PHOTOS: Among Irish idols: West of Galway band members head for Ireland, festival performance they won

West of Galway's bodhran player Linda Howa, foreground, and the rest of the band play at Bonita Springs Fitzgerald's on Tuesday June 29.  West of Galloway has been playing every Tuesday at Fitzgerald's for the past six years.  The bands recently won a YouTube battle of the Irish bands and are being flown to Ireland to play a five-day music festival.

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West of Galway's bodhran player Linda Howa, foreground, and the rest of the band play at Bonita Springs Fitzgerald's on Tuesday June 29. West of Galloway has been playing every Tuesday at Fitzgerald's for the past six years. The bands recently won a YouTube battle of the Irish bands and are being flown to Ireland to play a five-day music festival.

At 48 years old, with a wife and two kids, a job selling advertising and a head-full of salt-and-pepper hair, Bernie Green no longer has any illusions of living the life of a hard-partying rock star.

But in about a week, when he and his West of Galway bandmates take the stage at one of the world’s largest Irish music festivals, Green can be excused for indulging some of the rock-and-roll fantasies he had as a 10-year-old.

“We’re getting to live out a childhood dream,” Green said of his band’s gig at the Celtic Fusion international musical arts festival in Northern Ireland.

Well known in Southwest Florida, West of Galway played the role of “The Little Engine that Could” back in March, competing and prevailing against more than 50 other Irish bands — some professional touring groups — in an online battle of the bands contest sponsored by the Strangford Lough Brewing Co., in Northern Ireland. The contest was open to bands in North America, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

The contest came down to the wire, with West of Galway edging past The Kreellers, a Detroit group, only after the close of voting, when organizers weeded out double votes. Only one vote was allowed per person.

The prize was a trip to Castlewellan, Northern Ireland and a gig at the festival alongside some of their Irish idols, including Sharon Shannon and the band Kila. West of Galway will be one of 15 bands playing at the festival, which is expected to draw 15,000 to 20,000 people over four days.

Green and his band mate, Jim McEvoy, 56, the former city of Naples fire chief, compared the contest to a political campaign, and credited their victory to networking and “friends telling friends telling friends.”

“I wouldn’t want to go through it again,” said McEvoy, who now sports a post-retirement pony tail and beard. “It was a little stressful.”

The band members, Green and McEvoy, who both play guitar and sing; bodhran drummer Linda Macchia-Howe, 55; concertina player Alan Plath, 56; and fiddler Steven Stadler, 45, all fly out on Tuesday and play on Sunday evening during an open-air concert that concludes the festival.

They’re all splitting up after the festival to explore the country with their families. Some of the band members have been to Ireland before, but it will be Macchia-Howe’s first trip to the Emerald Isle.

“I’m thrilled to death,” she said. “I’ve been wanting to go for years.”

Leading up to the show, West of Galway continued playing its regular Tuesday night gig at Fitzgerald’s Irish Pub in Bonita Springs. The band members expect to rehearse and finalize their set list when they get to Ireland.

They insist they aren’t nervous about playing one of the biggest shows in the band’s history — all except Plath, that is, who admits to suffering from stage fright.

“I’m looking forward to being done playing so I can relax and enjoy Ireland,” he said.

Green, McEvoy and Macchia-Howe started playing together around 2003 as part of the Irish American Club of Naples’ Christmas show. They would play in Macchia-Howe’s Irish gift shop in Naples and behind Green’s house, mixing McEvoy’s folksiness with Green’s more rock-oriented style. Plath and Stadler joined a couple of years later.

The band typically plays traditional Irish folk music, specializing in songs like “Wild Rover” and “Whiskey in the Jar.” But Green said it’s their medley of “Mountain Dew,” “John Ryan’s Polka” and “The Hills of Connemara” that really gets the crowd going.

“Every time they got better and they got used to playing with each other,” Fitzgerald’s manager, Campbell Gault, said of the early years of the band.

Although McEvoy regularly says he wouldn’t want to pay his mortgage by playing music, he and Green both say that all along they’ve been looking to travel more and play as much as possible. That became easier after winning the contest, which increased the band’s profile.

West of Galway is basically booked through next March, McEvoy said, including festivals in New Jersey and Georgia.

“We’re getting phone calls from places we’ve been chasing for years,” Green said.

Before that, they’ve got to get through Sunday’s show. And maybe play rock star along the way.

“We’ve got all access to everything,” Green said of the festival. “Strangford Lough did it right. They’re treating us like rock stars throughout the whole thing.”

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Connect with Ryan Mills at www.naplesnews.com/staff/ryan-mills/

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