Oct. 04--BLOOMINGTON -- When the Irish and English immigrants of Gaelic Storm first began banding together to perform raucous, up-tempo Irish traditional music in the pubs of Los Angeles in 1996, they were something of a novelty.
In a city filled with struggling rock bands and would-be movie stars, many had never seen a contemporary folk and dance band quite like Steve Twigger and his mates. It didn't take long at all before Gaelic Storm was packing houses at their regular Sunday night pub gig.
"We were just doing traditional adaptations from groups like the Irish Rovers and The Clancy Brothers, pretty old tunes," said Twigger, who will return with the band Friday, Oct. 4 to the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts. "They were pretty riotous shows, and it was a very un-LA thing to be doing at the time. Soon, people were flocking to the bar and there were lines out the door."
Today, Gaelic Storm is among the best known of the bands to arise from that "West Coast Celtic" scene, alongside peers like The Young Dubliners and Flogging Molly. They've carved out a sound that is homogenous across both their traditional adaptations and countless originals: ever buoyant, fast-paced, energetic and largely acoustic.
But despite the early success in LA, they might never have been noticed on a national scale if not for their casting as the "Irish house band" in James Cameron's "Titanic." It was this gig in a billion-dollar blockbuster that thrust Gaelic Storm into stardom.
"We were playing some festival in the middle of the afternoon, hung over, on some hay bale stage," Twigger recalled. "Someone in the crowd was scouting for the film and heard the rhythm of our drums and saw the excitement on everyone's faces. He gave us his card and turned out to be the real deal, which surprised us all. We had no idea if we would actually end up in the film; we figured it might be on the cutting room floor. We doubted it so much that the main stipulation in our contract was that they get us back in time for our Sunday night gig each week."
"Titanic," of course, went on to become a history-making blockbuster, and soon the band was bombarded with new opportunities. They ran with the new attention, releasing their first self-titled album in 1998, and have never slowed up since. Their tenth LP, "The Boathouse," was released in August.
"The weird thing is, now we'll walk into pubs and hear Irish bands doing covers of our originals," Twigger said. "I think the signature of our band has been our energy. When we walk out on stage there's a camaraderie that is obvious, and yes, there might be a drink or two involved."
This energy can be dialed up or keyed down for nearly any type of venue. Gaelic Storm prides itself on being the sort of band that can play a music club or a performing arts center without changing much of the show.
"We're very lucky to be able to pull off all three major venues; festivals, rock clubs and theaters," Twigger said. "We pretty much play the same sets in all three. In a theater like in Bloomington, the energy is more controllable. You can pace it the way you want to pace it and set things up with stories and anecdotes. It's a bit more like 'an evening with Gaelic Storm.' "
Of course, the band isn't quite the novelty in today's music scene that it once was. With the current folk music revival pushing crossover bands like Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers to the top of the charts, Twigger believes their marketplace is friendlier now than it's ever been.
"I was lucky enough to be backstage with Mumford and did some jamming with them, and I can say they truly love the tradition of music but are committed to exploring the future," he said. "I think it's great. Maybe it shows that the world's gotten a little bit too plastic for some people, and they're ready for more wood and leather."
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