Bluegrass Beyond Borders: An Irish bid for bluegrass

Credit with igniting an interest in bluegrass on the Emerald Isle. That’s immediately apparent simply by glancing at the posting on the group’s website: ‘

“We are an Irish-based team with a fervour for all things bluegrass. We aim to promote the best of the genre & to specialise in bringing it home to Ireland, back to its roots.”

“That’s pretty much it,” say founders Dave Byrne and Lorraine Gannon-Byrne.

It’s also a family affair, one consisting of Byrne, Lorraine, his father David Byrne Senior and Sıobhán Barry (nee Byrne).

“It was all born out of a deep-rooted passion for a music we’ve been exposed to since as long as we can remember,” Dave says. “Dad (Dave Senior) has been an avid C&W and bluegrass fan since his teen years, and has been promoting the genres on Irish radio as far back as the 1980s. So suffice it to say, there was always country and bluegrass in the house when growing up, and of course, there still is to this day. As the saying goes, if you throw enough mud some of it is bound to stick.”

The group have spent their past three summers travelling around the States attending bluegrass gigs and festivals. Along the way, they say they’ve experienced some remarkable music and musicianship, as well as the opportunity to immerse themselves in the culture and company of America’s tight-knit bluegrass community in general. 

“It’s the artists themselves that have expressed a lifelong desire to play in Ireland that have taken us to where we are,” Lorraine insists. “We heard them say, ‘We’d love to, we just don’t know who to contact or how to go about it’ or ‘we’d love to, but we’ve never been approached by anyone about it.’”

Nevertheless, the two insist that there are well-established proponents of the genre in Ireland who have already done a great job of facilitating concerts and tours by visiting artists. They cite the fact that Chris Jones paid a visit to Ireland last year, and that Special Consensus have become regular visitors to their shores. Nevertheless, they’re looking forward to establishing an operation of their own that will allow them to be hands-on as far as every element of concert promotion is concerned, from tour, event planning and management, to online promotion and marketing. 

To that end, they’ve purchased the domain name as an avenue for executing their strategies.  

“It’s an all-inclusive one-stop service for visiting bands and artists,” Dave says. “Just get on the flight and we’ll take it from there. We’re everything we need to be, whenever we need to be it — founders, creative team, coffee makers etc.”

The team: Dave Byrne Jr, Lorraine Byrne, Siobhan Byrne, and Dave Byrne Sr

“It’s in its early days, of course,” Lorraine adds. “We’re busy networking and finding our way, but we’re excited… and we have some equally exciting prospects lined up for this our inaugural year — Kristy Cox in May, Sideline in July. At the very least we’ll have fun trying to make this a success, trying to get some of the best artists in the world in front of what we know is an appreciative Irish audience.”

And appreciative it is. 

“We’re an artsy, lyrical and musical lot,” Dave insists. “Our national emblem is a harp. Ireland being the only country in the world with a musical instrument as a national emblem. There’s also an unfettered appreciation over here for the skills required for playing music at the highest level. There’s obviously a larger Irish traditional music and folk scene over here, but the lines between the two – Irish trad and bluegrass – are often blurred, mostly because we don’t see as much pure or traditional bluegrass as we would like to. We’re trying to change that. Make no mistake, bluegrass is a niche over here. That said, we believe there is an audience. We just hope that by hosting regular performances and sufficiently promoting them that we can grow that audience.”

Besides, Lorraine adds, there are several established bands on the Irish bluegrass scene that the local community has traditionally been drawn to. She lists Woodbine and The Niall Toner Band as chief among them.

Still, she says, Ireland has a scarcity of internationally-established grassicana bands.

“It’s accurate to say that our very own We Banjo 3, the originators of Celtgrass, are much better known Stateside than they are here in their native land. There are a lot of gifted musicians here, as Ricky Skaggs himself has pointed out.”

Ultimately, there’s no denying the musical connection. Fiddles, mandolins, banjos, and guitars are common to the music of both Ireland and the American heartland. Hopefully, the efforts of will make that bond all the more apparent and bring bluegrass back to its roots. 

We are talking about the luck of the Irish after all.

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About the Author

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman has been a writer and reviewer for the better part of the past 20 years. He writes for the following publications — No Depression, Goldmine, Country Standard TIme, Paste, Relix, Lincoln Center Spotlight, Fader, and Glide. A lifelong music obsessive and avid collector, he firmly believes that music provides the soundtrack for our lives and his reverence for the artists, performers and creative mind that go into creating their craft spurs his inspiration and motivation for every word hie writes.