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March 10, 2010
Rocking tradition
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Rocking tradition

Enter the Haggis

Celtic music upheaval on full display this month in Foxboro
FOXBORO - It used to be that the words "Celtic music" would conjure up images of traditional session bands improvising in a small Irish pub or musicians like The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem.

But over the last few decades, a movement has been growing across Ireland and America as more and more bands use their Irish heritage to explore other musical genres, creating new sounds that have struck a chord with the Irish and Irish-Americans of all generations.

Combining traditional Celtic instruments like the accordion and fiddle with pounding drums and acoustic guitars, this Celtic rock movement will be on full display this month at Showcase Live in Foxboro, with separate concerts by Hothouse Flowers (March 12), Black 47 (March 16) and Enter the Haggis (March 17) to celebrate the St. Patrick's Day season.

Forming in New York City in the late 1980s, Black 47 and frontman Larry Kirwan are credited as pioneers in the movement, bringing Celtic music and rock together in a way audiences had never heard before.

"When we started out, it was like 'Are you guys serious?'" Kirwan said. "People were used to fiddles and accordions in the kitchen, more or less, at sessions or in bars, whereas we were coming in with the heavy artillery and, you know, ripping it off."
Black 47
Throughout the past two decades, Kirwan and his band have seen the genre grow, pushing its way towards the mainstream.

"When we started, no one was giving any thought to it at all. Now it's a movement across the country, it's national," Kirwan said. "There's not a small town in the country that doesn't have its Celtic rock band."

One of the products of this movement is Enter the Haggis, a Toronto-based Celtic pop-rock band that will be coming to Showcase Live on St. Patrick's Day.

"We've never done a St. Patrick's Day show so close to Boston," said Brian Buchanan, who sings, plays the fiddle, guitar and keyboards in the band. "On March 17, everybody claims at least a little bit of Irish heritage, so I expect a big mix (of people) at that show."

Since its formation in 1996, the band has focused on bringing their Celtic heritage to other musical styles.

"Our objective was always to try and sort of push the boundaries of what people thought of Celtic music," he said. "There's so much you can do with Celtic music and Celtic instrumentation that goes beyond just playing pub drinking songs."

Buchanan said it has often been a fun challenge for the band to incorporate these Celtic elements to their new material in a way that feels organic.

"It's always a challenge trying to figure out how to use those things without it sounding like they're tacked on - like you're using bagpipes just for the sake of having them," he said.

"There's a couple of songs on our new album ("Gutter Anthems") that are straight-up rock songs, but instead of a lead guitar line you've got a bagpipe line," he said.

While Black 47 and Enter the Haggis were making strides in Celtic rock in North America, Hothouse Flowers was creating its own sound right in Ireland.
Hothouse Flowers
Formed in 1985, guitarist and vocalist Fiachna O'Braonain said the band came up rooted in the traditional Irish music they learned in school with a desire to explore the rock music they were hearing on the radio.

"It's something where maybe one day we said 'let's try this song, only let's try it with the drums,'" he said. "It tends to happen quite naturally."

O'Braonian said he thinks it's the Irish knack for storytelling through song that has resonated with fans of all ages, both at home in Ireland and here in America.

"Ireland is a country where we've always had fun with words," he said. "We enjoy expressing strong emotions and strong feelings.

"That comes through in the music."

For Kirwan, what makes Celtic rock unique is its ability to remain rooted to heritage, something he said mainstream rock lacks.

"You don't hear the roots of Elvis or Eddie Cochran in rock music anymore, but, in Irish music and Irish rock music, you can feel the roots of the Irish experience and the Irish identity," he said.

This rooted rock will be on display, Kirwan said, throughout the series of concerts at Showcase Live.

"They're there in all these bands that you'll see coming to Foxboro," he said. "You'll feel the roots of Ireland in all of the bands in a way that you won't in regular rock music."

For tickets to the Irish series at Showcase Live, 23 Patriot Place, Foxboro, call 866-448-7849, to to, or visit the box office from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. For more information, call 508-543-5640 or visit

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