The Irish music community in Milwaukee, and the greater Milwaukee area itself, has been blessed with several visits by legendary Irish fiddler Kevin Burke over the years. In this issue of our monthly column, The Analog Beat, we're digging into the vault here at the Ward Irish Music Archives to look at Kevin's initial trip to Milwaukee with guitarist and singer Mícheál Ó Domhnaill leading up the first Milwaukee Irish Fest in 1981.
Kevin Burke and Mícheál Ó Domhnaill
Kevin and Mícheál first collaborated in the Bothy Band. Their musical partnership as a duo began in the mid-1970s due to various members of the Bothy Band being unable to commit to gigs featuring the full band. Combinations of members came together for smaller engagements, but, as Kevin Burke recounts in this interview from 2012, he and Mícheál began finding more work as a duo since they were roommates at the time. As they developed more material, they collaborated together to build interesting musical arrangements with Burke often suggesting chordal accompaniment for tunes and Ó Domhnaill offering suggestions of melodies to compliment traditional songs.
This eventually lead to the recording of their first album, Promenade, in 1979. By 1980, Kevin and Mícheál set their eyes on taking their music to the United States, but they had difficulties booking shows until Burke contacted the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco.
Note: you can listen to some of that March 13, 1980 appearance at the Great American Music Hall courtesy of the Paste Magazine site. Most of the tunes and songs were taken from the Promenade material, but the arrangement of "The Rolling Waves" from Burke and Ó Domhnaill's second recording, Portland, makes an appearance.
Trip to Milwaukee
A year later, Burke and Ó Domhnaill were on tour around the US and made their first appearance in Milwaukee at Derry's Pub on March 9, 1981. This concert was organized by Chuck Judkins and Ed Ward, the founder of Milwaukee Irish Fest.
Later that year, the duo was booked to perform at the first Milwaukee Irish Fest. Besides performing together, Kevin and Mícheál performed on their own as part of several Irish Traditional Music workshops organized for the event. Below are two audio recordings in our collections captured during the workshop performances.
You can view some more images and documents from their early appearances in Milwaukee on our Irish Fest Scrapbook website.
Don't miss Kevin Burke's return to Milwaukee on Saturday, September 24, 2016 at the CelticMKE Center.