Beyond the featured musical performers each night at the Indy Irish Fest — Young Dubliners, The Barra MacNeils and Canadian folk trio Banshee — there’s a wealth of local and national musicians and dance troupes performing throughout the three days, including locals Hogeye Navvy and Irish Airs, and regular performances by the Emerald Society and Fountain Trusts pipe bands. That’s not to mention other activities: Festival materials boast of the opportunity to see “authentic sheep” — as opposed to those animatronic knockoffs — “herding with border collies.” (Puppies will herd ducks, a more docile animal used to test a dog’s herding instinct and aptitude before moving to more practicable activities.)
And there’s potentially obscure sports: This is the first year at the fest for hurling, a sort of rustic version of field hockey played with curved wooden sticks and a leather ball. And there’s the Saturday morning rugby tournament (held on the Central State grounds), a 5K run and walk Friday night and a 1K kilted race Sunday morning. Both run/walks will be accompanied by pipe bands.
Consult the fest Web site — www.indyirishfest.com — for more information.
The Barra MacNeils
The six Nova Scotia siblings that make up The Barra MacNeils were playing music together years before they formed a band in 1986. “It all started in Cape Breton with music in our home and our grandmother’s home in Washabuck,” singer and multi-instrumentalist Stewart MacNeil remembers. “Everyone was encouraged to dance or sing or play instruments eventually at house parties. It was a very positive experience. We started playing at local dances and concerts. Kyle and Sheumas started playing for local square dances in their mid-teen years. I joined and added more instruments. Sometimes we’d have to run out the back door when liquor inspectors would show up. Lucy joined the band in 1986 as a guest feature.”
Bassist Jamie Gatti — the only member from outside of the family — completes the seven-piece Celtic folk ensemble, which has expanded in the past few years to accommodate those coming of age.
“We made an album and were asked to perform for 10 days at Expo ’86 in Vancouver,” MacNeil continues. “That is when we became The Barra MacNeils. Ryan and Boyd, the youngest siblings, joined the band much later. The whole family has been playing full-time for about six years.”
The Barra MacNeils began by playing and recording traditional Celtic maritime folk, but ventured into pop and rock territory in the early ’90s, hitting the Canadian charts with a cover of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Darling Be Home.”
“We are first and foremost a band that plays Cape Breton-influenced Celtic music,” Stewart MacNeil says. “We are both a strong instrumental and vocal band that also features Cape Breton-style stepdancing. Everyone in the band is a multi-instrumentalist. Family vocal harmonies are also featured.”
The Barra MacNeils have toured the world, including Scotland, England, Jamaica, Barbados, Denmark, Germany, Ireland and North America. “It’s hard to imagine how many miles we’ve traveled together between the long drives in Canada to the manic flight schedules to festivals in the summertime,” Stewart MacNeil says. “We’ve spent the summer playing a lot of Irish festivals and the atmosphere is usually very upbeat and we usually pick up a lot of new fans.”
The band made their first appearance in Indianapolis earlier this summer at the Concerts on the Canal at the Indiana History Center. “It was fantastic!” Stewart MacNeil says. “The crowd was really taken with the band and left us feeling very pumped up about coming back to the Irish Festival.”
The Young Dubliners faced a touring band’s worst nightmare last month, walking out of their hotel to find the van and trailer holding everything they owned (including stage equipment and instruments) had been stolen overnight. “Luckily for us we have amazing friends and fans who have all rallied for us,” founding member, guitar player and vocalist Keith Roberts reports. “We had to beg steal and borrow — no stealing actually, that would have been weird, but we got it all back together in under a week and we are back on the road.”
Much like Irish rock pioneers U2, the Los Angeles-based Dubliners largely pursue a borderless arena rock sound, with an occasional fiddle, mandolin or pipe creeping into the mix for more traditional Celtic numbers.
“Usually, we are referred to as Celtic rock, but that is a very wide genre now,” Roberts says. “We are basically the result of American rock musicians getting together with Irish rock musicians and blending the two experiences into what we hope is a unique and exciting sound. That’s what we strive for with our songwriting and live shows.”
The band came together in the early ’90s when several Dublin natives (including Roberts and bassist Brendan Holmes) met in the Los Angeles pub scene and recruited some American musicians.
“We released our first album in 1993,” Roberts explains. “We had been together for a few years before that. This actual lineup has been together for about eight years, but Bren and I — the Irish lads — have been in it since the beginning. Somehow we have managed to stop the aging process — at least in our heads — and stayed immature and irresponsible, perfect.”
It’s the band’s first time at the Indy Irish Fest, where they’ve scored a spot as a featured performer on Friday night.
“We have not played Indy Irish Fest before, which is a little strange considering how long we’ve been doing festivals,” Roberts says. “But it sounds like a good one. They are always a blast and hanging out with a lot of other musicians we know is always fun too. We are bringing our piper Eric Rigler [Braveheart, Titanic to name but a few soundtracks he has been on] along as well, which makes for an even better show.”