Breaking out the banjoes
Sometimes the grass really is greener - or bluer? - on home turf, says Damien Murray
The Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh is gearing up for a busy weekend next week, when it stages the 16th Annual Appalachian & Bluegrass Music Festival.
Running from Friday August 31 until Sunday September 2, this feast of American folk music is a truly international affair, attracting not only many overseas visitors, but also high-calibre performers and musicians from both the US and Europe.
Things kick off each afternoon with Bluegrass In The Park; a unique mix of international and home-grown talent offering a wide variety of continuous live music performed throughout the beautiful park against the stunning backdrops of the museum's exhibit buildings.
American artists and bluegrass practitioners taking part include the Steep Canyon Rangers, Lovell Sisters, Malpass Brothers, Bluegrass Experience, Carter Brothers, Jeff & Vida Band and Boxcar Preachers, while Europe is represented by Red Wine (Italy) and Sunny Side (Czech Republic).
Others include England's Toy Hearts, plus Rough Deal String Band, Woodbine and Carmel Sheerin & The Bluegrass Ravens (all from Ireland) and local acts Knotty Pine String Band, Broken String Band and Northern Exposure.
Bluegrass, folk, country, and contemporary music played and sung with youthful enthusiasm is on offer, featuring the tight harmonies of Jessica, Megan and Rebecca Lovell, when Georgia's Lovell Sisters headline the Friday evening concert with support from Sunny Side, Jeff & Vida Band and Toy Hearts.
Saturday evening's headline act is North Carolina's Steep Canyon Rangers, who are the current International Bluegrass Music Association's 'Emerging Artist of the Year', with support from Red Wine, Bluegrass Experience and the Malpass Brothers.
America's Malpass Brothers will be back in action again in the early-evening Sunday Gospel Concert with some vintage country and gospel music.
The event also boasts a lecture series and free workshops in fiddle, banjo and guitar. For full festival details of Europe's premier bluegrass event, phone 8225 6307 or visit www.bluegrassomagh.com.
For those who can't make the trip to Omagh, the good news is that the ever-popular Jeff and Vida Band from New Orleans will be bringing its brand of humour, music and unforgettable songs, spanning Appalachian to alt.country, to Groucho's Music Lounge in Richill on Tuesday and to Belfast's Rotterdam Bar on Thursday.
Before then, 'the Rott' also plays host to Belfast's favourite rockabilly boys, the Sabre Jets tomorrow night and to Wexford's lap slide/acoustic guitarist and songwriter, Clive Barnes, on Sunday afternoon (3pm), as part of this weekend's inaugural Big River Blues and Jazz Festival.
Jazz is also featured heavily in Armagh this weekend with an appearance by Kenny Ball & His Jazzmen at theMarket Place theatre tonight and with top jazz trumpeter, Bruce Adams, set to play at the venue's Jazz Supper Evening tomorrow night.
Along with his Jazzmen, Ball is now in his 50th year and, as a band, they continue to put on a musical, swinging show, performed with energy and enthusiasm.
Ohio husband and wife duo, Over The Rhine - who opened for Bob Dylan and toured as 'adjunct' members of the Cowboy Junkies - bring their take on American music to Armagh's Market Place tomorrow night with their only local date in support of current album, The Trumpet Child.
Finally, Bangor's acclaimed singer-songwriter, Foy Vance, begins a four-night run at the Black Box on Tuesday, while Brian Houston's bill-topping show at the Waterfront Hall studio next Friday night is to raise funds for NI Cancer Fund for Children.