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Music-Theater-Dance

Forever green: Irish music endears and endures in Toledo

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    Patrick Lewandowski

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    Extra Stout

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    Mickey Finn

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Extra Stout

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The centerpiece of any St. Patrick s Day celebration starts with the rollicking choruses and hearty sing-alongs that form the foundation of Irish music.

It has endured over the years, evolving from jigs and reels played on rough-hewn acoustic instruments to full-bodied rock arrangements, thanks to stubborn adherents who love the music for its roots and communal nature.

And today, of all days, Irish music is the backdrop to just about every proper party you attend whether or not green beer is served.

It s a lively melody, and it s kind of lighthearted even though some of the subject matter is about boats sinking and that kind of thing, said Mike McCarty, guitarist for the band Extra Stout.

For John Connolly, a longtime local singer of Irish songs, the music provides something uplifting that transcends whatever mood he s in.

It just makes me feel better. Not just the music itself, but the lyrics of the music. On St. Patrick s Day a lot of people don t hear the lyrics, they just hear the deedly-dee, deedly-duh part, said the 69-year-old native of Ireland.

A significant element of the music s appeal is attributed to its role as one of the backbones of traditional American country music. The jigs and reels at the core of Irish music closely resemble bluegrass. The storytelling nature of the lyrics many of which focus on the woes of old Ireland, shipwrecks, and other working-class concerns also resembles country music, serving as part of an oral tradition that makes the songs familiar at a number of levels.

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Patrick Lewandowski

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A lot of your country music came from Ireland and a lot of your bluegrass music came from Ireland, Connolly said. When you listen to a lot of your bluegrass music, it s based on jigs and reels. And a lot of people in the South have their roots in Ireland.

He said the music also was a big part of the folk resurgence of the early 60s, during which acts like the Clancy Brothers melded Irish roots music with traditional folk.

From there, it established a solid foothold that has grown steadily over the years, morphing from an acoustic-based sound to something far more full-bodied and diverse.

Irish rockers like Thin Lizzy, U2, and especially the Pogues cranked up the volume and used the basic elements of the music to veer off into arena-sized anthems.

According to Mickey Finn of Mickey Finn s Pub, one of the biggest boosts for changes in the music was the 1997 movie Titanic, in which the band Gaelic Storm played for the third-class passengers.

They just raised the tempo of the music where it went from really just step dancing with your hand at your side, to where you were up and flailing your arms and having a great time, he said.

The high-energy Riverdance productions also changed the complexion of Irish music and broadened it and then you had Celtic rock.

That opened the door for bands like Brother, Gaelic Storm, Tempest, the Glengarry Bhoys, and others from the United States, Canada, and Australia who electrified traditional instruments and gave the music an almost progressive rock feel, Mr. Finn said.

Then there are the traditionalists like Extra Stout, Connolly, and Patrick Lewandowski, a local guitarist who becomes Paddy McCarthy today to perform at Mickey Finn s.

Extra Stout s McCarty, 49, said he discovered Irish music through digging out old Clancy Brothers albums on St. Patrick s Day. He had always played guitar, and folk-based songs, so it wasn t hard to go the Irish route six years ago when his band, which includes Blade reporter Tom Troy, formed out of a series of jam sessions.

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Mickey Finn

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A big influence was Jimmy Buffet, he said. He does a lot of sailing, drinking, partying songs, and it s very easy to go from there to the Irish sailing, drinking, and partying.

Extra Stout, which plays year-around, encourages plenty of audience participation, especially sing-alongs, McCarty said, noting that tunes like The Wild Rover, Whiskey in the Jar, and Black Velvet Band are important in the Irish music canon.

Lewandowski, who has just released a CD called Paddy Lie Back and who is well-known for his blues guitar playing, said he focuses on the revolutionary songs that were born from the strife between Ireland the English, which he has studied.

But he also has a reason for exploring the music that s much closer to home.

All of the men in my family have married Irish women for the last three generations, he said, laughing.

Contact Rod Lockwood at: rlockwood@theblade.com or 419-724-6159.

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