For such a relatively small mass of land, Ireland has produced an abundance of larger-than-life storytellers. Whether it be poets, playwrights, painters or even power ballad-producing post-punk prodigies, the Emerald Isle has always cast a beautifully somber shine on the creative process. For all of my hours spent immersed in the literature of the Land of Saints and Scholars, in my heart it is the music that has always brought me to the highest, and sometimes lowest, places. Tales of love and heartache set to the rhythmic stringed sway of a waltz, or power chords instigating hearty cheers and bellows from mates, Irish music conveys a biting expression so deep that all one can do is drown the emotions in a frothy pint or a slug of whiskey. None know this sentiment better than the Young Dubliners, one of Ireland’s truly authentic and culture-carrying success stories.
Founded by Keith Roberts and Paul O’Toole, this merry band of musicians has been bringing its genuinely unique brand of Celtic jam-rock to stages all across the globe since 1988. Ironic, considering that the prolonged joyride was, in a sense, never really supposed to be. Upon coming to L.A., the initial path that Roberts embarked on was opening a bar in Santa Monica (Fair City Dublin), figuring that playing traditional Irish folk tunes would just be part of the ambience. As the crowds began to grow and the pint glasses began to sway along to the melodies, he found himself in the enviable position of a budding rock star.
“I owned a pub in Santa Monica, and the idea was that we would be the Saturday night band. We had no aspirations of getting a record deal or going anywhere,” Roberts reflects. “We started to write for fun, but we’re mostly doing Irish cover songs, and then it started to take off and became sort of this beast of its own. Then we got asked to play around Hollywood, and the House of Blues opened and we started selling it out.”
Once the band was off and running, the shows began to flood in, and the musicians fully embraced the tour life. Playing hundreds of shows a year around the U.S. and Europe, the Young Dubliners began building a stout reputation as road warriors. Honing their chops and writing as they went, the next step was to get in the studio and lay down their sound for the airwaves. Recording the EP Rocky Road, they decided to release the single “Last House on the Street” to AAA (Adult Album Alternative) radio. This proved to be a monumental move for the band, as the success of the song catapulted it into the burgeoning jam-band stratosphere and the company of well-established acts, allowing them to open for such industry powerhouses as Jethro Tull, Chris Issak, Johnny Lang and Collective Soul.
“AAA radio had just taken off. It was us and — I’m putting ourselves in this company merely because of the statistics, not claiming equal status — Dave Matthews Band, Ozomatli and even Alanis Morrisette,” Roberts humbly explains, “people who were not quite getting alternative airplay yet, and I remember listening to Dave Matthews and going, ‘Jeez, he’s got a fiddle and it’s pop and it’s accessible.’ ”
In addition to Roberts, the current lineup consists of Brendan Holmes on bass, Chas Waltz on violin, David Ingraham on drums and guitarist Bob Boulding, who, sadly, will be exiting the band after 17 years of playing an integral part of the band’s sound. For “the Dubs,” Boulding’s exit is a bittersweet transition that signifies both the end and a beginning of an era.
“Bob wrote a lot of songs with me. We were sort of joined at the hip through all sorts of adventures,” Roberts reminisces “He’s a great guy and an extremely creative guitar player. . . . We are sort of known in the Celtic rock world as the band with the guitar player and the fiddle player who play in unison to create a whole new sound.”
The Young Dubliners will be showcasing their unique sound at the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills on Dec. 23, and again on Jan. 12 in Santa Clarita. Both shows are guaranteed to be a foot-stomping good time, filled with the sort of authenticity only true Irish lads can provide. So grab your main squeeze and a pint and enjoy this hybridized Celtic treat.
The Young Dubliners perform on Saturday, Dec. 23, at The Canyon Club, 28912 Roadside Drive, Agoura Hills. Doors open at 6 p.m. For tickets and more information, call 888-645-5006 or visit wheremusicmeetsthesoul.com.