The venerable KC Irish Fest first drew me into its orbit 5 or 6 years ago, on a road trip down from Doane College to see Celtic rockers Black 47. A good time then, and though much last weekend was different it still moved us.

Friends picked me up for the trip down to Crown Center, which is a cool outdoor venue in the middle of the south end of downtown Kansas City; a multileveled plaza with fountains and a semi-permanent white tented contraption, surrounded by high-rises. Sunday night was the final night of the festival, and we rolled in time to catch full sets from both The Elders and Eileen Ivers with her band Immigrant Soul.

Kent loaned me an Elders disc a couple weeks back; it was tasteful, pleasant, and generally uninspired. Competent Irish AAA-rock. He’d been telling me what an amazing drummer Ian, the true Irish frontman, was; when the Elders took the stage, I finally understood. This band needed a DVD crew out Sunday night; they took us up and down, putting on a firey, passionate show. Ian worked us like a pro, like Bono: his voice, his banter, his sing-alongs, his drumming with child-like energy any time he wasn’t singing. Consummate musicianship with exciting, unrehearsed showmanship, the Elders earned every ounce of love they got and gave it right back to the crowd.

I’d heard Ivers at the Lied Center in Lincoln several years ago, and forgotten how jazz-influenced she is. Her music pushes the boundaries of Celtic canon, helped out by an all-star band. I was most impressed with guitarist James Riley; armed with a simple six-string acoustic, his style was all his own, rhythmic and driving with a very advanced sense of harmony. Ivers’ stage presence is a hoot, pogo-jumping like a punk-rocker with her violin in tow. I would see her again in a heartbeat.

All told, Sunday was a perfect exercise in musical pleasure relative to energy output; we were in and out of downtown in about four hours, heard two great sets from two very different bands, enjoyed the near-autumn out-of-doors on Labor Day weekend, and had enough time for chatting.


  1. I’m kind of late on this, but someone just directed me to your blog.

    I was also at the KC Irish fest (you might have seen a girl running around in a James Riley Fan Club t-shirt; or maybe not, there was like a billion people there. Maybe you saw my drunk mother instead?). It was a fun show, wasn’t it? Your description of Eileen as a pogo stick is hilariously apt.

    I’ll be sure to direct James to your kind comments. He’ll be amazed that you picked him out of everyone.

  2. Erin! Welcome.

    (I’m going to add this to the top of my next comment on the current post, doubling the chances of you finding your way to it)

    The Irish fest was a blast.

    What recording of James’ would you recommend? I remember searching around for something, but not finding any albums that looked like they would highlight his sound…

    There must be a story of how you found the blog/MFR… I hope you might find some music you like.

    If you’re around KC and are going for a show, I’m always up for some live music. -howie

  3. So far as recording goes, I’m not really sure where to direct you. He’s not done an album of his own as of yet, although he’s working very hard on getting to it. He records on a lot of other peoples’ albums. He’s in upstate NY right now, (with no cell phone signal), but he’ll call when he’s done, and I’ll ask him what he’d recommend. Better to get it straight from the horses’ mouth, rather than from the girlfriend whose favorite tracks include “that one thing you played that one morning while you were waiting for me to get ready”.

    I actually found this blog because a co-worker of mine was also at the KC Irish Fest, saw your comments about James, and sent me the link. I’m always up for new music though, and I’ve had fun browsing so far. She found the link because they posted in on the KC Irish Fest blog.

    I actually live in Lincoln, NE, so I’m not around KC a lot. But when I am again, I’ll be sure to let you know.

  4. I’m with you on getting James a record… MFR is really small, but everything we do have I open to you/James if we can be of any help.

    Lincoln – I grew up in Crete and went to college at Doane, a native Nebraskan. You? So MFR has roots in Lincoln – Cory Kibler (of Shacker/Beach-Puppy/Benjamin Axeface) is there now, so we get together from time to time. He’s got a show tonight at Duffy’s with the Melismatics (from Minneapolis – I lived there last year).


  5. That’s so nice of you. I’ll be sure to tell James.

    I actually grew up right outside of Omaha, but I go to school here in Lincoln. I actually bartend a couple bars down from Duffy’s, and my boss’s husband bartends at Duffy’s. Such a small world. :)

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