Celebrating the art of the song


New music festival  rolls into Westport

Ciara Moynihan

The summer’s festival season kicks off  in Westport this weekend, when the inaugural Acoustic Yard Singer/Songwriters Festival rolls into town. The festival will see over 30 acts from Ireland and around the world playing at different venues around the town, while the busy line-up includes pay-in showcase gigs, open mics and free events.
The roots of the event can be traced to The Acoustic Yard – a monthly singer/songwriter session in the Yard Bar of Matt Molloy’s Bar. Here, musicians were given a platform to perform their own songs, while appreciative audiences got the chance to hear original music in a relaxed environment. The organisers’ key aim was – and remains – to help support, stimulate and invigorate the art of songwriting, while ensuring musician and listener alike have a good time.
It’s proven to be a winning formula, and those monthly sessions have now spawned Westport’s latest boutique festival, which promises to draw appreciative crowds from near and far.

Ticketed events
On Friday, May 6, the festival opens with an evening concert in its main venue, the Town Hall Theatre, featuring Declan O’Rourke, Anna Mitchell and Craig and Willoughby.
O’Rourke needs no introduction in these parts, having achieved fame and a loyal following nationally and further afield. Indeed, fans include Jon Pereles of the New York Times and Paul Weller, who didn’t hold back when he described O’Rourke’s song ‘Galileo’ as ‘possibly the greatest song written in the last 30 years’. ‘Gold Bars in the Sun’, O’Rourke’s much-anticipated fourth album, was released last October.
Cork-based Anna Mitchell’s debut album ‘Down to the Bone’ was released in February 2015 to much acclaim, with tracks garnering plenty of airplay from the likes of Seán Rocks and John Creedon. An Irish Times review of the Americana- and soul-influenced singer’s album encapsulates her sound: “If David Lynch were to reset Blue Velvet in the wilds of West Cork, then Anna Mitchell’s evocative, dark songs of life and love’s painful kiss would sit well on the soundtrack.”
Virginia-born songwriter Cathryn Craig and British guitarist Brian Willoughby’s new album, ‘In America’ was recorded in Nashville and released earlier this year. Blending both artists’ musical heritage – English folk and Americana – it has been hailed by critics as ‘captivating’, ‘utterly satisfying’ and ‘an acoustic gem’.
On Saturday night, Belfast singer/songwriter Bap Kennedy will take to the Town Hall Theatre stage with Kathleen Turner.
Bap Kennedy’s music fuses folk and rock and gives it a Celtic kick. The artist has collaborated in the past with Van Morrison, Mark Knopfler and Steve Earle, while his song ‘Moonlight Kiss’ featured in the Hollywood movie ‘Serendipity’, starring John Cusack.
Tyrone-born singer Kathleen Turner, sister of Juliet, is one to watch on the Irish music scene. As her reputation for enchanting folk- and soul-infused songs spreads, she’s filling venues – and impressing critics.
Also on stage on Saturday night is US act Teresa Storch and Jeff Brown. Dubbed ‘the love child of Joni Mitchell and Dave Matthews’, Colorado’s Storch offers funky guitar rhythms and thought-provoking lyrics, wrapped in a soundscape that shifts from jazz to blues to folk. Her stage partner for the Westport gig, Chicago-based singer and guitarist Jeff Brown, is also a musical chameleon, as comfortable with indie-folk and alt-rock styles as he is with jazz and chamber pop.

Free gigs
All other Acoustic Yard Singer/Songwriters Festival events are free, including the Saturday afternoon songwriters’ collective, which takes place from 12 noon to 5pm and includes international acts Daithi Rua from Belgium and Zia Land from Norway, as well as popular local acts such as Graham Sweeney and Brian Duffy. There will be an open mic in the foyer, with sign in at 11.45am, as well as showcase gigs in the bar area.
The last day of the festival is called ‘The Songwriters Trail’. Gig goers can drift from venue to venue, with high-calibre performances taking place at The Creel, The Quay; Mono Cafe, High Street; The Gallery Wine Bar, Brewery Place; and Matt Molloy’s, Bridge Street. Artists providing entertainment on the day will include Warren Attwell, Elaine Griffin, Brigid O’Neill and Kate O’Callaghan.
A special commemorative 20-track ‘The Acoustic Yard Compilation CD’ featuring some of the festival acts is available at to buy for €10 at the Town Hall Theatre or online at www.theacousticyard.com.

Tickets for the two main evening gigs, a22 each, can be purchased from the Westport Town Hall Theatre booking office (098 28459) or online at www.westporttheatre.com. For more information on The Acoustic Yard Singer/Songwriters Festival, May 6-8, visit www.theacousticyard.com.