Like many Irish-American musicians, Frank Daly, a Mayfair boy, grew up listening to Irish music. “My grandmother used to play the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem all the time,” recalls the lead vocalist for the popular Celtic rock group, Jamison. “I hated it.”
You didn’t see that coming, did you? Yet Daly’s story probably resonates with many Irish-Americans who were force-fed music—from interminable slow airs to diddly-die tunes—that couldn’t hold a candle to the rock (or, in Daly’s case, punk) they were hearing on the radio or watching on MTV.
Then, something happened to change his thinking. “I’ll tell you the moment when I said, ‘Wow, this is awesome.’ It was seeing the Pogues [the ‘80s Celtic band from London] play ‘White City.’ I remember watching and going, Oh. My. God. I bought the Pogue’s cassette and played it until it snapped and then I bought it again. It was like, Irish songs can be fun! And then, as I got older, I began to appreciate the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, the Bothy Band, and Solas.”
That was, in part, the impetus for Daly and Jamison fiddler C.J. Mills, to launch American Paddy’s LLC—to lure those Irish Americans who had lost or never connected with their culture by setting it to a different beat.
Their first show was the very successful An American Celtic Christmas, featuring a Mrs. Murphy’s chowder of performers, from traditional and Celtic rock to hip-hop with some Irish step-dancing sprinkled in, held last December at Bensalem High School.
Their second production is on an even grander scale. The Young Dubliners are headlining The Philadelphia Fleadh (fleadh is an Irish word meaning festival) at the Ed Kelly Amphitheater in Pennypack Park in Philadelphia on June 22. There will be five different stages, each highlighting a different aspect of Irish culture, including Celtic rock, traditional music, and dance, as well as an international bagpipe event, sheepdog demonstrations (“yes, they’ll be bringing sheep,” Daly laughs) and traditional sessions and workshops. Right now, the bill also includes Jamison, Blackthorn, the Bogside Rogues, Galway Guild, The John Byrne Band, Raymond Coleman, and Seamus Kelleher, and seven DJs spinning all kinds of music. More is being added every day.
“The idea is that people who aren’t regularly exposed to the Irish culture and who are coming to see DJ Freezie because she’s great will see the ceili stage and think, hey, that’s awesome too and it becomes a cool segue into the Irish culture,” says Daly, who left his job as marketing director of the Kildare’s Pub chain in October last year to become a fulltime musician and entrepreneur.
He was inspired last year by visiting the Dublin, Ohio, Irish festival which sprawls over 29 acres and draws 100,000 people from all over the country, and Bethlehem’s Celtic Classic, a three-day event in September. “There’s no reason why Philly can’t have the same thing,” says Daly. “Philadelphia is a great Irish American city, with the third or fourth largest Irish population in the country. I can foresee in four or five years this becoming a destination festival like those, where people are coming from out of town to attend.”
Big dreams? Maybe. But when three people started Bethlehem’s Celtic Classic in 1988, it drew 30,000 people, even though the temperatures dipped down into the 30s. Last year, more than a quarter of a million people showed up—many of them people who have kept the festival’s dates permanently on their calendars for decades.
Daly is hopeful, largely because of what he’s seen on the Irish music scene in Philadelphia. “CJ and I did [St. Patrick’s Day] parade benefits all throughout the city in March and we met a lot of people who want desperately to be part of the Irish community,” says Daly. “For some of them, this may be how they start.”
Tickets, which cost $18-$20, are on sale now and you can find out more at the Philadelphia Fleadh website.