Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Ireland is famous for the forty shades of green of its rain-blessed countryside. There's even a song about it. So the idea of a BlueGrass music festival in County Limerick, one of Ireland's greenest parts, sounded like a bit of an anomaly.

But when it's Michael Hehir who mentions it to you, then you do pay attention because this famous former landlord of The Lamb Pub in London's Bloomsbury always delivers. No sooner do we say, "Yes, we will be there," than he is on the phone and the room is booked at the Old Bank in Bruff.
The basically-just-a-main-street town of Bruff cannot compare with Wexford with its famous Opera Festival, Kerry's Rose of Tralee weekend or Galway's Oyster Festival. But this has not deterred the town fathers, Michael included, who are determined to put Bruff, just 20 kilometres south of Limerick,on the Irish events' map.
Blue Grass is a genre of Country & Western, hill-billy music from the Appalacian mountains, Kentucky and harks back to the music brought by the Irish and Scottish immigrants. For the nerds, it is distinguished from other C&W by the jazz influence in that each member of the group gets to play his/her own solo. Also the instruments should be Guitar, Bass, Banjo, Mandolin and Violin. No drums or piano.
Its Bruff, its Friday October 1, and its 10 pm. Its Clancy's Bar and it's the Festival headlining the Niall Toner Band. Now Niall is one very smooth, if by this stage a bit sweaty dude. Niall is an experience radio broadcaster and he is not exactly happy to be playing in a pub where the patrons are at least as interested in what they are saying as what he is playing.
He should be happy that at least two of the patrons are wearing sub-genre C&W/poor-man's cowboy hats, also apart from the noisy foursome, there are a number of less-than-nubile female groupies hanging on his every note.
Because of apparently endless pints of the black stuff, we emerge into Saturday wondering how Friday night ended. Pretty sure we had a good time and finally enjoyed the music. Have vague recollection of earnest conversation with Niall about how he got interested in Blue Grass. Sadly no specific recall of what seemed at the time a fascinating conversation but seems it was something to do with influences while growing up. No surprise there, then!
Saturday starts with a less-than-relaxed Old Bank proprietor Miriam telling us that she has been up since one o'clock in the morning with her youngest baby. So banter today just delicately ask for coffee and the "full Irish breakfast please", which is accompanied by delicious home cooked brown bread. Companions Tim and Diane, Julian and Bridget also swore by the fresh scones.
"You missed the picking session", we are told on our return from Limerick town on Saturday evening. "What is a picking session," we dared to ask. Seems its the Blue Grass equivalent of a jam session in jazz parlance or a "lets all sit around and play music" session in Irish or other folk-music terms.
We did not miss the picking session at Clancys Bar on Sunday, it was fabulous to hear eight or ten musicians, including one seven-year-old boy, playing just for their own enjoyment. No amplifiers to destroy the purity of the sound of the instrument or our pleasure.
Once plucked apart and restored to their original ensemble, Woodbine, Southern Welfare Band, Sullivan Brothers Band, plus Bending the Strings and Southern Bluegrass Union perform from early afternoon in Clancys Bar, Derry's Bar and Clarkes Bar until ways past even my bedtime.

The huge enthusiasm and clear love of BlueGrass music of the groups, the enthusiasm of the audiences and the pleasure of the locals in seeing you there make it a great weekend.
Oh, and by the way, I found out how it is possible for grass to be blue. Seems its a type of grass found in Kentucky whose flower heads are blue when the plant is allowed to grow to its natural height of two to three feet.

Of course with the drive and enthusiasm of the people of Bruff, they will never let the grass grow under their feet!

Yee Ha Bruff

David Lennon

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