|Irish Consul General Noel Kilkenny and Joe Hurley|
A version of this article was first published in IrishCentral.
On Sunday July 29th, for the first time in NYC, Lincoln Center Out of Doors will present a day long, multifaceted festival of Irish culture. “Our Land” will celebrate the artistic, literary and musical heritage of Ireland, the mark it made on America and the continuing cross-cultural ties that bind the two countries.
“It’s well established what the Irish American contribution is to this country and indeed other cultures,” says OurLand curator and all-around rock star Joe Hurley. “ This festival celebrates that”
To bring that point home, OurLand will need all-day (2 pm–10 pm) to cover those marks the Irish made with representatives from pop, rock, punk, folk, theater , film, literature, and more, ‘OurLand’ takes place at multiple spaces on the Lincoln Center campus, culminating in Damrosch Park with the All Star Irish Rock Revue.
“Your land, my land, Ourland,Thailand, no borders. Ireland. Just a free-flowing celebration of all the arts, the beauties borne of Ireland.” Hurley says.
“There is this huge Celtic movement in Louisiana and it was an Irish fiddler who injected our culture there, creating celtic- cajun music. Appalachian folk and bluegrass inspired country music and Irish melodies are woven into that aspect of American music culture. They say ‘many hands have touched the artist’s brush’ and a lot of those hands are Irish!”
The day will start with Gathering The Bards: From Galway to Rockaway at Hearst Plaza that will spotlight the art of storytelling with original works and classics, Irish-American culture in verse and song.The performers include Oscar winning Director Terry George (Hotel Rwanda), Malachy McCourt, Alfie McCourt, actors Cara Seymour (Gangs of New York), Angelica Page (Sixth Sense), Geraldine Hughes (Belfast Blues), Agent 99 Barbara Feldon (Get Smart), and many others.
My compadres from the Irish American Writers and Artists will be on hand as well, including Peter Quinn, Malachy McCourt, Honor Molloy, and I will also read from my book that spent zero weeks on the NY Times Best-seller list, This is Your Brain on Shamrocks. Woven into the storytelling will be song from the likes of Cherish the Ladies, Kirk Kelly, Niamh Hyland, New Orleans Fiddler Gina Forsyth, Celtic Tenor David O’Leary; Poetry and a cappella singing from the WB Yeats Society of NY, Barbara Feldon, Gerard McNamee,, Salina Mailer, Faith Hahn, and more in a wildly eclectic and interactive parade of The Jewels of Ireland’s Bards.
“We want to represent an Ireland that is universal in its appeal,” Hurley says.
“Of Ireland, For Everyone. A Persian poet singing ‘Dirty Old Town’ makes perfect sense to me, because it shows how our culture has inspired other artists. And vice-versa of course. Look at ‘Galway Girl’ ..We are toasting the parade of Irish cultural jewels, and also how those jewels get sparkled up along their travels. From the Cliffs of Moher to The Empire State Building and the Appalachian mountains, the Hudson River to a Salthill Dance Hall, weve been touched by them all: the poetry of Kavanaugh and John Lydon, Flannery O’Connor to Honor Molloy. Its a huge honour and a privelege to celebrate Ireland’s finest, and my deepest thanks to all who are coming, what a gift.”
“It’s a Gathering, anyone can pop in, ring the bell, and if Peter O’Toole answers the door, all the better. And if Omar Sharif recites a Seamus Heaney poem ,then you know where you are. Of This Earth. In Ireland.Our Land. We want this Gathering to take you floating down the Shannon, moving through the fair, wondrous Irish-American artists as your guides. “
This gathering theme is very timely, as the Irish government has named 2013 The Year of the Gathering in which those with Irish heritage are encouraged to make the trip home. Hurley says the all-around support of Irish Consul General Noel Kilkenny has been invaluable in staging this event, a demonstration of the passion our motherland has for reaching out to her Irish American children.
A roots festival this size and scope could spell nothing but headache for an organizer, yet you get a sense in speaking with Hurley that this mission is personal.
“My mother’s family are from Tuam in Galway and my dad’s family was from Cork,” he explains. “My grandparents would come live with us for long stretches in London. It was essential to them that we remained deeply connected to Ireland. London wasn’t exactly a welcoming place for the Irish at the time and I vividly recall how my best friend yesterday was now calling me an Irish paddy bastard . Confusing to a 10 year old.My grandparents would take me by the hand and they’d say, ‘you are Irish above everything else. Never forget that.You might be living here but your blood is Irish, your heart and soul..’ We’d go walking through the Village Green and they’d sing me all these gorgeous Irish songs, the heartbreaking ballads especially resonated. ”
Hurley has been plugging into his Irish roots a lot lately; he loved playing with Damian Dempsey at the Belfast Feile and was so swept up with the kindness and the warmth of the people in Belfast that he extended the trip. The visits back to his roots are hugely important. “Its vital for me to touch the turf of my grandparents land, to dip my hands in their waters , lay down and soak in the history and the blood,” he says. “Galway. Just to look up at the sky that they dreamt in, sing their favourite song..integral to my soul, and the feeling of connection, family .”
That need to touch the roots explains the segment of the evening called “A Parting Glass: Celebrating the legendary Alan Lomax’s work preserving Ireland’s Musical Heritage.” Alan Lomax’s extensive recordings in Ireland are a shared musical treasure. They will be honored with Round Robin-style Irish-Americana performances led by Lomax archive director Don Fleming, Cherish the Ladies, Lianne Smith, and very special friends. Hurley says the original two-track recorder will be onstage that Lomax used to capture these historical Irish recordings!.
“Lomax recorded great singers like Margaret Barry and a lot of our heritage, haunting gems like ‘She Moved Through The Fair’ would have been lost to the world, had he not.. Brendan Behan singing ‘The Auld Triangle..Imagine the loss. ’
New recordings (made onstage) of these songs will be released in conjunction with The 78 RPM project, to raise funds for Irish-American charites,and to help get Lomax’s work back into Irish schools. “That is exciting to me because we want to get those original tracks back to the villages where these songs hail from,” he says. “Some villagers may not know their own contribution to the heritage,the folklore and we hope to rectify that,.”
Ireland’s busker (street performer) culture has had an international spotlight shone on it, thanks to the Oscar-award winning film and 2012 Tony-Award-winning “Best Musical” Once. The cast of that play, which features the music of The Frames’ Glen Hansard, will be on hand to perform from that show. Those hot Broadway lights will shine over at the Josie Robertson Plaza at Lincoln Center, where it will be re-christened “The Auld Triangle” for the audience to take a wild, magical stroll on Raglan Road with buskers, poets, painters, and dancers that will stir the soul and give festival goers a taste of the scene that spawned a movement.
Many Irish music fans know that Joe Hurley’s Irish Rock and Soul Revue is the hottest ticket around St. Patrick’s Day in this town and the OurLand festival will kick off into high gear when Joe Hurley and The Gents take the stage! Their set will include a performance of Hurley’s CD Let the Great World Spin, created with and inspired by Colum McCann’s National Book Award Winning novel. The Gents feature Tony Garnier (Bob Dylan Bandleader) Ken Margolis, Megan Gould, James Mastro, & special guest Flogging Molly’s Matt Hensley. Fiery rocker Willie Nile, Tony Winner Michael Cerveris (Evita), Ellen Foley, soul-legend Tami Lynn (Dr. John, The Rolling Stones) Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Dennis Dunaway (Alice Cooper Band), and many others will roar out the Great Irish songbook for an unforgettable evening of rock and roll!
“Tami Lynn sings Van Morrison’s ‘Crazy Love’ in a way no one on the planet could and she is a New Orleans soul legend,” Hurley raves. “Shatters your heart and somehow puts it back together at the end of the song when she smiles. The empathy forged. Celtic- Cajun music was invented by Irish fiddlers so with Tami Lynn and people like her, I think we bring it full circle. That’s what this festival is all about. Sharing. Keeping that circle open for everyone to skip into..”
As part of the Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival, everything you’ve read about just now is absolutely free because it is sponsored by Bloomberg, Pepsico, and SofTrek Corporation! You can take the money you would have spent on a ticket and buy a few CDs and books from the next generation of Irish poets, writers, and musicians. Everyone wins!
Joe Hurley ends our interview by borrowing a quote from Yeats. “There are no strangers here: just friends that we haven’t met yet.” I’ll drink to that!
Visit www.facebook.com/JoeHurleysOurlandFest for a complete schedule of events and VIP Tickets or call 212-875-5766 to request a brochure. You can go on Twitter and follow Joe at @JoeHurleyMusic or OurLand at @OurLandFest.