We all know that scene in "Titanic" when Jack asks Rose, "So, you want to go to a real party?" For Gaelic Storm, those nine words changed everything.
After appearing in the movie as the Celtic steerage band who helped Jack and Rose jig the night away, the Santa Monica-based group went from being a local pub band to a national phenomenon. Today, they're one of the most recognizable interpreters of Irish and Celtic music worldwide. The response to their music – an upbeat blend of traditional tunes infused in places with modern rock influences – has been consistently positive since their first big break 15 years ago.
Gaelic Storm has produced nine albums and their latest record, "Chicken Boxer," was released on July 31 of this year. It currently reigns supreme at No. 1 on the Billboard World Music Charts.
Known for their rigorous touring schedule and close contact with fans worldwide, Gaelic Storm always makes time for Milwaukee Irish Fest. They can be found at the Miller Lite Oasis each year (usually on Friday through Sunday nights) reaffirming what Jack promised back in 1997: these guys know how to throw a real party.
Lead vocalist Steve Twigger sat down with OnMilwaukee to explain what all the rumpus is about.
OnMilwaukee.com: So you've been coming to Irish Fest since 1997 – how many times in all have you played for the Irish Fest crowd?
Steve Twigger: You know, somebody just asked me that, and I’ve kind of lost count to be honest with you! Um, I think it’s the 10th or 11th time doing it, I can’t remember which. Yeah, we missed a couple of years here and there but we’ve been there a lot, we’ll put it that way.
OMC: Gaelic Storm has an intense touring schedule, much more so than other bands – over 200 days a year on the road, according to your website. Why the love for the road?
ST: It’s where we started, really. We started as a band that played and kind of learned how to do everything later. We started on the stage and built it from there, really. Before our first gig I think I had maybe a few hours’ rehearsal, and then we went onstage and we did our thing and we entertained the crowd and we played songs that we enjoyed, you know. We were not a band that started in the studio or with an album and then went out. So honestly it’s what we do. We play. We love playing.
OMC: So who does the songwriting in the group?
ST: I do the majority of it.
OMC: Where do you get your inspiration from?
ST: From all over, really. Patrick (Murphy, fellow lead vocalist) and I took a trip to Ireland (to write the latest album, "Chicken Boxer"); we spent a week, like a thousand miles around Ireland, and a lot of the songs were influenced by that trip there. I write as I go along. I write as we’re traveling. So you’ll notice there’s a lot of road songs or songs about home or lack of it or wherever you make your home. So as your life becomes about touring you try to write about what you know about.
OMC: "Chicken Boxer" is No. 1 on the Billboard World Music Charts. How does that feel?
ST: Yeah, it’s No. 1 as we speak. It’s great. This is the third one in the row. When the first one got to No. 1, that was great, and then the second one comes along, and then if the third one doesn’t make it it would be a disappointment, then! (laughs) It’s fantastic. I’m proud of everybody. We have a great team, a great bunch of people, great management and musicians and fans, of course.
OMC: There's not a lot of money put behind Celtic music, and it doesn't get a lot of radio play. So how do you explain the genre's worldwide popularity?
ST: I think there’s a number of things. You know, without getting too sort of philosophical about it, it is sort of in our blood (laughs). There has to be some kind of DNA connection in there somewhere! It’s the people’s music, you know? It grew around social events. People got the fiddle out, got the guitars out, the mandolins or whatever it may be and played and people danced at whatever celebrations or commiserations, you know – wakes, weddings. It was born out of coming together in a community. We don’t have any axes to grind, you know? We’re not pushing anything in anybody’s faces. We’re just playing music that we love and hopefully with a musicality that people can appreciate without a "look at me how cool I am kind of thing."
OMC: Do you ever get sick of people asking you about "Titanic?"
ST: (sigh) Uh, yes. (laughs)
OMC: What's your favorite thing to do in Milwaukee?
ST: We discovered Benelux last time, we ate breakfast there. What was it called – pannenkoekens (Dutch-style crepes) – so we did that for brunch. I like to go to the art museum; I think it’s a wonderful space and a beautiful museum. I like to walk along the lake there.
OMC: What can we expect for this week's performances at Irish Fest?
ST: Well, we usually reserve something special for Irish Fest. It'll be no exception this year. We’ll be throwing another party, and everybody’s invited.
Colleen Jurkiewicz is a Milwaukee native with a degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and she loves having a job where she learns something new about the Cream City every day. Her previous incarnations have included stints as a waitress, a barista, a writing tutor, a medical transcriptionist, a freelance journalist, and now this lovely gig at the best online magazine in Milwaukee.