Documentary on the Westport Folk & Bluegrass Festival in Ireland

Since 2007 the town of Westport, located in County Mayo along the northwestern coast of the Republic of Ireland, has had its own bluegrass festival, called appropriately enough, the Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival. It’s not a large town, already a tourist attraction for its lovely seaside along a natural cove, with the festival now bringing in visitors from all over Europe to enjoy the music and hospitality.

Though many others are now involved, the Westport festival was started by one man, Uri Kohen, who tells the story in a new short film by Rickie O’Neill and his BackHouse Films production company. It manages to capture both the history and the charm of this unique event in just under 15 minutes, and is sure to spread the word about the Westport festival even further throughout the world.

Kohen’s vision was to present the bluegrass he so loved in a way that would be familiar to an Irish audience, and with its own Irish character. By hosting performances in Westport’s pubs and historic venues, and using bands and dancers for the region in addition to acts brought in from the US and other parts of Britain and Europe, he was able to see his dream fulfilled. Though they were prevented from having live music in person during the pandemic shutdowns, they did host virtual concerts online. Now he says that 40% of their audience consists of visitors from outside of Ireland, as well as townspeople who look forward to it every year.

Kohen, an Israeli native who emigrated to Ireland in his teens, tells us that he had the idea for a documentary, and reached out to Rickie after watching another of his films.

“I saw one of Rickie’s other documentaries, and figured out that he is from the same county as my own. I got in touch with him about the idea, but it was all his doing. He raised the money through local grants and made it happen.

I had no hand in the directing or editing what so ever, it is the way he views it and the story he wanted to tell, but I am super happy with it.”

Using a mix of live music and interviews, mostly with Uri but also featuring artists who performed at the June 2022 festival, O’Neill paints a picture of an extremely appealing community and a very entertaining event.

Rickie says it happened just as Uri explained.

“It all came to pass when Uri contacted me one afternoon. He had seen a previous documentary I made about LEGO and said he would love for us to tell his own story, about the Westport Folk and Bluegrass festival, and the journey he underwent to get it to where it is today.
We of course jumped at the opportunity and here we are. Thrilled beyond measure with the positive response it is getting.”

You don’t need to be Irish to appreciate this fine brief film, or to recognize the particular spirit of the Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival.

Have a look…

Congratulations and hats off to Uri Kohen for the success of the festival, and to Rickie O’Neill for bringing it to all of us to enjoy!

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.