Tuesday 21 May 2019

Packed dance halls full of revellers... the real heart of Ireland

Country music is enjoying a surge of popularity in Ireland but its hardcore fans and practitioners claim it's a different animal to the wares being peddled by Garth Brooks.

And although many of the 400,000 fans, who booked tickets for the Dublin shows, are also country fans, for most the true scene is a far cry from the Oklahoma crooner playing to massive crowds in Croke Park for five nights.

It's about packed, ticket-only dance halls full to the brim of revellers who travel this circuit regularly for the music.

William O'Keeffe has been immersed in country music all his life. From the age of 11 he started to gig in a band with his dad John T and uncle Packie.

His big break came in the early '80s when a position came up in country star Louise Morrissey's band where he stayed for the next 10 years.

Also a recording artist in his own right, nowadays Willie is kept busy doing solo gigs or performing with Kildare singer Mary D'Arcy, formerly of Two's Company.

Over the wall from the O'Keeffe family home in Lisgoold in east Cork, resides another singing family, Mary, Derval and Derek Burke, better known as Crystal Swing.

But Willie says despite the performers living locally, Cork or even Munster isn't the hotbed of country music.

"You could draw a line across the country from Athlone up to the North and that's where it's strongest," Willie says.

"There are venues that you won't get in the door without a ticket. It's absolutely huge."

He puts the popularity of the music in the midlands and further north down to local radio stations which play a lot of country music.

"It's a type of music a lot of people can identify with and they say a lot of the songs tell a story unlike listening to a pop song."

He puts the latest surge in popularity down to young artists like Nathan Carter (22) and Derek Ryan (24), both with huge followings who have attracted a lot of younger fans for the first time.

"A lot of the people involved in the business have no interest in seeing Garth Brooks. I saw him the last time he played here but to be honest, I wouldn't go to see him again, and I think that's also true for the older generation of performers."

For Willie, the venues where you see the real deal are places like The Well in Moate, Co Westmeath, Bundoran during the summer season, the Racket Hall in Roscrea, Co Tipperary as well as a number of venues north of the border.

Dublin also has a thriving country scene, nowadays.

Still, he thinks it's disappointing for the fans if the Garth Brooks' concerts don't go ahead.

"Dublin is the ideal venue because I don't think any other place has the infrastructure to cope with the crowds''.

He added:

"Even though I'm not going, it's going to be hugely disappointing for country music fans if they miss out," he said.

Indo Review

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News