The High Kings resurrect Irish tradition

By Ginger Simons

Rich, foot-stomping Irish folk music rocked downtown DeKalb 8 p.m. Friday at the Egyptian Theatre, 135 N. Second St. The High Kings gave a powerful and impassioned performance that had the crowd singing along from start to finish.

Before the show began, Alex Nerad, Executive Director of the Egyptian Theatre, came out to address the audience. Upon asking who had seen the High Kings play live before, most of the hands in the crowd shot up in excitement.

“This is our fifteenth time seeing them,” Chicago resident Maura Hoyt said. “We’d been listening to Irish music growing up, and they came up on someone’s Spotify or something, and we saw them at an Irish Fest, and we liked them a lot. [We’ve] been following them ever since.”

The show began with a rousing rendition of “Rocky Road to Dublin.” The musicianship and vocal talent of the group were immediately apparent as tight harmonies and intricate instrumentals filled the theatre space.

The crowd needed no cue to clap along to the beat, and the instinct carried through the duration of the show.

Each performer was proficient in multiple instruments, sometimes playing more than one at once. Brian Dunphy played the Irish hand drum while keeping the beat with a bass drum, and all four members sang in perfect harmony.

“I’m related to the Clancy Brothers,” patron Chris Gillespie said during intermission. “Finbar is the son of Bobby Clancy, who was one of the members of the Clancy Brothers. We Finbar play in the Chicago area with the Clancy Brothers about 15, 20 years ago.”

Gillespie and his wife Debra said they had seen the Clancy Brothers upward of 25 times, and the High Kings kept with the traditional Irish spirit.

In a powerful rendition of “The Auld Triangle,” the strength of the men’s vocals stood alone without instrumentation. Never missing a mark, four voices came together as one, casting deep, stirring notes into the theatre.

The loud, chanting rock sound of the music often transformed the traditional Irish folk songs into something closer to stadium rock. The energy in the room was electric as lights flashed and patrons sang along.

“I think it’s really good,” Egyptian volunteer Sharon Weedwood said. “I think if you’re into folk music, it’s definitely the right type of show. They’re very talented musicians and performers. It seems like the crowd itself is very responsive.”

The band’s pride for Ireland shined through in many moments in the show, and stories about Irish tradition resonated with the audience. Several songs recanted Irish history and lore, and the music blended together old with the new.

Early in the show, Dunphy told the audience the band’s mission is to resurrect old traditional Irish songs and bring them to a new generation of listeners. By the end of the show, the response from the crowd made it clear they had succeeded.