Echoes from the Emerald Isle at Celtic Festival in Grass Valley |

Echoes from the Emerald Isle at Celtic Festival in Grass Valley

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The Celtic Festival taking place at the Nevada County Fairgrounds features numerous cultural elements from Ireland, foremost of which will be the music.

The Prodigals, a New York City-based jig-punk band that has incorporated features from traditional Irish music into modern rock-and-roll music, and The Elders, who play traditional Irish music and Americana with Irish antecedents, will headline a full list of bands at the two-day weekend event.

“It’s one of our favorite festivals,” said Steve Phillips, who sings and plays the guitar and mandolin for The Elders. “We love the tall pine trees (at the fairgrounds).”

The Elders derived their name from their bass player, Kian Byrne, who was playing in Los Angeles with a group of youngsters and was dubbed the “elder” by his bandmates. He carried the name over to his new endeavor.

“We were all about 40 years old when we started playing, which in popular music is over the hill,” Phillips said. “Elders were typically the wise men of the clan, and while I’m not saying we’re necessarily wise, we’re trying to grow into the name.”

Along with traditional Irish ballads, the Elders mix in American music in the form of bluegrass, both traditional and modern.

Bluegrass derived directly from traditional Irish music, as settlers in the Appalachian mountain range who hailed from the United Kingdom made stylistic variations to the music, which had been in existence for centuries.

The Elders has a song entitled “Appalachian Paddy,” which chronicles how the musical tradition evolved across the continents.

“It’s a crowd-pleaser,” Phillips said.

Gregory Grene, lead singer of The Prodigals, said his band was definitely interested in The Pogues, a Celtic punk band that has earned an international following and critical acclaim after more than 30 years of touring and making records.

“Shane McGowan is a legend,” Grene said.

The set planned by The Prodigals will contain songs with an updated and fresh sound but flecked with resonance of Ireland’s traditional music.

“Irish music is like any roots music, like the blues for instance,” he said. “It has a truth to it, and it is distilled into something that is basic about the human being.”

Irish music and its modern variations have a “huge vocabulary,” the range of which will be on display during the Celtic Festival.

Grene started playing the button-key accordion in County Cavan, in the northern part of Ireland, when he was 9 years old.

“I’ve been surrounded by the music all my life,” Grene said. “When I was young, we would have harvest parties, and the farmers would come together to sing along with the music with a glass of whiskey in their hands.”

Grene said there is a wealth of camaraderie at the events, and he looks forward to meeting some of the other musicians and staying up late into the night “having a laugh and playing some tunes.”

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email or call (530) 477-4239.

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