Rhythmic Kilkenny roots for music festival


YES, THERE are cowboy hats being worn in and around the Marble City, and yes, there are varying strands of roots music coming from many bars, but anyone thinking the Kilkenny Rhythm Roots Festival (now in its 14th year) is some kind of weekend retreat for Garth Brooks fans will need to reconsider.

The perception of the event as being the next best thing to a line-dancing shindig is also incorrect. Truth is, alongside the Other Voices event at Dingle, the Kilkenny event is the hippest boutique festival in the country. This is country music at its most interesting and least obvious, yet ironically the demand for the music is such that each year many people travel to Kilkenny to see acts they only know peripherally.

Festival director John Cleere understands that keeping it compact and niche are keys to its success.

“We’re doing quite well this year – the numbers are very steady and the acts we have playing over the weekend are very good.”

Too true. In keeping with the festival’s long-standing tradition of bringing in acts that wouldn’t get within an ass’s roar of daytime radio, the event kicked off on Friday evening with a sparkling, energetic performance from Kort, which features two of Nashville’s quirkiest singers, ­ Kurt Wagner and Courtney Tidwell. Separately, they’re oddities, together they are a dream as they encircle retro country with modernist twists and turns.

Kilkenny-based artist Catherine Barron was stage front, sketching performances over the weekend. The drawings are also on the festival website (kilkennyroots.com), which adds immediacy to the work. “There will be no retouching done afterwards,” says Barron before “visualising” Alberta singer Little Miss Higgins, who was playing at Cleere’s.

The excellent weather added to the festival feel. Al fresco performances were regular features on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, with a particular highlight being American roots act Frontier Ruckus playing in front of Rollercoaster Records.

Best gig of the weekend? Hands down it was Wilko Johnson at Set Theatre – his scatter-gun/strafing approach to rhythm, roots, blues and rock will take some beating. The festival concludes tonight with Nashville honky-tonk firebrand Stacie Collins at the Paris Texas bar at 9pm.