Group brings their modern, fun take on traditional Irish music to Gainesville
Published: Sunday, January 9, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 7, 2011 at 9:29 a.m.
It is after 10 p.m. in Ireland, and Kevin Crosby has had a crazy day. There is still much to do as the founder and manager of Celtic Crossroads, a globetrotting, traditional Irish music group, and for Crosby, not even the dinner hour is sacred. His has been interrupted by several phone calls already. After finishing his meal, he takes another call, agreeing to one more interview as the restaurant clears out behind him. The sounds of clinking dishes and sleepy murmurs occasionally cut into his soft brogue.
If you go
What: Authentic Irish group Celtic Crossroads
When: 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 16
Where: University Auditorium, corner of Union Road and Newell Drive, UF campus
For tickets and information, call 392-2787.
Crosby is 27 years old and is building something of an entertainment empire full of the best Celtic musicians and dancers to be found. But, like most empires, it started from rather humble beginnings.
"The show started by us putting on street performances," he says. "Myself, and my brother and a friend named Michael McClintock put on a street show showcasing Irish music. We started promoting the shows by getting sign carriers to walk around the streets, and as our name got bigger, even after the first week of doing these shows, people started to come and sit down in the bars and restaurants around where they knew we would be performing. There was no formal idea or big business plan; it was just a group of guys that were very talented."
They decided to play traditional Irish music with a modern flair and took the name Celtic Crossroads because it held several meanings. First, since ancient times in Ireland, the crossroads between towns served as meeting places full of music and dancing. Second, the name represented the crossroads between traditional Irish music and the group's modern sensibility. Third, they literally played in the street.
In 2005, the group decided to hold auditions and turn the burgeoning show into a formal event. The response was overwhelming — almost 400 musicians came to the audition.
"It was like ‘Pop Idol,'?" Crosby says, referring to the original British version of "American Idol." "We selected what we thought were the best of the best traditional musicians and dancers as well. Six of the nine people are still with us. We don't have a high staff turnover."
The new group still performed in the streets, but the crowds grew so large that city officials asked them to move the show to a theater and stop congesting the city center.
"We did that, and the show started selling out six nights a week," Crosby says. "We then knew that it was something that would be appreciated on a bigger scale."
To understand how the group went from performing in the street to touring the world — they will perform at the University Auditorium in Gainesville on Jan. 16 — it is necessary to understand a little bit about their hometown of Galway, Ireland.
Galway can trace its roots back to medieval times, roughly 800 years ago. Today, it is one of Ireland's largest and fastest-growing cities. In other words, Galway is a tough place to sell an Irish show. The residents cannot be wooed by a few flutes and mandolins and Irish accents; their history simply goes back too far.
McClintock, who is now the musical director as well as one of the remaining original performers, puts it more bluntly.
"A lot of the other shows that you'll see around town, Irish people sort of cringe a little when they see it," he says. "It's a little bit cheesy. We wanted to do something that Irish people would actually like."
McClintock says that the early days of performing in the streets gave them instant feedback — when the people liked what they heard, they would literally dancing with the band in the street.
"It was very early days for us, so it was a rootsy sort of feel," he says. "We were discovering what we were capable of, and we were sort of pushing ourselves a little bit, but we didn't understand how big things were going to get. It was a summer project in the very beginning. Everyone was in college. At the end of the day, we were just playing to people who were doing their shopping. People would come out of the pub and be dancing in the street with us."
Once they had won over the hardest audience in the world, at least as far as Irish music is concerned, the group knew they could go anywhere they pleased. But, Crosby says, they have always worked hard to earn their audience regardless of where they are. Part of that is accomplished by refusing to slide into stereotypes.
"We will not play ‘Danny Boy,'?" he says. "We will not play anything that people expect to hear in our show. It's a new generation of Irish music. A lot of people say that what they saw onstage is doing to Irish music what Riverdance has done to Irish dance."
Thus, the group juxtaposes early Celtic music with a rendition of U2's "With or Without You" (Crosby once worked for U2 and counts Irish-born superstar Damien Rice as a friend), and their recordings include a version of "Unquiet Grave," an English folksong dating to the 1400s.
"The musicians we have, they're all very serious traditional music type people," McClintock explains. "We all grew up in a purist tradition, but most of these guys kind of mastered the purist track at age 15 or so. Everyone's been playing since they were 3 or 4 years old. They're interested in mixing it with a few other world genres."
Ultimately, the goal is to bring ancient music to the modern world in a way that will make it accessible to everyone.
"We don't want to make it so purist that it's only for intellectual types," McClintock says. "We want to make it fun as well. You can dance to it. It's really fun."