Festival review: Kilkenny Rhythm and Roots
There may be an ever-increasing number of festivals across the British Isles, but the number of festivals dedicated to Americana, especially at the highest level, is still pretty small. That’s why the trip across the Irish Sea for the 13th Kilkenny Rhythm and Roots is more than worth the effort for many music fans, and no year more than this one.
The newly completed Set Theatre played host to a series of high-octane, post-midnight performances, from Jason Isbell, the Band of Heathens and Jason and the Scorchers, as well as numerous other acts, many of whom are not setting foot in the UK this year.
Headliner Josh Ritter brought out a largely young – and primarily Irish – audience for his slick show on the first night, while the visitors and the old rockers kept their powder dry to salute Isbell’s later show. Jetlag meant nothing to the Band of Heathens, playing their first ever shows in Ireland; or indeed to the Scorchers, on an 18-hour trip to the country. Touring for the first time since 1999 and promoting their first all-new studio album in 14 years, they put on a show that was, well, scorching. Frontman Jason Ringenberg, now better known as children’s favourite Farmer Jason, donned a sequinned jacket and hat and tore through music both old and new to an appreciative, if very boozy, crowd. The Duke and the King also brought out the crowds for a dramatic and classy, though somewhat short, show.
For those visiting Kilkenny especially for the festival, there was a good 12 hours of music on Saturday and Sunday, but it took some planning in advance – a number of early shows in the smaller venues around the town sold out, and though there were plenty of free shows later in the day, they were lacking in the early slots. The organisers also had to do some work at short notice to fill the gap caused by the late cancellation of Chris Smither’s two shows due to illness.
Kilkenny is a compact little town, popular with hen and stag nights because of its seemingly unending collection of bars and restaurants. All the venues are in walking distance of each other, and with more than 50 free gigs in the bars of the town, from late afternoon onwards there was always something to listen to – though early arrival was needed to guarantee a seat.
This isn’t the most laid-back festival on the calendar, and with the unpredictable Irish weather and nothing much else to do in the town except eat and drink it doesn’t work out to be the cheapest either, especially for UK visitors, but it attracts acts that are hard to see elsewhere, offers plenty of free entertainment (of varying quality) and comes with that Irish craic that will always make it unique.
More material from Kilkenny on Backroads over the next few weeks, including interviews with Jason Ringenberg, Band of Heathens and Joe Pug, along with live audio.
Kilkenny Rhythm and Roots on Backroads.