In a Weekend With No Rain, Music, Culture and Fun Reign Supreme

Aug 3, 2019

FRANKFORT, NY – Perfect weather, non-stop music mark 2019 Great American Irish Festival

The 2019 Great American Irish Festival gave its attendees just what they have come to expect – the absolute best in Irish and Celtic culture, music, dancing and fun – plus something no one could have predicted: a full weekend without rain.  It all added up to another unqualified success for the festival that has grown to be the pre-eminent Irish festival on the east coast.

From July 26-28, the Herkimer County Fairgrounds came alive with the sights, sounds and smells of the annual Great American Irish Festival.  Kicking things off with a Happy Hour performance was House of Hamill (Brian Buchanan and Rose Baldino), joined by Shane Farrell and bassist Caroline Browning, who supplemented their traditional set with a strings-only version of Guns N Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine.”  And from that point on, it was a race to catch every act on three stages, sample tasty foods (and beverages), practice some retail therapy, and witness awesome feats of strength and stamina in the New York State Highland Games Championships.

Upon completing his set with House of Hamill, Shane Farrell stayed and helped his brother Colin deliver a solid set of top-notch traditional music; perfectly paving the way for  Ireland’s Folk Band of the year, the High Kings, who – despite the absence of vocalist and multi-instrumentalist George Murphy – kept a full pavilion of fans enthralled.  Closing out the trad stage on Friday was the Ottawa Valley’s Searson; this year, joined by ex-Elder Kian Byrne.

As they did the last two years, the American Rogues fired up the contemporary stage crowds with their anthemic and powerful performance, followed by Donegal’s Diver sisters — better known as The Screaming Orphans – who brought everything from traditional, pop, and even a callback to the Turtles’ “Happy Together.”

Making their highly-anticipated return to the festival was the wildly popular band, We Banjo 3, plying their banjo, fiddle, guitar and mandolin skills in an innovation fusion of styles that they dub “Celtgrass.” Their set, played to a tent at full capacity, was highlighted with a very entertaining bodhran battle between WB3’s Fergal Scahill and the youngest performer at this year’s festival, Dempsey Byrne from the Byrne Brothers.  Closing out the night was Toronto’s – and GAIF’s – favorite sons, Enter the Haggis, who delivered a solid set of their signature songs; ending the night with a rousing rendition of Lanigan’s Ball.

Ithaca’s Arise and Go kicked off a full day of music on Saturday, followed by a strong set from GAIF veterans the Blarney Rebel Band.  Making their GAIF debut were the darlings of Dublin and viral video stars, The Byrne Brothers (none of whom were even born when the first GAIF was held!), who delighted the huge crowd. Meanwhile, on the Contemporary stage, American Rogues, the Town Pants and the Glengarry Bhoys all gave solid performances, leading up to the chill-inspiring Massed Pipe March.

Saturday evening saw several more great sets from the Colin Farrell Band, Searson, the High Kings, Screaming Orphans, Enter the Haggis (with Rose Baldino sitting in), and bringing the festival to a close on Saturday were The Young Dubliners, who answered the call for an encore with a raucous version of “Rocky Road to Dublin,” which saw them joined on stage by members of Enter the Haggis, the Town Pants and Searson.

Sunday marked the return of the traditional Irish mass, accompanied by “Irish America’s Favorite Son,” Andy Cooney, who then started the festival proper with a trademark set of his crowd-pleasing music.  While Craobh Dugan, the Mighty Craic and Down By the Glenside held sway on the traditional stage, the Byrne Brothers provided a nice transition on the contemporary stage to a closing set from GAIF veterans, Hair of the Dog.

Photograph by Kathy Stockbridge of Flashback Photography

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