Kilkenny Roots Festival is fast approaching and Lonesome Highway look forward to another May weekend of quality music, renewed friendships and lots more - for many reasons. Here are ten for starters.
Smithwick’s Music Trail
The Music Trail or ‘freebies’ are a vital ingredient of what makes Roots weekend so memorable annually and this year the festival organisers have surpassed themselves with the quality of artists and acts on offer. The difficulty for the punter is getting around The Marble City to take in as many as possible. This year’s trail includes Peter Bruntnell and Band playing four shows, yes four folks, in what could be a test of stamina and staying power for one of Kilkenny’s favourite adopted sons. It’s fair to say that Peter Bruntnell would most likely have sold out The Set Theatre had he been scheduled to perform there so do not miss the opportunity to witness, on at least one occasion, one of UK’s finest songwriters of the past decade. Also performing on four occasions over the weekend are Mothers Little Helpers, one of a number of projects associated with James Walbourne. Regarded as the premier UK guitarist of his generation, Walbourne’s other commitments include touring with The Pretenders and of course as a member with his wife Kami Thompson of The Rails who stole the show at Roots a couple of years back. Billy Byrnes pub on the Sunday afternoon of the festival is not the place to meet for afternoon tea or a quiet pint. Trouble Pilgrims have become resident there in recent years delivering their full on, punky, raucous sound, carrying on the tradition of their former lives as The Radiators from Space, the finest punk / new wave band from these shores. Winners of The Lonesome Highway’s coveted ‘best dressed band’ at last year’s festival, The Pilgrims will be expected to defend that accolade in style again this year. Kilkenny is also well represented by two acts that the locals get to see on a regularly. TV Jones and The Tomahawks live shows are always a festival highlight particularly on their home territory in Ryan’s Bar. Fronted by the coolest of cool Mr. Jimi Conroy these boys are the heart and soul of the festival but get to Ryans early or you won’t get in the door. For those that have the staying power to be still standing on the Monday evening The Barfly’s are a must. The locals get to see these guys perform every Sunday night at The Pumphouse so stay around to sample one of the most talented bunch of musicians with a huge repertoire of material to choose from.
Not surprisingly the first act to sell out this year, The Queen of Oklahoma finally gets to perform in Ireland. A favourite of Lonesome Highway for some while Carter has the voice, the songs and the stories to have you checking out her back catalogue of outstanding albums.
The organisers of the festival have a happy knack of booking artists before they make an industry breakthrough and are still relatively unknown. Alabama Shakes, Duke & The King and Jason Isbell come to mind and they have struck gold again with Holly Macre, the Galway born UK resident. The twenty-one-year-old may have been a new name to many when invited to play Roots some months ago but has since been receiving rave reviews for her stunning and quite unique album Golden Eagle and her performances at SXSW in Austin in March, the second year in succession that she appeared at that festival.
The opening act at any festival often sets the scene for what is to follow and needs careful consideration. Kicking off the festivities this year are Western Centuries a collaboration of three singer songwriters, talented blue grassers together with bass, pedal steel and drums. Their 2016 album Weight of the World featured in Lonesome Highway’s Best of 2016 so expect meticulous playing, harmonies to die for and bundles of fun.
It says a lot when you’ve appeared of The Late Show with David Letterman and T.Bone Burnett hails you as one of his favourite live bands. Welcome to The Americans whose rocking take on the American songbook will no doubt send us home sweating.
The Handsome Family
No longer have a band with a cult following The Handsome Family finally made the industry breakthrough they richly deserve following the selection of Far From Any Road as the theme song for the TV blockbuster True Detective. Even more satisfying is the fact that they have not veered from or diluted their style since reaching a larger audience. Further evidence for under the radar and fringe acts that they can make it to the next level with a spot of good fortune
You could be forgiven for assuming Yola Carter hailed from Memphis Tennessee given her powerful unadulterated country soul vocal. Voted UK Artist of The Year at The AMA UK Awards this year, the former lead singer with Phantom Limb actually hails from Bristol and is another artist featured in the festival that has the potential to carve out a prolonged and successful industry career.
There is a gentle and somewhat understated quality to the music of Kentucky resident Joan Shelley. Breezy folk melodies delivered with a hypnotic vocal style that can silence a room in an instant.
A visit to Kilkenny at any time of the year demands a visit to Rollercoaster Records (The happiest little record shop in the world!) and at Roots weekend it is the festival hub. Expect to rub shoulders with artists, locals, annual visitors and the proprietor Willie Meighan who plays a major role in the organisation of the festival together with promoting the stellar acts that play Kilkenny every other month of the year. Willie is more than ably assisted by Dave Holland who manages to keep smiling despite the pressures of his other commitments as sound engineer at many of the gigs over the weekend and killer guitarist with local band The Barflys. Gareth Kehoe, who promotes gigs in Waterford, is the latest addition to the music heads that manage this treasured outlet. Be sure to grab a few albums when you’re in there too from his extensive selection.
Regardless of who performs at the festival the overall atmosphere is fun, comradery and friendship in the picturesque streets and many, many pubs and venues throughout the city. So many lasting friendships have originated at the festival particularly from the overseas visitors who return each year be it from England, Scotland or further afield. The festival is financed on a tiny budget by the organisers who invest so much time and effort to host the best music small festival bar none. Lonesome Highway looks forward to renewing old acquaintances, hearing some great music and having the craic again this year. See you all there!