Tag Archives: Folk

JJ Smith, the Balladeer

I naturally met JJ Smith at McGuire’s Irish Pub in Pensacola a couple years back.  Kilted in the tartan of the Lamont clan, JJ runs a show that is not just a folk music performance but a bit comedic shtick as well.  His crowd-interactions make for some of the evening’s high points.

JJ’s style stands out from the majority of the singers I’ve met on the Irish pub tour in several ways.  To begin with, his personalized renditions of the classics reveal significant blues, and American country music influences, which bring the Celtic style home to the American South.  Live, JJ makes use of a lot of bass runs on his guitar which often helps to add a subtlety and a sense of motion outside of the songs’ basic chord structures.

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JJ hails from Stonehaven, near Aberdeen, Scotland, but has resided in St. Petersburg, Florida for the past several years.  While in the States, he has steadily toured the southeast and managed to produce two album releases: Druid Roots Going Home, and his solo album JJ The Balladeer.  They’re both great and very distinct from each other.

         

Druid Roots was a trio JJ was a part of, a rather eclectic mix of folksy styles.  The album projects a heavy Celtic theme with very noticeable elements of East-Indian drumming, country-western music, and a hint of rock and roll.   My favorite track is Stonehaven Waltz, a traditional sounding Celtic ballad, but the whole album is worth the listen.

The Balladeer contains 15 tracks of excellently produced Celtic ballads.  JJ’s resounding baritone voice coupled with the full and sometimes booming open strings of his guitar create layers of richness within each song.  The songs are mostly mellow, somewhat nostalgic pieces.  The highlights include Galway Shawl (my personal favorite); a cover of the classic U2 hit I Still Haven’t Found what I’m looking For; and Whiskey on a Sunday.


Larry Kernagis: Nashville’s Chief Leprechaun

Larry Kernagis is distinguished as the Chief Leprechaun of the Nashville based Celtic band cleverly named Def Leprechaun.  With a full repertoire of classic Irish folk and drinking songs, Larry also tours as a solo act.  I was fortunate enough to meet Larry at McGuire’s Irish Pub in Pensacola, Florida during this summer.

As a skilled performer, Larry’s rich personality shines through his stage show.  He’s friendly and personable, and interacts with the crowd brilliantly, accepting requests or limericks from the audience, bringing them into the show rather than keeping them as simple observers. I’ve even been fortunate enough to sit in with him on a couple different occasions.

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Moody View author Jay Moody with Larry Kernagis at McGuire’s Irish Pub

Since many newcomers to the Irish music scene may not be familiar with the well known or regionally adapted responses to the classic ballads, Larry often takes a moment to bring them up to speed, making the evening a truly interactive experience. He also brings with him a set of “The Viking Pirate Captain’s DL Songbooks,” with the lyrics to over 100 of the world’s favorite Irish pub songs for use by the audience.
                 

Larry is fluent on both banjo and guitar, switching between the two instruments frequently throughout the night, adding to the diversity of his style.  He plays to his crowd, and as the night progresses Larry might incorporate other well known American classics in the spirit of Jimmy Buffet and Elvis Presley, but he otherwise keeps the set tight with Irish tunes.

Larry Kernagis is originally from Chicago, but relocated to Nashville, Tennessee where he formed his band Def Leprechaun.  His performances make for an evening of ruckus and revelry.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve come to think of him not only as a great performer, but as a friend.

Don’t miss Larry Kernagis, whether he is in Pensacola, Nashville, or Las Vegas.  If you’re a little Irish or even just a fan, you’ll love Larry’s show.

Check out Larry’s band Def Leprechaun at their website here!


Rich McDuff: Pioneer of the McGuire’s Music Scene

Rich McDuff is Northwest Florida’s most popular Irish folk music performer.  With a loyal and regular fan base, Rich helped build and define the music scene at McGuire’s Irish Pub while performing there for more than twenty years.

Although the moose-kissing tradition at McGuire’s predates Rich’s arrival on scene, he is responsible for writing the accompanying, and now entrenched “Kiss the Moose” song.  He explains “When I began playing here, asking a first-time patron of McGuire’s to kiss the moose might be met with a bit of confusion and resistance.  The traditional aspect was lost on them.  I figured if there was a song to go along with it, it would give the tradition a bit more validity for first-time visitors to the pub.  And it has worked out pretty well.”  Now every act that performs at McGuire’s plays this song, and the moose-kissing tradition has expanded to include not only the moose but a couple other McGuire’s fixtures as well.

Rich is also known or pushing the bounds of the debauchery which is naturally as part of McGuire’s slogan.  His “Dirty Limerick” song, played to the classic mariachi tune of “Cielito Lindo” contains rhymes that could even surprise a hip-hop fan.  Many of Rich’s regulars eagerly look forward to this point in the evening, awaiting their opportunity to share the stage with him and recite their own limerick specially prepared just for this song.  The best and most classic limericks are written on a scroll and tucked away in the secret archives, only to be taken out upon the performance of this tune.

Even more entertaining, energetic, and amusing is Rich’s version of “Seven Drunken Nights,” with extended responses – a wee bit too naughty to be written down here.  This point of the night is when you are likely to see the most crowd participation.  This rendition of the classic Irish song is memorable, if not for the increasingly lengthy responses, but the reactions and looks on the faces of new comers to the McGuire’s scene.

         

Crowd interaction is a major part of Rich’s act.  You never know just where the night will lead or how ridiculous the antics are likely to become.

Rich’s set also contains a set of American country, and acoustically played classic rock songs familiar to everyone.  As a classically trained guitarist, Rich McDuff’s musical talent becomes most apparent when he plays a traditional jig or reel or the occasional classical guitar piece.

Rich’s revolving schedule alternates between the pubs in both Pensacola and Destin, Florida.  While he is away, his regulars in Pensacola always look forward to his return.  Some will even make the drive to Destin to see him when he is performing there.


The Pine Hill Haints – Ghost Music in a Punk Scene

The Pine Hill Haints

The Pine Hill Haints are a bit of a modern rockabilly jug-band mixed with a punk rock spirit.  Though singer and primary songwriter, Jamie Barrier might call it “The Spirit of 1812.”

I first saw the Haints at Sluggo’s a few years back, and they have been all over the world and accrued quite a following since their 2000 debut.  Such an innovative musical concoction as the Haints has an appeal much broader than the “folk-punk” category they are often associated with.

The Haints describe their sound as “Alabama Ghost Music.”  It’s a mixed assortment of southern roots music from bluegrass, to ragtime, rockabilly and honky-tonk, upbeat and with eerie and supernatural themes. Named after the Pine Hill Cemetery, the Haints are inspired by local Alabama legends and ghost stories. A haint is after all a particularly deep southern term for a ghost or haunt.

But the Haints aren’t dreary and gothic.  To me, they have a sound that seems to just emanate from the ground of the American South, like the past 250 years of Southern history and culture has taken the form of band.  With songs like “Whisper in the Dark,” and “Tennessee River Rambler” you get a real sense of backwoods punkabilly that would make Buddy Holly proud, while tunes like “Bordello Blackwidow” and “Walking Talking Dead Man” could be Calypso numbers straight from the repertoire of the Mighty Sparrow.

A PHH show is a hootenanny, rowdy and with an anachronistic flair, with lead singer and guitarist Jamie Barrier energetically jumping and jiving behind a handmade wooden mic stand reminiscent of the Grand Ole Opry.

           

The whole show is reminiscent to a bygone era with an unmistakably modern twist. The sound texture developed by the hodgepodge of Jamie’s guitar, Matt Bakula’s washtub bass and banjo, Ben Rhyne’s snare drum, Katie Barrier’s mandolin and washboard can’t help but make you feel like you’re witnessing an old rock and roll show just upon the invention of electric amplification.

The Haints are a band to see, and hear with wide appeal and a timeless sound that can be appreciated by punk rockers and hillbillies alike, between the ages of 5 and 105.  They are one of those few musical acts that can truly bring different genres, generations and social groups together.


Dun Aengus: Irish Music and Revelry

The first time I ran into the Irish music duo Dun Aengus was at McGuire’s Irish Pub in Pensacola, Florida in March 2010.  It was the last night of the Renaissance Faire and a handful of us met up at the pub for a drink.  They were a great band that night, playing a lot of the classic Irish drinking songs I’ve known and loved.  I would have gone up to the pub to see them again but they were on tour and leaving for south Florida the next day.

I caught up with them again the following St. Patrick’s Day, once again at McGuire’s.  They were rocking the house with popular Irish and Scottish tunes and a few popular American classics for good measure.  Just like last year, Dun Aengus had the crowd enraptured, gathered on the floor in front of the stage dancing with wild abandon to these classic sing-alongs.  The Irish was certainly high that night.

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Dun Aengus with special guest Jay Moody at McGuire’s Irish Pub in Destin, FL.

Hailing from Sweden, Dun Aengus consists of Peter Andersson on banjo and vocals, and Martin Rahmberg on acoustic guitar and vocals.  Martin’s gruff singing style contributes a real rootsy “beer and tobacco” quality while Peter’s smoother harmonies and verses compliment and broaden the sound.  Peter’s banjo leads also carry the melodies that distinctly bring out the Celtic quality of the music.  Their repertoire includes such classics as “Whiskey in the Jar,” “The Wild Rover,” and “All For Me Grog,” and a full night’s compliment of others.

Dun Aengus is an excellent Irish music duo worthy of some support.  I’ll be keeping track of them so I can catch them again next time they‘re in town.

This is a video of Martin and Peter of Dun Aengus, with their other band King Laoghaire, performing “A Place in the Choir,” a really catchy tune which is also available for download on CDbaby.