NAPLES — Forget Butler versus Duke.
The real nail-biter on Monday night was between Naples’ own West of Galway and the Kreellers out of Detroit, the two leading Irish bands competing in an international, online battle of the bands contest sponsored by the Strangford Lough Brewing Co. in Northern Ireland.
The prize for the top vote-getter: a trip to Ireland this July and a gig at Celtic Fusion, an international musical arts festival.
“We knew we were in a real horse race with the Kreellers,” said Jim McEvoy, the former Naples fire chief who plays guitar and sings for West of Galway. “You hope for the best, and that’s all you can do.”
Just after 9 a.m. Wednesday, West of Galway members learned that they won the contest, which started in mid-March with more than 50 bands and was whittled down to five for last week’s finals.
Despite holding onto a handy lead for most of the final week of voting, West of Galway’s eventual victory was never in the bag.
Heading into the weekend, West of Galway had about 27 percent of the vote, according to the Strangford Lough Web site. The Keellers and another band, Maidens IV out of Ohio, each had about 21 percent of the vote.
But starting Sunday, the Kreellers began to make their move by holding a voting party, adding 60 to 80 votes an hour, and picking up about 5 percentage points, McEvoy said. By Monday afternoon, West of Galway’s lead was less than 1 percent of the votes cast at that time.
McEvoy and fellow band member, Bernie Green, set up voting stations around town to drum up more support.
At 10 p.m. on Monday, the two bands were neck and neck, each with just over 30 percent of the vote. By the time voting concluded at 11:59 p.m., it appeared the Kreellers had edged ahead of West of Galway.
But looks proved to be deceiving.
“I knew that we had at least a 50-50 chance to win, because all during the week they were doing corrections for those multiple votes,” McEvoy said, noting that the contest only allowed one vote per person. “Only 5 to 10 percent of those votes were coming from our tally. ... That was telling me that the other bands had more people voting multiple times than we did.”
As Strangford Lough officials verified more than 12,000 votes on Tuesday and weeded out multiples, McEvoy said he was prepared for the worst, but hoping for the best. He was overjoyed when he learned that West of Galway had taken the prize.
More than 4,000 people voted for West of Galway during the final week. They edged out the Kreellers by fewer than 200 votes.
Paul Bruno, a guitar player and singer for the Kreellers, said he thought his band had won the contest after reaching out to more than 40,000 fans around the world. They are confused about how the votes were verified.
“To have it won and then to look the next morning that you didn’t, its disappointing,” Bruno said. “We’re happy for (West of Galway). It’s a great accomplishment.”
Green said he was starting a business meeting Wednesday morning when he checked his Blackberry and learned West of Galway won. Dumbfounded, Green said he dropped his phone and told his manager he was going to need some time off in July.
“It’s going to be a trip of a lifetime, and an opportunity to be on a stage and be on a bill with people we pay to go see,” Green said. “That’s going to be that. We’re still just five good friends that enjoy playing and sharing this music that our grandparents taught us.”
West of Galway members are hosting a voter appreciation party on April 13, as part of their regular 7 p.m. Tuesday night gig at Fitzgerald’s Irish Pub, 9070 Bonita Beach Road, Bonita Springs.
Connect with Ryan Mills at www.naplesnews.com/staff/ryan-mills/