Kiss Me

Celtic music scene celebrates Dayton’s roots

By Josher Lumpkin

When the Irish, Scottish, Welsh and other Celtic immigrants migrated to the Midwest over 100 years ago, they brought with them a rich tradition of dance and music. These traditions are still alive and well here in the Miami Valley, though the exact interpretations of them are ever-evolving. This intersection of the old and the new, the historic and the modern, is what makes Celtic culture so appealing to people of all ages.

“Dayton’s [Celtic community] is not as large as certainly more noted communities that are known to everybody nationally, like Chicago, or Boston or New York City, but it is significant,” says Bill Russell, organizer of Dayton Celtic Fest. “Certainly the Scotch-Irish out of Appalachia were a key contributor to the population out in this area. As the railroads and the canals were brought west, there seemed to be a large Irish and Scotch-Irish population that came forward because they were the main labor burst as a part of the that construction.”

Many of these workers then settled in this area, bringing with them their unique musical style. This new sound, when brought together with instruments that were available here in the New World, gave way to modern genres like bluegrass, country and western.

“We like to highlight the Appalachia tie of the Irish and Scotch-Irish with bluegrass music, which is really popular in that area,” Russell says. “That grew out of Irish and Scotch-Irish music in the mountains. How the fiddle made it into this country, and then that made it into bluegrass music. And then also there’s a connection back, the bluegrass music picked up the banjo here, but then the banjo actually went back to Ireland and has been brought into Irish traditional music and Irish pub music. So you have a back-and-forth between the U.S. and Ireland and Scotland on the music.”

Dulahan is a Dayton band that has been performing their interpretation of the Celtic sound since 2001. Lead by multi-instrumentalist and founding member Kyle Aughe, Dulahan has made a name for themselves with their fusion of traditional Celtic music and Americana sounds. Before Aughe helped start Dulahan, he played in various country-folk and country-rock bands around the area.

“I think the music that I’ve played most of my life before I played Celtic music was so rooted in the Celtic sound and instrumentation that when I started I thought, ‘Wow I’ve been playing something very similar to this my entire life!’” Aughe says. “Folk music and country music and even popular music evolves out of a lot of the vocal instrumental stuff that was brought over by the Irish and Scottish immigrants that settled in the eastern part of the United States and eventually into the Appalachians.

“The songwriting process is much the same,” he continues. “There’s certainly a lot of Celtic theme stuff in our music. I read a lot of history so there’s a lot of historical pieces that our band does, but we also do a lot of contemporary themes too.”

It’s the myriad of different genres that inspire Aughe that separates Dulahan’s sound from other Celtic-inspired acts.

“We are certainly by no means a traditional Celtic band—we have a lot of contemporary influences,” Aughe explains. “It’s a really nice fusion of old and new. We do almost all our own music, and it’s nice when people hear us and say ‘Wow, that song could have been 150 years old or it could have been written yesterday, and I’m not even sure—I don’t even care!’ We pull a lot of different influences for our music.”

Russell goes on to explain another popular type of Celtic-inspired music.

“We also have Celtic rock, which seems to be doing very well,” Russell says. “Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys, what they have really done, was to really amp up Irish traditional tunes, and those have now made it into the Celtic rock genre. Both of those bands have made it very popular, but then you peel it back, and you can see the Irish and the Scottish foundations, the Celtic foundation it was built on, both instrumentation as well as tunes that are at the heart of what they do and what they perform. That’s now made it into the mainstream.”

Dayton’s answer to the Celtic-inspired rock sound is Homeland, an act that got their start here in the Miami Valley, though some members have since relocated to Columbus.

“I would say it’s rock and roll,” Homeland front man Scott McGillivray describes the band’s style. “There’s a rock sound, with a strong Celtic influence.

McGillivray and crew had an odd encounter when Homeland performed their brand of Celtic-fused rock to crowds in Ireland.

“We were playing in a place in Dublin and there were these two other rock bands,” McGillivray says, “and they were like ‘What? Fiddles? What is this?’ And of course they loved it. They didn’t know what to expect.”

What Americans probably assume is the dominant sound of popular music in that part of the world is actually relatively unknown.

“Over here, there’s a Celtic band that’s big in U.S. called Gaelic Storm. They’re a little more of a poppy, acoustic sound. They pack houses all over the U.S., and when you’re in Ireland nobody would know who they are,” McGillivray says.

McGillivray goes on to talk about some of the elements that add up to create an excellent scene in Dayton for musicians who play Celtic-inspired music, as well as fans who enjoy the genre.

“Really I would say when it comes to Dayton, the beauty is there’s like a mixture of a lot of different acts, with different styles to please a lot of different tastes,” McGillivray says. “We’ve been blessed with that, and some nice venues. Some of these other major cities really don’t have good music venues for the bands to play. That great pub atmosphere is always nice. And we have a phenomenal Celtic festival, too. “

Bill Russell, who played a key role in creating that phenomenal Celtic festival, comes from a long line of folks of Celtic ancestry. This Celtic heritage drew him into the Irish dance community here in Dayton, spurring an interest in the culture.

“My personal legacy is that my grandparents on my mother’s side came over from Ireland. Something that connected all of us that were foundational when the festival started was actually Irish dance,” Russell recalls. “At the time, the adults that had a hand in starting the event, all had children who were Irish dancers, so that was the genesis for certainly the festival … us Irish dance parents coming together to make something bigger. Personally, I do have it in my blood, in my genes, but then also culturally, that’s how many of us became associated. Many of the folks that still are on our organizing committee are Irish dance parents and now that it’s been going on for a while, some of them were Irish dancers themselves, and have grown up and now participate in leading the event with us.”

Dulahan also has a similar connection.

“We have a great relationship with a lot of local Irish dance schools,” Aughe says. “There’s a lot of overlapping. Our band started in one of the back rooms of one of the local Irish dance schools, and we still continue to have a good relationship with a lot of the different Irish dance schools. So some will perform with us at different shows throughout the year and even in Cincinnati, with the big school there, we’ll have dancers. So that’s a nice combination/overlap. A lot of families that are involved in Irish culture, their kids will do Irish and Scottish dance, and it’s a natural combination with our band and our music over the years. That’s been a wonderful marriage between our music. Even though we aren’t a traditional jigs and reels dance band, we’ll throw a song or two like that out in our set if there are Irish dancers there and crowds really enjoy seeing a good talented dancer or good talented dancers get up and do a reel set. It’s a very fun part of it.”

With all these events and musical acts in the Miami Valley, you may be wondering how Dayton’s Celtic scene compares to that of other towns. What sets Dayton apart and makes it unique when put side-by-side next to some other city?

“I wouldn’t say it’s different. I think it’s very typical of a lot of Midwesterners,” Aughe reflects. “A lot of people are Scottish and Irish heritage, and there’s a lot of people that are very proud of that heritage. So many people have some Celtic blood in them, we see that a lot of communities are very similar to the one we have in Dayton. I wouldn’t say we’re unique, I’d say we’re very consistent with the Midwest. We play some towns that don’t have nearly as developed an Irish or Scottish culture. But Dayton certainly has a nice thriving one, and I think there are a lot of people who either have a lot of touch with their roots, or are just kind of discovering them in the last few years and want to cultivate their heritage.”

There are also some unfortunate misconceptions that surround Celtic culture. This has to do with Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations that get out of hand, and ugly racial stereotypes that are sometimes applied to people of Celtic backgrounds.

“I think one of the clear stereotypes for Irish and Scottish culture is the drinking thing,” Aughe says. “I mean, certainly there’s a drinking component to the Irish and Scottish and the Celtic culture, but one of the things that’s most frustrating for us being in the Celtic community is that everybody kind of assumes that it’s this one-dimensional drinking-only kind of thing. People will say ‘Oh do you do songs all night long, drinking songs?’ We do a few booze songs in the course of the night but it’s certainly not the focus of our music and it’s not the focus of the culture. That can be a little frustrating.”

Scott McGillivray gives his pet peeve about assumptions people make about Celtic culture.

“I think people have that misconception where they view it sort of the way they view like Germanfest,” he says, “where they think it’s just all polka. A lot of people are definitely not attracted to that, you know, it’s just noise to them unless it’s part of their life. That is the one nice thing about the Celtic culture having all of the rock bands. I know Dayton alone had at one point at least 10 different bands of different styles doing Celtic music in Dayton. So there’s a little something for everybody. It’s not like they have to pretend to do Riverdance. There’s actually a lot of fun stuff.”

As for Saint Patrick’s Day plans this year, Russell says he’ll be out on the town, enjoying the best of what Dayton has to offer on this special day.

“We’ll be at pubs that are having Irish music. One thing that was surprising was the dinner pubs that haven’t been previously connected to Celtic or Irish bands have been calling us to try and find folks to play, and we just don’t have enough Irish bands at this time of year. We could use more in this area. So we’ll be around catching all of them at the different pubs. … Many of the bands that we see throughout the year are run ragged trying to do three, four, five, six, some of them seven shows in a day or a weekend, to satisfy the desire to hear this type of music around this time of year, so we’ll be trying to catch as many of them as we can at all these different venues. And of course the Irish dance schools are booked up as well.”

Aughe also plans to spend the day celebrating.

“We’ll be playing all day down at Flanagan’s pub in Dayton on Stewart Street. We’re going to be playing from 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., multiple shows. There will be Irish dancers mixed in there in between our sets.”

For more information on Dayton Celtic Fest, Dulahan and Homeland, please visit DaytonCelticFestival.com, Dulahan.com and Homelandmusic.com respectively.

Josher Lumpkin is a nursing student and aspiring historian who enjoys writing about music and geekdom of all kinds. He is especially fond of punk rock, tabletop gaming, sci-fi/fantasy and camping with his wife, Jenner, and their dogs, Katie and Sophie. Reach him at JosherLumpkin@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Josher Lumpkin is a nursing student and aspiring historian who enjoys writing about music and geekdom of all kinds. He is especially fond of punk rock, tabletop gaming, sci-fi/fantasy and camping with his wife, Jenner, and their dogs, Katie and Sophie. Reach him at JosherLumpkin@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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