24 July 2018

Ardara: a great weekend

Thanks once again to Des Butler for this report and photos on the 11th Ardara Bluegrass Festival, held in Ardara, Co. Donegal, last weekend (20-22 July):

I've just had my first experience of the Ardara Bluegrass Festival and I realise what I've been missing for the last ten years by way of some great bluegrass music.The Friday night concert opened with Janet, Colin, and James Henry [below] delivering some of their own material as Janet was launching her new album at the festival - and what sweet sounds they were making! The emotional resonance of these songs lingers.

They were followed by the McLain Family who delivered what I would describe as pure unadulterated bluegrass mountain music, straight out of the Appalachians. I could listen to this band all night. These performances took place in Pat McGill's upstairs lounge in the Beehive.

The Saturday afternoon jam in the Beehive [above] was a sight and sound to behold. I counted fourteen musicians at one stage all playing in harmony tirelessly for the entire afternoon with all the old bluegrass classics getting an airing. This was augmented from time to time by one local guy who had one of the best country 'cheatin' song' voices to be heard, and sang to his own guitar accompaniment.

The Saturday night concert in the Nesbitt Arms Hotel opened to the gentle sounds of a couple from the Czech Republic [Pe & Pe, above]. This was followed by the band Mules & Men [below], the genre of whose music I find hard to define; it sounded to me a cross between bluegrass and Americana, but it must be said it was most interesting and enjoyable with some fine musicianship being displayed.

There followed a further helping from the McLain Family. This band just blew me away, as did the next one on stage i.e. Jeff Scroggins & Colorado [both below].

Listening to both of these bands in succession I felt that it doesn't get much better than this. The Saturday night audience were treated to four solid hours of some fantastic music followed by another jam session in the hotel which I left at 3.10 in the morning and it was still going strong.

Sunday saw another jam [above] starting at 12.00 noon and continuing for the entire afternoon. The Sunday concert was hosted by Tony O'Brien of Woodbine and Athy Festival fame in the Beehive lounge, who with Liam Wright invited a host of musicians on stage to give a great performance [below]. The formalities continued with a one-hour performance by Jeff Scroggins & Colorado to close the official festival. But this wasn't the real closure, as the ubiquitous jamming session took place downstairs afterwards in the bar and went on into the early hours.

All kudos and thanks for this great weekend of bluegrass goes to Pat McGill of the Beehive Bar for organising the festival and to John Nyhan for organising and supplying some of the best bluegrass bands ever to grace this country.

On a personal note I want to give John Nyhan a big 'thank you' as I would have missed the festival only for him. When he heard I would not be attending the festival as I could not secure accommodation, due to my own tardiness in not seeking same in good time, John came back to me within an hour with a room secured for me, which turned out to be very comfortable indeed. Many thanks, John; I owe you one.

BIB editor's note: As the McLains announced during the Saturday concert, John Nyhan's actions on their behalf went far beyond what would be expected from the average tour promoter. The scene here in Ireland owes a great deal to John and his boundless energy and resourcefulness.

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