On the Rocks
Seamus Kennedy, originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, has been entertaining audiences all over the United States for almost three decades. With a ready wit and a vast store of songs, he travels the country performing for thousands of people each year. From Alaska to Florida, from Maryland to California, Seamus does his act for audiences ranging from Popes and Presidents to bartenders and bricklayers, from college students to kindergartners. He arrived in New York fresh out of University College, Dublin, where he majored in languages. It was as an athlete, however, that he came to the United States. Gaelic football and hurling teams in the New York League brought players from Ireland each summer, and since he had played hurling and football at U.C.D. and for his county, he saw action right away at Gaelic Park. After the games, the team went to a pub in the Bronx for some light refreshment and a singalong with Seamus supplying the guitar accompaniment. The singalong became so popular that the bar owner offered to pay Seamus to do it on a regular basis. So, he turned pro. As he says: 'I was getting paid for doing something I loved, and I wasn't getting knocked about on the field. It was a lot easier on my body.' He eventually migrated to Boston with a fellow U.C.D. alumnus, Tom O'Carroll, as a duo called the Beggarmen. The group broke up in 1978 and Seamus, by that time appearing regularly in the D.C. area at Matt Kane's legendary Bit o' Ireland, the Dubliner, and other spots, decided to relocate. He brought his family to Maryland in 1983 and has been happily settled there ever since. For ten years he was the 'house-band' at Pat Troy's Ireland's Own Pub and Restaurant in Alexandria, VA, and he calls these years 'the best training any young performer could have had.' Seamus has been selected to perform before Pope John Paul II at Trinity College (Washington D.C) and on one memorable St. Patrick's Day, President Ronald Reagan showed up to catch his act at Ireland's Own. In fact, the President joined the act when he came up on stage and did ten minutes of Irish stories for a very surprised full house. As the nation's capital, D.C. draws visitors from all over the world so word of Seamus' talents began to spread. He began to tour frequently outside the region. Today, he is one of the hardest working musicians around, doing over 250 dates a year and it is a rare weekend that finds him performing close to home. Continual interaction is a Seamus Kennedy trademark. He talks directly to his audience and isn't a bit flustered if they decide to talk back! He loves to see people really having a good time, and he will encourage making requests, singing along or acting out choruses. With his vast repertoire and rapier wit, he has the ability to make folks forget their cares for a while, to relax and enjoy themselves. He has an endless supply of rib-tickling jokes, stories and one-liners which can leave an audience breathless with mirth. But the Irish have their serious side too, and when Seamus performs a more thought-provoking ballads such as Phil Coulter's 'The Town I Love So Well' or Pete St. John's 'Dublin In The Rare Old Times' the hush that descends on the room is one of the greatest compliments an audience can extend to a performer. Seamus sings the music of his native land with emotion born of knowing it's history and conflicts firsthand. But he is far from simply a singer of Celtic songs. While he loves to perform the traditional and contemporary tunes of Ireland and Scotland, he is equally proficient with American music, whether it be folk, country, pop or bluegrass. He can cut loose on a Texas swing number, follow it with a parody and segue into a heart-rending ballad from Australia. This diversity is also reflected in his nine recordings, many of which were taped before live audiences, and which feature something for everyone, from the silly to the serious, from instrumentals to a capella vocals, with a healthy dose of humor thrown in. He has specialty albums of children's material and Christmas songs, and his recordings are carried on the Internet by songs.com where he has been amongst their top 10 sellers since joining the site several years ago. His strong entertainment skills and his ongoing interaction with his audiences help Seamus create an exceptionally loyal fan base everywhere he goes. And they in turn demonstrate a willingness to follow where he goes. Several years back, he started guiding a bus tour to Ireland once a year. It proved so popular that a second tour was added and both of these now sell out well in advance. Seamus also started putting together seasonal shows (Christmas, St. Patrick's Day) in theatres. His December Celtic Christmas in Bethlehem, PA sold out in October it's first year and his shows at the Avalon Theatre in Easton, MD have been SRO since their inception! The intense dedication Seamus inspires in people is not lost on music presenters. He is frequently hired by organizations, including police, firefighters, Celtic societies and military groups, to do fundraising shows for them. The fact that these events quickly become annual activities speaks for itself. Seamus has won nine WAMMIES (the prestigious Washington Area Music Association Awards) for 'Best Irish Male Vocalist.' Although he doesn't place much importance in awards and ceremonies, he values the WAMMIES because the recognition comes from his fellow performers and musicians. Seamus' ability to combine a total command of the music with humor makes him unique in the industry. Festivals that generally rotate their performers often decide to have him return year after year because they cannot find anyone else to fill his niche. In addition, his broad range of material makes him equally suitable for both Scottish and Irish events. He headlines at both and the performers with whom he has shared the stage reads like a Who's Who of Celtic stars. On the Irish side, they include The Clancy Brothers, Tommy Makem, Liam Clancy, the Irish Rovers, Danny Doyle, Altan, Paddy Reilly, Craobh Rua, Hal Roach, the John Whelan Band and many others. At Scottish festivals, he has appeared with Alex Beaton, Alasdair Fraser, Ed Miller, Seven Nations, Tempest and Natalie MacMaster, to name a few. At the Celtic festivals that embrace several heritages (including Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany and Canada), he has been billed alongside Men of Worth, Clandestine, Neil Anderson & Full Circle, Golden Bough, the Glengarry Bhoys and Hadrian's Wall. Nancy Hathaway Noyes, critic for Music Scene Magazine puts it best: 'Kennedy is a consummate and professional entertainer, who knows how to gauge his audience's moods and desires and produces something to fit. One of his talents is to make this seem effortless, thanks to years of experience and a lightning-quick intellect on top of solid musical talent, both in the use of his smooth baritone voice, and in the instrumental work he creates in accompaniment. The well performed music is always actively interspersed with jokes, stories and snappy repartée, resulting in a lot of fun.'