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“OurLand” at the Lincoln Center - a festival of Irish culture

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Irish Consul general Noel Kilkenny
and Joe Hurley
On Sunday, July 29, for the first time in New York City, Lincoln Center’s Out of Doors will present a day long, multifaceted festival of Irish culture. “Our Land” will celebrate the artistic, literary and musical heritage of Ireland, the mark it made on America and the continuing cross-cultural ties that bind the two countries.

“It’s well established what the Irish American contribution is to this country and indeed other cultures,” says OurLand curator and all-around rock star Joe Hurley. “ This festival celebrates that.”

To bring that point home, OurLand will need all-day (2-10 p.m.) to cover those marks the Irish made with representatives from pop, rock, punk, folk, theater, film, literature and more.

OurLand takes place at multiple spaces on the Lincoln Center campus, culminating in Damrosch Park with the All Star Irish Rock Revue.

“Your land, my land, OurLand, Thailand, no borders. Ireland. Just a free-flowing celebration of all the arts, the beauties borne of Ireland,” Hurley says.

“There is this huge Celtic movement in Louisiana, and it was an Irish fiddler who injected our culture there, creating Celtic-Cajun music. Appalachian folk and bluegrass inspired country music and Irish melodies are woven into that aspect of American music culture. They say ‘many hands have touched the artist’s brush’ and a lot of those hands are Irish!” 

The day will start with “Gathering the Bards: From Galway to Rockaway” at Hearst Plaza that will spotlight the art of storytelling with original works and classics, Irish-American culture in verse and song.

The performers include Oscar winning director Terry George (Hotel Rwanda), Malachy McCourt, Alfie McCourt, actors Cara Seymour (Gangs of New York), Angelica Page (Sixth Sense), Geraldine Hughes (Belfast Blues), Agent 99 Barbara Feldon from Get Smart, and many others.

My compadres from the Irish American Writers and Artists will be on hand as well, including Peter Quinn, Malachy McCourt and Honor Molloy. I will also read from my book that spent zero weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, This Is Your Brain on Shamrocks.

Woven into the storytelling will be music from the likes of Cherish the Ladies, Kirk Kelly, Niamh Hyland, New Orleans fiddler Gina Forsyth, Celtic Tenor David O'Leary, poetry and a cappella singing from the WB Yeats Society of New York, Barbara Feldon, Gerard McNamee, Salina Mailer, Faith Hahn and more in a wildly eclectic and interactive parade of “The Jewels of Ireland's Bards.”

“We want to represent an Ireland that is universal in its appeal” Hurley says. “Of Ireland, for everyone.
“A Persian poet singing ‘Dirty Old Town’ makes perfect sense to me because it shows how our culture has inspired other artists. And vice-versa of course.

“Look at 'Galway Girl.’ We are toasting the parade of Irish cultural jewels, and also how those jewels get sparkled up along their travels. From the Cliffs of Moher to the Empire State Building and the Appalachian mountains, the Hudson River to a Salthill Dance Hall, we’ve been touched by them all -- the poetry of Kavanaugh and John Lydon, Flannery O'Connor to Honor Molloy.

“It’s a huge honor and a privilege to celebrate Ireland's finest, and my deepest thanks to all who are coming. What a gift."

The gathering theme is very timely, as the Irish government has named 2013 the year of “The Gathering” in which those with Irish heritage are encouraged to make the trip home.

Hurley says the all-around support of Irish Consul General Noel Kilkenny has been invaluable in staging this event, a demonstration of the passion our motherland has for reaching out to her Irish American children.

A roots festival this size and scope could spell nothing but headache for an organizer, yet you get a sense in speaking with Hurley that this mission is personal.

“My mother’s family are from Tuam in Galway and my dad’s family was from Cork,” he explains. “My grandparents would come live with us for long stretches in London. It was essential to them that we remained deeply connected to Ireland.

“London wasn’t exactly a welcoming place for the Irish at the time, and I vividly recall how my best friend yesterday was now calling me an Irish Paddy bastard. Confusing to a 10 year old.

“My grandparents would take me by the hand and they’d say, ‘You are Irish above everything else. Never forget that.  You might be living here but your blood is Irish, your heart and soul.’”

Hurley has been plugging into his Irish roots a lot lately. He loved playing with Damian Dempsey at the Belfast Feile and was so swept up with the kindness and the warmth of the people in Belfast that he extended the trip. The visits back to his roots are hugely important.

“Its vital for me to touch the turf of my grandparents’ land, to dip my hands in their waters, lay down and soak in the history and the blood.” he says.

That need to touch the roots explains the segment of the evening called “A Parting Glass: Celebrating the Legendary Alan Lomax’s Work Preserving Ireland’s Musical Heritage.”

Lomax's extensive recordings in Ireland are a shared musical treasure. They will be honored with round fobin-style Irish Americana performances led by Lomax archive director Don Fleming, Cherish the Ladies, Lianne Smith and very special friends.

Hurley says the original two-track recorder will be onstage that Lomax used to capture these historical Irish recordings.

“Lomax recorded great singers like Margaret Barry. A lot of our heritage, haunting gems like 'She Moved Through the Fair,' would have been lost to the world had he not.  Brendan Behan singing ‘The Auld Triangle.’  Imagine the loss.”

New recordings made onstage of these songs will be released in conjunction with the 78 RPM project, to raise funds for Irish American charities and to help get Lomax's work back into Irish schools.

“That is exciting to me because we want to get those original tracks back to the villages where these songs hail from,” he says. “Some villagers may not know their own contribution to the heritage, the folklore and we hope to rectify that.”

Ireland’s busker (street performer) culture has had an international spotlight shone on it, thanks to the Oscar-award winning film and 2012 Tony-Award winning Best Musical Once.

The cast of that play, which features the music of the Frames’ Glen Hansard, will be on hand to perform. Those hot Broadway lights will shine over at the Josie Robertson Plaza at Lincoln Center, where it will be re-christened “The Auld Triangle” for the audience to take a wild, magical stroll on Raglan Road with buskers, poets, painters, and dancers that will stir the soul and give festival goers a taste of the scene that spawned a movement.

Many Irish music fans know that Joe Hurley’s Irish Rock and Soul Revue is the hottest ticket around St. Patrick’s Day in this town, and the OurLand festival will kick off into high gear when Hurley and the Gents take the stage.

Their set will include a performance of Hurley's CD Let the Great World Spin, created with and inspired by Colum McCann's National Book Award winning novel.

The Gents feature Tony Garnier (Bob Dylan bandleader), Ken Margolis, Megan Gould, James Mastro and special guest Flogging Molly's Matt Hensley.

Fiery rocker Willie Nile, Tony winner Michael Cerveris (Evita), Ellen Foley, soul legend Tami Lynn (Dr. John, the Rolling Stones) Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dennis Dunaway (Alice Cooper Band), and many others will roar out the Great Irish songbook for an unforgettable evening of rock and roll.

As part of the Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival, everything you’ve read about just now is absolutely free because it is sponsored by Bloomberg, Pepsico and SofTrek Corporation. You can take the money you would have spent on a ticket and buy a few CDs and books from the next generation of Irish poets, writers, and musicians. Everyone wins! 

Hurley ends our interview by borrowing a quote from Yeats. “There are no strangers here: just friends that we haven’t met yet.” I’ll drink to that!

Visit www.facebook.com/JoeHurleysOurlandFest for a complete schedule of events and VIP tickets, or call 212-875-5766 to request a brochure. You can go on Twitter and follow Hurley at @JoeHurleyMusic or OurLand at @OurLandFest.

Facebookers can go like the JoeHurleysOurLandFest page for up-to-the minute lineup announcements. See you there!

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