TULLAMORE is tuned up and ready to go for the International Johnny Keenan banjo Festival which comes to the town for the first time this year.
The festival runs from Thursday, September 20th to Sunday, September 23rd and will feature a superb selection of top performers from around the world.
The second decade of the festival will celebrate the very best of Irish traditional, American bluegrass and folk music. The weekend will consist of street and pub sessions and jams, nightly seated concerts, masterclass workshops, free outdoor concerts, local craft displays, busking competition and a late night Festival Club.
Famous Irish artists such as Paul brady and Mundy will be joined over the four days by musicians from Spain and the Czech Republic while there will also be a large number of groups and individual musicians from the USA.
Thursday will feature the Barcelona Bluegrass Band from Spain, Blackjack from the Czech Republic, American George Harper and Ireland’s own Bending the Strings.
Taking to the stage on Friday will be American Suzy Bogguss. Suzy is a platinum selling singer songwriter has successfully crossed multiple genres, from her 2007 Billboard chart topping ‘Sweet Danger’ to folk and country.
Also on Friday Electric Ceili, Chris Meehan and his Redneck Friends and We Banjo 3 will entertain the large crowd expected in the Offaly town.
Top of the bill on Saturday are the world renowned Blue Highway from America. Blue Highway is indisputably one of the most esteemed and influential groups in contemporary bluegrass. The band’s eight exceptional albums and compelling live performances give proof to the stellar reviews, Grammy nominations, and numerous awards earned by the band since it first took the stage on December 31, 1994.
Offaly’s own Mundy will also perform as will American George harper, and Ireland’s Gerry O’Connor and the Niall Toner Band.
Rounding off the four fabulous days on Sunday will be the world famous Paul Brady. Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist Paul is one of Ireland’s most enduring artists. From the Johnstons to Planxty to his fabulously successful solo career, Paul’s career has spanned several decades. With songs such as ‘The Island’ ‘Crazy Dreams’, and his spectacular version of ‘Lakes of Pontchartain’, Paul Brady continues to be a favoured performer worldwide.
Also performing on Sunday will be American’s Don Rigsby and Charlie Sizemore. From remote Isonville, Kentucky to an international following in bluegrass music, Don Rigsby has remained true to his mountain roots and made his own mark as a powerful tenor and distinctive mandolin player. Don grew up listening to early Ralph Stanley records and to the high lonesome sound of his cousin Ricky Scaggs. He emerged onto the national scene as a member of the Bluegrass Cardinals, played with JD Crowe and the New South, and as a member of the award winning band Lonesome River Band.
In addition to being one of bluegrass music’s most distinctive and expressive vocal stylists, Charlie is also recognised as being one of its most literate and thoughtful songwriters. He joined Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys at the tender age of seventeen (replacing the late Keith Whitley), where he spent nine and a half years.
The third act on Sunday is Irish group who have been described by Earle Hitchner as ‘Ireland’s closest answer to The Band in combined virtuosity, risk taking and omnivorous musical palate. Beoga’s variety is invariably impeccable’.
All in all it is a tremendous line up over the four days and promises to provide those who attend the festival with a feast of music.
The Festival is run to honour the late Johnny Keenan. The legendary musician was born into music and began playing at a very young age. His father, John Sr was himself, a gifted musician and instrument maker.
The Keenan household was a breeding ground for some of the finest music in Ireland. The nightly sessions at their home on Oranmore Road became legend in Ballyfermot, Dublin. Often referred to as “Radio Oranmore”, family and friends would gather together to share their talents and often the music continued well beyond the social hours.
Highly regarded among his fellow musicians as a master banjo player, Johnny was a multi-instrumentalist who easily turned his hand to fiddle, low whistle, uilleann pipes, guitar, etc. But he did favour the banjo, as he often said that the banjo had posed the biggest challenge, so he persisted until he mastered it. Anyone watching Johnny play would have thought the banjo was the easiest instrument, as Johnny played with such ease and the music flowed so freely.
As a testament to his influence and his legacy, Johnny’s funeral on Wednesday, 29 March 2000 in Longford was attended by a plethora of musicians, some of whom traveled from as far away as America.