Claire and I enjoyed one of the best nights out we have ever had!
Switchback, one of the best live acts I have ever seen, performed at our local village pub, Fox's Den, Keash, and had brought along a bus loaded with some of their USA fans to create what became a memorable fun packed night out with the locals.
The Irish Tours by Switchback
Switchback, an outstanding duo from Illinois were on their annual Irish tour. Each year they invite their USA fans to join them on a bus to tour Ireland, see some sites and join them for evening shows. Usually these shows are in theatres, hotel ballrooms and sometimes clubs all around Ireland. Last year, 2005, they performed at Markree Castle, Co. Sligo and provided a superb show then. I have been looking forward to their return ever since. Unfortunately, the entire audience at Markree Castle, in 2005, was of USA tourists and not one Irish person. It seemed odd for a USA band coming to Ireland and perform to a USA audience. However, this did not discourage Marty and Brian, who are Switchback. They wanted to return to Markree Castle the following year.
Unfortunately, which actually became a blessing in the end, Switchback's tour had to switch their visiting date to Sligo on a day that Markree Castle was booked for a wedding so I volunteered to find an alternative venue. I approached various music venues in Co. Sligo, Leitrim and Roscommon but the venue managers avoided committing to booking a band they had never seen even though they also had the option to provide an evening meal for the coach party providing a profit that covered the band's fee. I do not think they grasped the potential of a band bringing some audience plus some revenue from catering.
In the end I thought, why not bring business to our village?
To The Fox's Den
The Fox's Den, Keash has built up a good reputation as a great place of weekend entertainment and I knew the Keash locals would enjoy the lively Irish-americana-bluegrass-country-boogie music of Switchback. The owner, Pat Ward, instantly grasped at the opportunity of bringing the gig and tour to our home village of Keash. He also had a brilliant idea of replacing the cover charge with an end of evening raffle. No cover charge brings more people in as they are not intimidated by an entrance fee.and they stay until the end just case they win the raffle. His idea worked perfectly as the raffle funds covered the band's performance fee and almost everyone stayed and thoroughly enjoyed Switchback's entire generous 3 hours of performing.
The evening started with a terrific dinner set up in the Fox's Den lounge by the Ward family with a standard and staff service that excelled many 4 star hotels. At 9:00 pm the staff swifty cleared the floor with outstanding speed and no fuss so that the show could get started right away.
What Do Switchback Do?
You can never successfully attempt to define Switchback's music into a specific genre, especially as they have the very rare skill of moulding the genre, playlist, style and mood to flow with the audience. They do this without watering down the quality of their performance. Actually, I do not know of any other band who has this ability like them. Add to this their outstanding vocals that blend perfectly and tunefully whether they are doing a sensitive ballad or fast paced comedy rant. The musicianship!!! They arrive with a bunch of well worn and beaten up instruments, their guitar, mandolin and rare guitar shape dual acoustic and electric bass. No flash Gibsons and Martins here. When you see their instruments you think you are going to hear some struggling amateur buskers but he sounds they get out of those well worn instruments keeps jaws open with amazement, along with their unbelievable musical dexterity that they play with ease.
Not only do Switchback sing and play outstandingly, and make two people sound like five, they are also wonderful natural entertainers. A good time is guaranteed. I call their Fox's Den's "event" a "Perfect Mix" for two reasons. One is their incredible range of songs and tunes that mixes traditionals and well known songs, re-created in their fresh style, along with their own well crafted originals. All of their material blends so well. The "songs we all know" merge with their originals so well so people listen, take notice and respond to their work too.
The other ingredient is bringing a bus load of USA visitors into an Irish village local to liven it up a bit, make the night different and have some fresh fun.
There was also a very important third ingredient, Switchback's humbleness, un-pretentiousness and genuine inclusion of the locals that's much more than the usual "c'mon an' clap yer hands" approach that many bands failingly fall into. Brian and Marty willingly took requests that they performed brilliantly in their own style and got the locals dancing. In return, the locals were dancing to Switchback's own rocking originals. One of the Fox's Den bar girls is an award winning banjo and whistle player. She had no idea that Switchback was a wonderful band so her banjo stayed at home, but she had her whistle. Not only was her whistle performance brilliant but Switchback's professional backing set her playing on fire.
The bus party were also wonderful guests naturally mixing with the locals, including a couple of US ladies providing Irish dancing. Well they were from Chicago, birthplace of Michael Flately and maybe like Mr Flately had parents from Culfada, just 3 km from Keash :-)
And The Music ....
Switchback's performed songs and tunes from their albums of 10 years of recording, and Switchback have performed together for 20 years, and many songs that they have never recorded. They started with a driving "Nancy Whisky", a perfect bar gig opener, followed by a fast flowing collection of favourites including their own rocking "Dancing In The Living Room" and slow country air "Bolinree" dedicated to Marty's ancestral family home on Co. Mayo. It was wonderful to hear live performances of their unique musical arrangement of the shanty "Drunken Sailor" and "air guitar" metal rock version of "Star Of The County Down". There was a grand dose of frantic Irish favourites like "Hills Of Connemara" and "Tell Me Ma" and favourite country hoe-downs such as "Fulsom Prison Blues" and "Rocky Top".
Marty's classical voice training was showcased to the full with a pub noise stopping rendition of "Danny Boy" that sounded like the Irish Tenors all in one, and then there were the welcome chill out smooth jazz interludes that showcased some breathtaking musical solos by Brian.
All in all Switchback provided a balanced and perfectly flowing mix with very clear sound. They were always easily heard and never hard on the ears. They sustained fun and excitement without having to turn up the volume to attempt to turn up the fun. The audience were aged from 16 to almost 100, all having equal fun with all ages also strutting on the dancefloor. Not only did Switchback perform well, but there were some stunning dancers there too.
As much as Claire and I love music we've never gone to a pub gig since being youngsters due to the noise, mundane bad sounding entertainment and recklessness of drunks. The night Switchback played at Fox's Den the drink did flow, people did get merry but it was all so much fun, harmless and so welcoming for people of any age. This will be an event that will be remembered for a long, long time to come.
This would have been a wonderful gig for many struggling bands to have been present at as they could have learned so much, especially bands from other countries that would like to be popular in Ireland. This was a "roots" gig in a local village pub and people will talk. Switchback's name will now probably be ringing in more Irish ears than from performing in any Irish theatre or club. There will be a lot of people looking forward to their return, which could be as soon as January 2007.
Before Keash, Switchback performed in Edinburgh, Scotland, on the ferry across the Irish sea and at Ballycastle. From Keash they travelled on to perform at Matt Malloy's in Westport, Galway and then onto Paris before returning to Illinois.
To keep up with what Switchback are doing go to their web site and get on their mailing list.