphere is, for them, unparalleled. The High Kings at City Winery has become tradition, and Holden considers it a homecoming, when fans from all across the tristate area make the pilgrimage to hear the best of Irish folk music and welcome the Kings back to the States. For me, the High Kings playing City Winery is akin to the Clancy Brothers playing the White Horse in Greenwich Village in the ‘50s. Needless to say, you don’t want to miss it. Be quick and book your tickets at highkings.com.
For a band that’s achieved as much trans-Atlantic success as the High Kings, they remain deeply humbled, particularly when it comes to their American fan base. Perhaps my analogy will sound cheesy, but the way the High Kings approach their role as performers is intrinsically democratic. They consider it their privilege to be elected, by American fans, as ambassadors of Irish music. My High Kings fans and I would be inclined to give the band more of the credit, but it’s nevertheless refreshing and exciting to see how, despite the decade of success and popularity, the band remains in tune with their fans as individuals, as friends, as part of the music itself. Holden explained that he and his bandmates are excited to see their American fans again, and he joked that he’ll need more luggage on the flight back to Ireland at the end of the summer. “They bring us gifts!” he said with astonishment, “you name it, we get it.” The online support from fans, Holden insisted, keeps the band lively in rehearsal throughout the year.
But Holden also demonstrated appreciation for his two bandmates, Brian Dunphy and Finbarr Clancy, all original members of the band since its beginning in. “Thank God, the three of us are very much intact and still in tune with each other,” Holden said. The harmonies are, of course, what made the High Kings a hit in the first place. What’s more, Holden said that all three Kings “still have the hunger to do this in the future.” High Kings fans, then, can rest assured: there is much more folk music from these three to come. As Holden put it, more eloquently than I could: “It’s the song and the harmony and the music that really matters.”
If you’re unlucky enough to miss the High Kings during their summer dates at City Winery or the Frankfurt festival, or if one show just isn’t enough for you, you can ship up to Boston on the Sept. 19 for one of the band’s most legendary gigs, their annual performance at the Somerville Theatre. Having attended myself, I can guarantee the combination of High Kings and Boston energy in the cozy Somerville Theatre is genuinely spectacular. Have a drink before (and after) at the Burren pub across the street, a famous spot for Irish music, and where you might catch the band visiting friends.
The High Kings full American tourdate schedule and links to tickets are easily accessible at highkings.com.