Thursday, 11 March 2010

Dueling Irish music styles on display

CHAMPAIGN-URBANA - On Tuesday, the night before St. Patrick's Day, Irish music fans in the twin cities will be faced with a choice: traditional folk or punk rock?
In a coincidence of scheduling, two bands that show the extremes of Irish music will perform. The first is folk supergroup Danu, which hails from Ireland and has been one of the most influential traditional folk groups on the Irish music scene for more than 15 years. It will be playing at the Krannert Center in Urbana.
The second is The Tossers, Chicago natives and festival staples who play the popular subgenre of "Celtic-punk" and symbolize a contemporary, blue-collar spin on traditional music. They play at The Highdive in downtown Champaign.
The question is inevitable: Which to pick?
Benny McCarthy, the button accordion player for Danu, believes the crossover in fans between the two groups is larger than most people might think.
"We have many fans who are also fans of Celtic-punk; it is all music, after all," he said. "I think the younger generation of listener can handle both styles, but maybe for the older generation, Celtic-punk might be a little too different or a little too loud. Still, it's good to have choices."
Tossers guitar player Mike Pawula, who has been with the group for almost 11 years, says their show offers a live stage presence that traditional music may lack.
"I have always though that this band is more of a live band than a recorded band," Pawula said. "The appeal of this style is working-class music and no frills. We've never changed our sound to be more like other successful Celtic-punk groups."
Irish-themed bands with members born in America occasionally face accusations of being "McIrish," or not authentic. Pawula defends his group.
"Some people do bring up our roots with a certain amount of disdain," he said. "We're just trying to put on a good show. We're an American band that plays Irish-American music."
Such accusations are obviously not a problem for Danu, which instead faces the challenge of traveling to another country and attempting to engage a foreign culture that may be largely unfamiliar with traditional Irish music. As a rule, however, McCarthy has found American audiences very supportive.
"The reception in the U.S. is our favorite; people here really love what we do," McCarthy said. "It's really fun to make a living out of my favorite pastime."
Ultimately, Tuesday's Irish dilemma boils down to a matter of choice. The Tossers' Pawula described it as "easy listening vs. fast rocking," and he promised his band would be in tip-top shape at this point in their tour.
"We're looking forward to doing new material for the live audience," he said. "We'll be in our stride and in great spirits when we hit Champaign."
Meanwhile, Benny McCarthy of Danu promised an authentic experience for those tired of green beer.
"We are the real McCoy, and we are playing the real stuff," he said. "I think anybody interested in what Ireland is really about should come check out this concert."
WHO: Danu.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 16.
WHERE: Tryon Festival Theatre, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Urbana.
TICKETS: $14 to $26 from the Krannert ticket office, 333-6280.
WHO: The Tossers, with Night Brigade.
WHEN: Doors open, 8 p.m.; Night Brigade, 9 p.m.; The Tossers, 10 p.m. Tuesday, March 16.
WHERE: The Highdive, 51 E. Main St., Champaign.
TICKETS: $12 at the Highdive box office or Age 19 and over only.

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