Sunday 25 September 2016

Rockin' Rowley: Feast of country in the Midlands

Eddie Rowley

Published 27/07/2016 | 02:30

Lisa McHugh
Lisa McHugh
Michael English
Pete Kennedy

The country music festival season is in full swing with town squares, football pitches and pop up marquees hosting the shindigs across our island.

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One of my personal favourites is the Ballymore Country Music Festival in Co Westmeath where I'll be making my annual pilgrimage next Bank Holiday Monday, August 1.

The headline acts include Nathan Carter, Mike Denver, Jimmy Buckley, Robert Mizzell, Lisa McHugh (pictured), and Brendan Shine.

Ballymore has a tradition going back to the 1970s when the festival was first staged and it attracted over 5,000 revellers from Westmeath and surrounding counties.

I was then a young reporter working with the Topic newspaper in Mullingar, which gave me an excuse to soak up the atmosphere and family fun at those early Ballymore hooleys. Ballymore then disappeared as an entertainment event for decades, but was revived in 2013 as part of 'The Gathering.'

With country music's biggest stars on the bill and a spacious dance floor to cater for fans who enjoy rising the dust during four hours of non-stop waltzing and jiving, it's a great family affair with no cover charge for Under 14s.

Ballymore and similar festivals recall simpler times in Ireland.

They draw neighbours, friends and families together. Many emigrants book their trips home to Ireland for the holidays to coincide with a local festival where they are sure of meeting up with old friends as well as family members.

It's also no coincidence that the phenomenal popularity of these festivals has happened in a time when new stars like Nathan, Lisa and Derek Ryan have turned on a young generation to country music and dancing.

Teenagers and children today swarm around the front of the stage like excited One Direction fans to watch their country idols in action.

Galway's fringe festival

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The Galway Races, now up and running, is one of the hugely anticipated festivals of the Irish summer.

While racing and betting is at the heart of this traditional race week, it has also become noted for fashion, food and some great music on the fringe.

Country music fans are in for a treat with three top artists performing at the Galway Bay Hotel starting from tonight with Declan Nerney, whose big hits include Stop The World And Let Me Off and Walkin' On New Grass.

Tomorrow night it's the turn of Michael English, above, who is enjoying a remarkable career since returning to the Irish country dancing scene.

Michael worked around the world on cruise ships before hitting the current vibrant circuit with his own band.

Mike Denver takes over the stage on Thursday night where his up-beat repertoire will no doubt feature one of his big hits, The Galway Girl.

Pete's on his way to the top

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Irish singer-songwriter Pete Kennedy from Birr, Co Offaly, has been nominated for a prestigious British Country Music Award in the 'Male Vocalist of the Year' category with fellow country stars Nathan Carter, Ben Earle of The Shires, Thorne Hill and Gary Quinn.

While working in Nashville, Pete mixed with the stars including Garth Brooks and he had a cameo role in 'Nashville', the TV series. Pete's latest single, 'On My Way To You', is a Top 10 radio airplay hit here in Ireland. His forthcoming shows include a guest appearance at the aforementioned Ballymore Country Music Festival.

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