The rebirth of Belfast apparently couldn’t be achieved without a magical grab bag of festivals. The next six weeks offers festival-goers the option to celebrate songwriters, St. Patrick, and cinema through the diverse media of Irish reggae (in Irish), dodgeball, and documentary filmmaking. The fact that the most established festival, Belfast Festival at Queens, is fighting for survival hasn’t stemmed the proliferation of thematic explorations of Belfast’s renaissance.
Although the financially strapped Belfast Festival has been running for forty-five years, the majority of the festival upstarts are children of the post-Good Friday Agreement era. This week features the 3rd Annual Belfast-Nashville Songwriters’ Festival, which allegedly occurs simultaneously in Nashville. Events begin on Wednesday, February 21st with concerts and songwriting workshops running until Sunday, February 25th as well as a photography exhibition documenting Belfast and Nashville musicians that will be on display at the Black Box until March 3rd.
When I read about this festival last year, it intrigued me, but not enough to go to any of the events. This year, however, I will be going to the Nanci Griffith show (she’s at the Black Box on Friday and The King’s Head on Saturday. My picks for the five-day festival would be as follows:
Wednesday, February 21st:
A Diamond from a Piece of Coal: This is a song-writing workshop with Shay Healy at Madison’s Hotel Cellar, 59 Botanic Avenue, from 7 to 8pm. Even though I don’t know who Shay Healy is, I really liked the peppy, inspiring copy describing the event in the festival brochure, which assures the four pound charge will offer: “A pro-active session to write a full song with whoever shows up and keep on pushing it around and refining it until it is a diamond. The session is about learning to stretch as writers.” Who could turn down the opportunity to leave Madison’s both literarily limber and with their very own four-carat song?
Thursday, February 22nd:
Bluegrass Legends Concert: Lord love the luthier that created the mandolin. I just love it. Everything sounds better when played on a mandolin. And then there’s the banjo. Don’t even get me started. The festival brochure reminds readers that the Scots-Irish settled in Appalachia and thus are responsible for bluegrass and so much more, such as Andrew Jackson. But since he’s not showcased here, we’ll have to settle for Thursday’s homage to the Scottish influence on music with the locally-based Broken Strings Band, Scotland’s very own Rod Paterson, and 2004 winner of the Best Song in Ulster Scots at, of course, the Belfast Nashville Songwriters’ Festival, Pauline Nelson. Check the show out at Madison’s at 9pm.
Friday, February 23rd:
Bréag : Although I already have tickets to Nancy Griffith on Friday, I would almost give those up to hear what reggae sounds like in the Irish language. If you’d like to experience what is sure to be a unique musical event, check out Bréag, part of Belfast’s “small but loyal reggae scene” at the Basement of McHugh’s Bar, 29 Queens Square, at 9 pm.
Saturday, February 24th:
Lee Roy Parnell and Nanci Griffith: Since it’s a weekend and you have plenty of time, why not pick up some slide guitar skills from Lee Roy Parnell at the Belfast Guitar Emporium from 5:30 to 6:30. Or just say you did cause it sounds pretty cool. If you’re still into country music, go see Nanci Griffith, one of the voices of the three sirens from O Brother Where Art Thou, at the Kings Head at 8pm.
Sunday, February 25:
Lee Roy Parnell and Colin Hay: If you didn’t get enough of Lee Roy Parnell when he was teaching you everything he ever knew about the slide guitar in one hour, go hear him at the John Hewitt Bar, starting at 3pm. Afterwards, you can mosey on down to the Black Box to check out the photography exhibition and find out the answer to the question that has surely been plaguing you for months, “Whatever happened to Australian recording star and former front-man for Men at Work, Colin Hay? Ponder no longer cause he’s at the Black Box at 8 pm. If you’re really really lucky, he might even sing “Who Can it Be Now.”
(Photo above taken by Jett at the Black Box, one of the festival venues).