Put down that Chauncy Olcott cylinder of "My Wild Irish Rose" and pay attention. There are six distinct yet similar Celtic bands playing at Barley Republic's seventh annual St. Patrick's Day fest that deserve a closer look and listen.
Let's start with hometown lads: The Wobbly Toms, based in St. Augustine, comprising Andrew Calvert (standup bass), Zachary Lively (harmonica, guitar), Travis Hembree (accordion, washboard), Richard Steinmeyer (banjo) and Anthony Kistka (drums). Their music is an amalgamation of influences, like trad Irish, American bluegrass, folk, gypsy punk and 'pub rock' (Brit rebellion against glam and prog). The result is a sound that defies definition; recognizable and beloved by the Toms' legions of regional fans.
Mike Sullivan, a quasi-homeboy, escapes the frozen North to play here. The Detroit musician melds styles: a bit o' Scottish, a dab o' Irish, some bluegrass and Maritime-music of the Canadian region that's an admix of Celtic, Acadian and European styles.
Jacksonville Pipes & Drums is a not-for-profit group that plays traditional airs, with a proper mien for a band that's performed for royalty. Don't mistake JP&D for a stuffy uptight bunch, though-they can get loose and rise to any occasion.
Now for the interlopers. Flatfoot 56 (refers to high-school teasing), straight outta Chicago, plays Celtic punk with a bite. Billboard's put them on nine charts, proof positive that pigeonholing Flatfoot 56 is an exercise in futility. This group is just lousy with brotherly love. Three Bawinkels sing; Tobin (guitar), Justin (drums) and Kyle (bass). Brandon Good plays mandolin and guitar; Eric McMahon plays guitar and bagpipes. The wide range of talents and skills put the nationally acclaimed quintet firmly on the road to Tír na nÓg, an Irish concept of Paradise.
California five-piece Hoist the Colors spent its early years dabbling in myriad sounds-punk, folk, Americana-before settling on its current identity, that of Irish folk/Americana/melodic twang.
Lead guitarist Jeff Murphy, singer/mandolinist Joshua Linden, acoustic guitarist/backing vocalist Sean Brandlin, bassist Fabian De La Torre and drummer Tom Brem comprise the group, whose last album Mourners, despite dark lyrics, seems to suggest hope springs eternal and passion should not be abandoned.
We emailed Tobin Bawinkel, the man you'll see on stage for a very long time because he's the leader of Flatfoot 56 and 6'10, asked him a few questions, and he graciously replied.
Folio Weekly: You're in two bands. Which is the primary and which is the side project?
Tobin Bawinkel: Both bands have their own core following, but most of my time is spent on Flatfoot 56. This band has been around since 2000. 6'10 began in 2013.
All the press I've read describes the music of the bands as 'Celtic punk-rock' or 'folk/bluegrass'-not really similar-or are they and I'm just an unenlightened American?
In energy and sound, they aren't very similar. Both styles draw from Celtic music's rich cultural history but in different ways. 6'10 has a more folk-bluegrass feel, while Flatfoot leans more heavily on the punk side. Bluegrass is actually a return to roots for me-my family used to play bluegrass together in our living room. This style is actually a relative of Celtic music, as it was Irish and Scottish immigrants who helped develop it in the Appalachian Mountains.
Are band members mostly Americans or are they from another land? Like IREland, ENGland, etc.?
We're all from Chicago's heavily Irish South Side. It's a big part of the Chicago community.
How much drinking is done to keep y'all onstage at Barley's on St. Patrick's Day?
It's not only about the drinking but the atmosphere, too. If people can continue to have fun and keep the vibe upbeat and positive, then we'll keep it going. It'll be a really fun time.
What do y'all like about Florida?
We have a lot of old friends in Florida. In the past, the shows down there have always been pretty wild, so we are expecting to have a great weekend. We are also excited about playing with our friends in Hoist the Colors.
So there you have it. Good music, good vibes, beer, whiskey (Tullamore D.E.W.!), food, friends-the goodness spilleth over.
FLATFOOT 56, 6'10", HOIST THE COLORS, THE WOBBLY TOMS, MIKE SULLIVAN, JACKSONVILLE PIPES & DRUMS; the music starts at 11:30 a.m. March 17, Barley Republic Irish Pub, 48 Spanish St., St. Augustine, $5 (VIP $45), barleyrepublic.com.