Dunmore East Bluegrass Festival in Ireland

This report on this long-running Irish bluegrass event is a contribution from Michael Luchtan, with accompanying photographs provided by Garrett FitzGerald.

The 27th annual Dunmore East Bluegrass Festival, held this year on August 26-28, was a runaway success, turning the quaint seaside village, with its lovely beach coves and thatched roof cottages, into a central gathering point for bluegrass pickers and fans from all across Ireland.

The festival started off back in 1995 when  a band from the USA, the Bluegrass Pioneers, in Ireland for a gig,  were enticed to come down to Dunmore East to play a few shows. Venues and sponsors have come and gone over the years, but the brilliant Mick Daly still organizes Dunmore East’s biggest event of the year, the Bluegrass Festival, for the last weekend of August.
In addition to the jams held in every corner of the village, at all hours of the day and night, the festival was centered around three venues: Powers Bar, Spinnaker Bar, and The Strand Inn.

There was a lot of great bluegrass shows and more during the festival. Some highlights included:

  • The Blue Light Smugglers, who had the whole crowd singing along at the end of their set to a rousing rendition of Will the Circle Be Unbroken.  
  • The Mons Wheeler Band, made up of seasoned bluegrass musicians, played a great selection of songs that leaned more towards the rockabilly side of things. They are perennial performers at the Dunmore East Bluegrass Festival, and the crowd at their shows knew what to expect and came ready to party.
  • The Blueberry Pickers gave the crowd a respectable performance of bluegrass and other folk and Americana songs on the final night – a non-musical word of advice for any bluegrass fans that might plan on coming to the festival next year: the wild blackberries of Dunmore East are a lot tastier than the wild blueberries!

One of the best performances was by the duo Long Way Home, who get better each time I see them. This act based in Ireland is made up of Kylie Kay Anderson from Utah and Owen Schinkel from the Netherlands. They met in the hills of East Tennessee while following their bluegrass dreams. Their tight harmonies and blazing solos are proof that the ETSU bluegrass department produces some of the best young bluegrass musicians around today. Other bands that deserve mention are Kiss My Grass, Prison Love, Pilgrim St., Backyard Band, Whistle, Woodbine, and Shane Hennessy.

If there are any promising bluegrass bands from the US that have dreams of following their roots and playing Ireland, email Mick Daly and if you want to combine a few shows for a tour, check out the reliably updated Bluegrass Ireland Blog to see what is going on.

And make sure you pack some John Prine in that luggage. As I was walking along the coast from Powers Bar, past the Strand Inn, to see a band at the Spinnaker Bar, a man from Donegal, upon hearing my American accent, stopped me to ask where I was from, and if I  like bluegrass. I answered affirmatively, and he quickly followed up with, “Yeah, but do you like John Prine?”

Of course, I love John Prine, and while I didn’t get a chance to see every band or every jam, every band and jam that I did see had a John Prine song.  

Hats off to Mick and everyone in Dunmore East for pulling off another great Bluegrass Festival!