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Thursday, June 13, 2013 09:48 am

John Byrne brings on the Irish

Dublin native and Philadelphia resident John Byrne plays Irish music with his band at Lime Street Cafe, Saturday, 8:30 p.m.
From centuries-old songs and tunes performed in traditional ways to the adaptation of instruments and melodies to the new land, Irish music certainly infused itself into the American consciousness throughout our history and seems even stronger today than ever before.

In central Illinois we have at several Irish-influenced groups playing out regularly, numerous public events based upon Celtic heritage and many successful concerts from touring Irish folks. Our latest performer, Dublin native John Byrne, came to us in a bit of an unusual way. When Nat and Carol Radwine recently visited Ireland on a travel tour hosted by The Young Dubliners, they really liked the opening act. Then they found out the group actually lives in Philadelphia and performs regularly in the U.S., so with a few twists of fate, The John Byrne Band plays in town this weekend.

Byrne’s main venue is an intimate private house concert that is likely sold out by now. Please contact Nat at radvino@comcast.net for seating news and also to get on the mailing list for a Byrne return engagement. The second show, more of an “Irish pub concert” happens at Lime Street Cafe on Saturday from 8:30 to midnight and is free and open to the public.

As the longtime drummer for The Emerald Underground, Nat can claim discerning taste in Irish music and Byrne delivers the goods in fine fashion. As an artist, John rides the fine line between traditional player and contemporary songwriter, easily working both areas with aplomb and taste. His original songs reverberate with the echoes of the old tunes and the trads come complete with fresh arrangements of timeless styles.

“I don’t stray too far away from traditionals when writing songs, I write in 3/4 time a lot,” said Byrne. “I like my songs to not be too literal, to let them find their own meaning. I’m really a lyricist looking for a tune.”

Though Irish-ness came inherent in his sense of self, there was a time when singing the old Irish tunes didn’t fit into the young immigrant’s plans.

“When I came to America I listened to folk music like Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Mississippi John Hurt and Woody Guthrie. Irish folk was my Dad’s music,” he explained. “I discovered the Irish in me by writing my songs.”

A teacher of English just a few years ago, Byrne took the conscious plunge from work into full time playing to dedicate more time to his burgeoning music schedule and develop his desire to follow the adventure. Allied with a tremendous music family of Andy Keenan, Rob Shaffer and Maura Dwyer, Byrne continues to be a strong music force in the New England area while touring the States and Europe, releasing heartfelt records done quite well and performing shows with artistry and emotion.

“I’m in a strong position to go ahead so I’ll just keep plugging away. Thank God I’m a folk singer,” he laughs. “As I get older and scruffier, I can still sing folk music.”

Also of note - Friday and Saturday see Dumb Fest, a “2-Day/2-Stage” festival at Black Sheep Cafe and Skank Skates featuring “the best alternative bands around here and the country.” The Horse Show presented by Refuge Ranch and the Radon Lounge happens in Pawnee with music and activities all day Saturday to benefit the Ranch. World class blues comes to Thirdbase Saturday night, with guitarist Luca Giordano from Italy and Quique Gomez from Spain on harmonica and opening act Mary Jo Curry with Mike Rapier, plus Mike Gillette and Mike Wallace providing the rhythm section all night long. ”

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.
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