Meet The Team
2024 Speaker Biography's
Fisher Entertainment Consulting/Former General Manager, Grand Ole Opry
Grammy-nominated in 2017 for Best Music Film for his work on “An American Saturday Night - Live From the Grand Ole Opry.” During his 30-plus years in the music industry, he has executive produced over 300 music-centric television episodes and specials and is regarded as a highly- knowledgeable and well-connected organizational visionary. His illustrious career has taken him to all facets of the music industry including, music publishing, A&R and artist management.
In 1999, he progressed to overseeing all aspects of the world-famous Grand Ole Opry as VP/GM and is largely credited with transforming the legendary institution over his 17-year tenure. He promoted unprecedented levels of star-power utilizing his talent-laden relationships with Opry member inductions of superstars such as Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Little Big Town, Rascal Flatts, Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton, and others.
Most recently, he served as CEO of a leading music trade organization, the Academy of Country Music in Los Angeles and executive produced the 52nd, 53rd and 54th ACM Awards on CBS; one of music’s top 3 award shows. Currently, he is involved in a variety of projects as President of Fisher Entertainment Consulting, based in Nashville, Tennessee.
Throughout his life – and certainly throughout his extraordinary career – multi-instrumentalist Ron Block has been something of a musical Huck Finn, a tireless adventurer exploring various styles yet rooted firmly in the bluegrass-country tradition. Now the longtime member of the Grammy-winning band Alison Krauss and Union Station (since 1991)discovered a whole new area of uncharted terrain, with the release of his fourth solo album, Hogan's House of Music, his first-ever all-instrumental collection.
In October 1991, Ron Block joined Alison Krauss and Union Station, with members Barry Bales, Tim Stafford, and Adam Steffey. The following year, the group recorded the album Every Time You Say Goodbye. Now considered a modern bluegrass classic, the album earned a 1993 Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album, the first of an astounding 14 Grammys Block would take home thus far. Other early highlights of Block's tenure with AKUS include touring with Garth Brooks, Willie Nelson and then as part of the O Brother, Where Art Thou phenomenon, which would put the banjo player on the big screen and on concert stages with the Down from the Mountain Tour, featuring performers from the O Brother soundtrack. In 2009, the group performed for the President of the United States at the White House.
Wooden Ship Productions
Wooden Ship Productions, formed in 1991 by Robyn Boyd, has booked hundreds of tours of the US and Canada in the past decades. Robyn started when Archie Fisher suggested she be his agent when he started touring after his 28 year stint with the BBC.
With a focus on Celtic traditional music (some, though played on traditional instruments, is quite contemporary) and also a few singer-songwriters with a story to tell. Wooden Ship has grown to be a reliable source for great talent.
Joined by her son, Sean, in 2015 Wooden Ship Productions has grown into a marketing/promotion company as well as being North American agents for foreign artists. Sean comes from a marketing background in the indie-pop genre. Seeing a need for professional marketing campaigns among trad artists, he has applied his skills to building the brands of artists on the Wooden Ship roster. This includes mailing physical copies to the US folkDJ panel as well as appropriate media outlets for airplay and review. When artists show crossover potential, the service list grows to include national outlets outside of the folk or trad market.
Wooden Ship specializes in bringing both established artists to North America and those coming for the first time by building audiences through showcases, festivals and concerts. Robyn’s sterling reputation for having good ears and finding new talent is relied upon by North American presenters looking for the next new band. Not stopping at first tours, Robyn and Sean work with artists to build a reputation and grow their market over years and decades.
SoundboxPlays, Web3 Rights Group, Musician
Head of Artist Relations at SoundboxPlays, Anna Fahey has been working in the music industry for more than 15 years helping artists with their royalties, performing as an artist herself in renowned concert halls and stadiums throughout Europe including The Royal Albert Hall, Teatro de Verona, Lugano Arts Centre and Teatro La Scala di Milano to name but a few. She has been an avid follower of the developmemt of Web3 and regularly hosts events in London in the music space with a focus on making it more inclusive for women.
Anna has spent several years living and working internationally, speaking numerous languages and immersing herself in different cultues. She is passionate about justice for artists and the importance of them being credited properly for their work. She is a member of the education board of IAFAR, a founding member of the UK Web3 Rights group and is wholeheartedly dedicated to being an advocate for ensuring artists are credited for their work in the Web3 space. She has been a practitioner of Zen Buddhism and mindfullness for more than a decade and is dedicated to the wellbeing and mental health of musicians.
Gerry O’Connor comes from Dundalk, Co. Louth and was taught by his mother, Rose who was a descendant of three generations of fiddle players. With a focus on his local music of Oriel, he is known world-wide as a soloist and as a founder band member of Lá Lugh, Skylark and Oirialla.
He has recorded 14 albums with his first solo album Journeyman hailed as a landmark album of Irish fiddle music, and has performed with all of the leading performers of the Irish music world including members of the Chieftains, Boys of the Lough, Planxty, De Dannan and Bothy Band. Gerry has published a book of Cathal McConnell's songs and is launching a tunebook this week featuring dance music of Oriel recorded at the turn of the 20th century. Gerry is also highly regarded as a violin-maker, music teacher and music producer.
IMRO (Irish Music Rights Organisation)
Keith Johnson is Director of Marketing and Membership at the Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO).
IMRO administers the performing right in copyright music on behalf of its members (songwriters, composers and music publishers) and on behalf of members of the international overseas societies that are affiliated to it. IMRO´s function is to collect and distribute royalties arising from the public performance of copyright works, i.e. live performances, radio, TV and online.
IMRO is also prominently involved in the sponsorship and promotion of music in Ireland. Every year it sponsors a large number of song contests, music festivals, seminars, workshops, research projects and showcase performances. IMRO is now synonymous with helping to showcase emerging talent in Ireland.
Wooden Ship Productions
Robyn Boyd is the founder of Wooden Ship Productions, a booking and management company started in 1991 to support international touring artists and has been preparing visa applications since 1993. Her son Sean has
recently joined WSP, which has allowed the agency to expand its roster.
Robyn has been doing presentations on US Immigration policy at music conferences all
over North America for many years and offers full visa petition services for artists. She served on the board of the Sing Out Corporation for ten years and on the NERFA board.
Musician, Healthcare Musician and Music & Health Trainer
Liam Merriman has been a significant presence on the live music and entertainment circuit in Ireland over many years. His songs have been released by Polygram Records, RTE Records and the independent Three Rivers label. His work has also been published by Cohesion Arts in America as a contributing writer, and artist on the acclaimed Nashville based 1861 Project. He has performed his own works on RTE, and BBC TV and his songs have received airplay and play-listing on national, regional, and local radio stations in Ireland and overseas. Liam has released seven albums of his work to date, mostly recorded in Nashville, Tennessee with 2020 Grammy Award Nominee Thomm Jutz in the producer’s chair. He has toured and worked as an opening artist for many major acts including Nanci Griffith, Donovan, Mary Black, Kiki Dee, Paul Brady and Christy Moore.
Qualifying as a Music and Health Trainer under the European Commission's Leonardo da Vinci Lifelong Learning Programme was the culmination of Merriman’s ambition to promote professional musical standards and practice in the Irish healthcare sector. To this end he undertook two pan-European hospital projects lead by pioneering organization Musique et Sante, Paris, each delivered over a nine-month period. The project partners included Music Network (Ireland), Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester (UK), Turku University of Applied Sciences (Finland), and the Krakow Academy of Music (Poland). Merriman's European training introduced him to many sensitive and challenging medical settings in participating hospitals across Europe and qualified him as a Healthcare Musician and Music & Health Trainer.
Vastly experienced, he has worked for many years with Music & Health Ireland in highly sensitive health settings across the country with both children and adults. Liam’s role at Waterford Healing Arts incorporates training, working as a hospital and healthcare musician in several medical settings in the community, and leading the Healing Sounds Programme at University Hospital Waterford.
He has coached students in Music and Health practice as a visiting lecturer at University of Limerick M.A. in Community Music, Royal Irish Academy of Music (Degree students), Dundalk IT and Waterford IT (Nursing students).
Founder of WOMEX
Ben Mandelson Founding Director of WOMEX and Supervisory Board member for the parent company Piranha Arts based in Berlin, Germany. WOMEX is the world’s biggest professional music conference, tradefair and showcase for World, Roots, Folk, Traditional, Local and Diaspora music - an annual October-end Europe-based event.
True North Music
Maria Wallace is an independent music promoter and booking agent (True North Music), singer and songwriter specialising in bluegrass, Americana and folk-roots. Since 2015 she has hosted around 60 gigs in Yorkshire, featuring artists including Molly Tuttle, Jake Blount, Sierra Hull, Ron Block, Foghorn Stringband, Front Country, Pharis & Jason Romero and more. Since 2016 Maria has also booked around 40 UK tours for artists including The Slocan Ramblers, Stillhouse Junkies, Bill and the Belles, The Honey Dewdrops and Allison de Groot & Tatiana Hargreaves.
Maria won Yorkshire Gig Guide’s 2017 Outstanding Promoter Award and in 2018 was invited to the USA by South Arts to participate in the American Sounds programme. In 2019 she completed the Leadership Bluegrass course run by the IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) in Nashville. In 2020-21, with the backing of Arts Council England (ACE) Project Grants funding, Maria organised and presented a series of livestreamed events during the pandemic. In 2021 she was nominated for the IBMA’s Industry Involvement Award, and joined the 2021-22 cohort of the Both Sides Now Leaders Network, a leadership programme run by UK music charity Brighter Sound. Maria was also a delegate at the 2023 Canadian Folk Music Awards.
In 2021, Maria signed up to the Keychange Pledge (for fair gender representation in live music) but has been working on this since starting her business, with True North Music’s programming and booking roster far exceeding the 50:50 Keychange target. Maria’s mission also includes championing other aspects of diversity in roots music, working towards showcasing more artists of colour and LBGTQ musicians.
Maria is currently working on a podcast project supported by Arts Council England & Developing Your Creative Practice fund, and she also obtained ACE Project Grants funding to help support True North Music’s 2023-24 local live music series in Yorkshire. The programme includes concerts, participatory workshops and community outreach sessions, all featuring world class musicians.
I Hear Django
Amy Laidlaw is a booking agent and artist manager in Australia who’s worked in music for the past 23 years. She got her start in the industry working for the Falls Festival in various roles including Staff & Volunteer Manager, Operations Manager and Event Consultant.
She’s since worked for a number of music festivals and now manages Australian singer-songwriter, Nigel Wearne.
With a diverse background in festival and event management, tour bookings and strategic planning, Amy is the founder of I Hear Django; a music and events agency on Gunditjmara country in Victoria. Services include artist management and mentoring, tour bookings, visa consultancy, export strategy development and festival and event management.
Steeped in music, Damien grew up in Coleraine, Northern Ireland, with a deep respect and understanding of the folk tradition, which also forged a healthy appetite to explore its broadest borders and test its boundaries.
His career began early when he first went on stage with his parents and siblings at the age of 13 in the O’Kane Family Band (or “the Von Trapps of Coleraine”, as they were known locally). They did pretty well, playing for dances and singing old favourites like ‘The Mountain Dew’. After a gig at a big golfing event in Portrush, they were invited to play in pubs in Tramore and Waterford, leading to invitations to play in Austria and Iceland.
Damien joined the first intake at the newly instituted Traditional Music Degree course in Newcastle.
From there he formed a musical partnership with Shona Kipling, an all-Ireland accordion champion . They 2007 album ‘Box On’ , got them a nomination for the BBC Folk Horizon Award.
Concurrently also working with David Wood in Cross Current, Damien became much in demand for sessions and touring with Flook. He was with them when they won Best Group at the 2006 BBC Folk Awards.
Along with playing with Kate Rusby’s band, he keeps busy with a number of projects, most notably dueting with Ron Block ( of Alison Krauss + Union Station), touring and recording. Their highly acclaimed 2018 album ‘Banjophony’ led to further touring and a second album ‘Banjophonics’ in 2022.
Jessica Willis Fisher
Jessica Willis Fisher is a singer-songwriter-fiddler with a storyteller’s heart. Raised playing traditional folk music from an early age, she performed with her family band in the Irish, Country, and Bluegrass music scenes and made appearances on the Grand Ole Opry and America’s Got Talent. Her Americana-leaning debut solo album features both deeply autobiographical lyrics and foot-stomping anthems. Jessica is also the author of “Unspeakable: Surviving My Childhood and Finding My Voice” and is a passionate advocate for survivors of trauma. Learn more at jessicawillisfisher.com
Head of Traditional Arts with the Irish Arts Council
Paul Flynn, Head of Traditional Arts with the Irish Arts Council the Irish government agency responsible for the development and funding of the arts in Ireland. Paul previously was the Traditional Arts Officer with the Arts Council of Northern Ireland from 2004 to 2008.
He is currently co-managing the Tradition Now series – a partnership between the Arts Council and the National Concert Hall, Dublin, Ireland and was co-curator with the FolkLife Festival at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. in 2007. Originally from An Mullach Bán in South Armagh, Paul plays the fiddle and is interested in the Ulster song tradition.
Joanne Gardner Lowell
Joanne Gardner started making music videos in the mid 1980’s in Nashville. As a freelance producer, she worked with nearly every artist on their projects – including Emmylou Harris, Hank Williams Jr., Waylon Jennings, Alabama, Roy Orbison, and the O’Kanes. She produced well over 600 videos before starting a company with Rosanne Cash in 1987 – ACME Pictures.
She produced hundreds of videos at ACME – mostly for artists who didn’t wear hats. That rule was bent to create the groundbreaking “Tear in My Beer” which blended Hank Williams, Jr. with his father for the “first time.”
She directed multiple videos for Alison Krauss, Tanya Tucker
Delbert McClinton, Marty Stuart, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Rodney Crowell, including a few award winners.
She left to join Columbia Records in 1995 as the head of music video production for the label. She was with Sony Music Nashville for ten years, ultimately becoming the SR. VP of Video Production for Columbia, Epic Records and Sony worldwide.
During the Sony years, she oversaw hundreds of videos and won dozens of awards including for artists Will Smith , James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, Julio Iglesias, The Fugees, Maxwell, Ricky Martin, John Mayer, Aerosmith, Destiny's Child, Men In Black, Bob Dylan, Eleanor McEvoy Music, Alice in Chains, Train, Savage Garden, Gretchen Wilson, Shawn Colvin, Shawn Mullins, Duran Duran, Barbra Streisand, Céline Dion, Billy Joel, Mariah Carey, Marc Anthony, Tony Bennett and more.
After spending three decades in the entertainment industry, Joanne moved to Montana 17 years ago to retire. So far, “retirement” hasn’t gone very well. She’s helped create and produce the Paradise Valley Music Festival, helped create and produced the very first Red Ants Pants Music Festival, produced A Song Runs Through It in Livingston and coproduced the Livingston Hoot for 7 years until Covid swallowed it up. In 2016 she co-produced and directed the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service live broadcast- “An Evening at the Arch.”
In 2020, she produced the International Bluegrass Music Association virtual awards show, bringing beloved bluegrass musicians together safely and virtually in the middle of the pandemic.
She and her husband, songwriter/performer John Lowell now perform together and present music events. She has toured as a singer with Rodney Crowell and Tracy Nelson.
Founder and Artistic Director of Ceol Connected
Thomas Johnston is the Founder and Artistic Director of Ceol Connected, a dynamic & impassioned company that strives to create meaningful, beguiling, virtuosic, fantastical & gloriously joyful work for young audiences that is of the highest quality & that draws inspiration & intrigue from the world of traditional arts.
An uilleann piper and whistle player, Thomas’ achievements at Ceol Connected include working with a dynamic creative and technical team to produce and tour nationally eight productions (incl. TREEHOUSE, The Far Field, and WUNDERGROUND).
Other work includes producing four albums; forging national/international partnerships, devising & implementing a number of artist CPD initiatives; developing Sensory SongTales artist residencies for children with additional needs, and producing Tradoodle Festival Traditional Arts Festival, County Monaghan’s traditional arts festival for young audiences. In 2022/2023, Ceol Connected have been commissioned by the Patrick Kavanagh Centre to co-produce, with the National Concert Hall, Dublin, Ireland, a new gig theatre production for young audiences inspired by Kavanagh’s A Christmas Childhood.
Founder of Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival
Uri Kohen is the founder and producer of the Westport Folk & Bluegrass Festival in Co. Mayo, and a manager at The Electric Cave Production.
Uri has been booking gigs in Westport for Irish and international acts since 2004 before starting the festival in 2007.
The festival is now widely regarded as one of the leading bluegrass events in Ireland and it is drawing musicians and music fans alike from all over the world.
In recent months Uri joined a group of bluegrass festival producers from all over Europe to create large network of Bluegrass all over the continent and beyond.
In recent years, he is been booking tours for American folk, bluegrass artists throughout Ireland while working on network of venues for touring musicians to perform in.
English Folk Expo/Manchester Folk Festival
Tom Besford runs English Folk Expo (EFEx), which supports the English folk, roots and acoustic music sector. EFEx delivers showcases, live events, artist mentoring, industry training, audience development and more.
Milwaukee Irish Festival/Ward Irish Music Archives
Barry Stapleton has been involved in booking entertainment for Milwaukee Irish Fest for 30 years. Milwaukee Irish Fest hires 100 artists who perform over a 4 day weekend in August. Along with an entertainment committee, he oversees all the legal aspects, production, scheduling and logistics at the festival.
Music City Irish Festival
We are delighted to have Brenda Willis as festival producer, artist manager and promoter.
CEO of Music City Irish Fest - Nashville’s largest St Patrick’s Day celebrations, Brenda is a determined, hardworking, creative force and supporter for everything Irish in Nashville and beyond.
As manager of the 12-member The Willis Clan, Brenda handled booking, marketing, promotions, production, tour managing and guitar playing!
Founder of Bluegrass in La Roche
Christopher Howard Williams
Christopher has been involved in Bluegrass Music for 40 years. He was an active amateur musician playing guitar and mandolin in French bands Pony Express and Moonshine for many years. Recently he rejoined his old comrades to launch poniXpress 2.0.
He is best known in the global Bluegrass community as the founder and chair of Bluegrass in La Roche, Europe’s biggest
festival dedicated exclusively to Bluegrass music since 2006. He was chair of FBMA for 8 years in the early 2000s and vice chair of EBMA for a term after that.
He is currently serving on the Board of the IBMA, representing the International Constituency.
Professionally, Christopher has travelled the world working as a manager, consultant and professor in the field of international
communication and management.
Managing Director - Midnight Mango Live Booking
Founder of Rounder Records
Ken Irwin, Marian Leighton Levy, and Bill Nowlin founded Rounder Records in 1970 to present old-time and bluegrass music that might not otherwise be recorded. The label grew to encompass a wide variety of genres and a catalog of more than 3,000 titles, becoming one of the largest independent record labels in the United States.
Ken Irwin was raised in the New York suburbs. Music in the Irwin household included albums of Broadway show tunes, but rock ‘n’ roll made more of an impression on Ken. During his senior year in high school, attendance at a Pete Seeger concert steered Ken in the direction of folk music. His first year at Tufts University, where he majored in psychology, paired him with his future musical co-conspirator and business partner, Bill Nowlin. Exposure to The Greenbriar Boys, Cambridge’s Club 47, and the Charles River Valley Boys, the Hillbilly at Harvard radio show, Boston’s Hillbilly Ranch and the Lilly Brothers, and forays to fiddlers’ conventions focused Ken’s interests upon bluegrass, old-time, and other roots music.
NPU (Pipers Club) / Musician
Gay Mc Keon
Gay took an interest in uilleann piping in the 1960s under the tutelage of Leo Rowsome at the Piper’s Club on Thomas Street in Dublin’s city centre.
Since the mid 1970’s Gay has toured and recorded extensively including contributions to piping releases The Piper’s Rock, and The Ace and Deuce of Piping Vol. 2. He has published two solos album, Irish Piping Tradition in 1997, The Turning of the Geese in 2019 and a trio CD The Dusty Miller with his sons Conor and Seán in 2005. Whilst living in London in the 1970s, Gay recorded Music from West Clare and Galway with Bobby Casey, Raymond Roland, John Roe, and Liam Farrell. Gay has toured with Christy Moore and recorded on his Iron Behind the Velvet album and Gay also appeared on Maddy Prior and June Tabor’s ground-breaking album, The Silly Sisters.
Gay has taught piping for over 45 years, at The Pipers’ Club in Thomas Street and Na Píobairí Uilleann and has established piping classes at locations throughout Ireland, in addition to teaching at schools and festivals in Ireland and internationally. Gay has performed on three volumes of the acclaimed tutor series The Art of Uilleann Piping, which has provided an introduction to thousands of aspiring pipers globally. He has also devised, produced and directed publications including Traveller Piper and The Piper’s Choice DVD series and numerous CD recordings including three volumes of recordings of young emerging pipers. Gay has spearheaded many educational projects including the establishment of the Na Píobairí Uilleann’s PipeCraft pipemaking training centre.
As CEO of Na Píobairí Uilleann and as part of NPU Gay has worked to source funding for the restoration of NPU’s headquarters at 15 Henrietta Street , Dublin, the establishment of the PipeCraft instrument making training centre and the securing UNESCO recognition for uilleann piping. He established a regular series of performances and lectures including Session with the Pipers, Notes and Narratives, Ceol sa Chlub and International Uilleann Piping Day. Gay has produced many of NPU public performances and concerts including Piperlink, the annual Ace and Deuce of Piping and the Sound of Ireland concerts.
Musician/Author/Composer/Audio engineer/Musicologist/Instrument maker
Steáfán Hannigan is an Irish musician, author, composer, audio engineer, musicologist and instrument maker. Since 2008, he has made his home in Canada. Hannigan is a multi-instrumentalist. Some of the instruments he plays are the Uillean pipes, Bodhrán, tin whistle, low whistle, bouzouki, guitar, tenor banjo, flute, mandolin and various percussion instruments.
Hannigan founded the Steáfán Hannigan Band, which later became the Irish band Sin É. The band released two albums, Sin É and It's About Time. The group performed internationally, including at Lincoln Center in New York in 1997.
Hannigan opened Oisin Studios in Milton Keynes, England, and produced a number of albums, including Tig (Serious Kitchen), and Not to Scale (Kerfuffle).
As well as fronting his own band, Hannigan performed widely with other artists and bands, including Depeche Mode, Bjork, Aessia D'Andrea, and Band of Hope.
In 1994 he published an instructional book, Bodhrán Basics and in 2000 he published instructional book, The Low Whistle Book, with David Ledsam.
A contemporary nu-folk singer/songwriter, Gráinne Hunt has a rich background in performance and songwriting.
Her voice is incredibly powerful - there’s a husky element but also a vulnerability, which is present too in her lyrics. This combination has gained her a reputation as one of Ireland’s most outstanding female vocalists and songwriters.
She has toured extensively and performed on stages in Ireland, the UK, Europe and the US. She has shared stages with Glen Hansard, sung with U2, and opened for Gladys Knight and Eagle-Eye Cherry, the Bay City Rollers and Kane Brown.
She is an experienced and versatile professional musician with a demonstrated history of working in the Arts. She has a music degree and formal training in guitar and vocals, and is a Level 1 MVT vocal coach. She is founder of songwritercircle.club, a prompt based deadline driven online songwriting group.
Alongside her solo original music project, she is one half of Irish music project Gráinne and Brendan Songs from Ireland, with award winning guitarist Brendan Walsh. She is also one half of new folk project Hibsen - a James Joyce inspired project and album based on Dubilners
Norton Photography & Retouching
Ronnie's professional career in photography started with some album covers for EMI, then back stage and front of house at every concert he could blag his way into.
Trips to Nashville led to photographing Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings and encounters with Crystal Gayle, Dolly Parton and all his superheroes in the music world. During this time a friendship was welded with U2’s graphic designer Steve Averill and the iconic Fanzine and later Europe's top Roots Americana website Lonesome Highway was created. It was and still is the go to publication for every roots artist that visited Ireland to be interviewed and photographed. Interviews with Emmy Lou Harris, Steve Earle and tour programmes for Kris Kristofferson were all part of the daily routine for Steve and Ronnie back then.
A chance encounter with Lee Williams of CMR Nashville Europe's number one Country station led to starting a sixteen year stint with the station with Lonesome Highway and more recently Bluegrass and Beyond, and European Bluegrass Roundup radio shows. More trips to Nashville and Raleigh NC lead to close up and personal contact with just about every body in the Bluegrass and Roots music world.
Resident photographer duties at several major Country Festivals and regular yearly residencies at the Johnny Keenan Banjo Festival, the Omagh Bluegrass Festival and The Bunratty Midwinter Festival were all fodder for the insatiable appetite of Lonesome Highway listeners and readers.
Niamh Parsons has come to be known as one of the most distinctive voices in Irish music. Her voice has drawn comparisons to such venerated singers as Dolores Keane, June Tabor and Sandy Denny. The great Scottish balladeer Archie Fisher said of Niamh, ‘a songstress like her comes along once or twice in a generation.’
It has been said that while Niamh may not be the most famous Irish Balladeer, many feel she’s the best. Described in the Boston Herald as both emotionally haunting and tonally as clear as crystal, Niamh’s albums have been ‘must-have’ collector’s items for any lover of songs and singing. With 9 Albums to her name, Niamh has gathered a body of songs from many sources, both traditional and modern songwriters.
Growing up in Dublin, Niamh’s music-loving parents brought herself and her sister to the local folk club in The Old Shieling Hotel in Raheny, where the young girls were exposed to songs and singing from the likes of The Johnstons, Emmet Spiceland, Sweeney’s Men, Dolly McMahon, Danny Doyle and many of the other musicians and singers that were playing in Folk clubs at that time. ‘My father was a great singer, and on long journeys the family used to sing in the car – I don’t remember a time in my life when I was not singing – I love songs.’
Niamh developed this love into a penchant for collecting songs. She is always on the lookout for songs that speak to her – listening to new albums, scouring the Traditional Music Archives in Dublin, sharing notes with a network of friends and other singers. Once she discovers a song she likes, Niamh views herself as the vehicle for the music. ‘For me the song is more important than listening to my voice’, she says. ‘I consider myself more a songstress than a singer – a carrier of tradition.’
Throughout her career, Niamh has performed with a wide variety of artists, and has appeared at nearly every prestigious folk festival on either side of the Atlantic. As a member of the traditional Irish band Arcady (led by De Dannan’s Johnny ‘Ringo’ McDonagh), she sang on their Shanachie recording Many Happy Returns. She appeared before President Clinton and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern in Capitol Hill, Washington, joined Grammy Award winner Paul Winter for an album and a summer concert in New York, and performed on ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ when the show broadcast live from Dublin.
Turning Pirate was founded in 2006 by Úna Molloy as an agency and creative production company. Since then TP has been booking shows and tours for artists throughout Ireland and the UK including Lisa Hannigan, Booka Brass, Wallis Bird, Paul Noonan, John Smith (UK), Willy Mason (USA), Ye Vagabonds, Joe Henry (USA), Rhob Cunningham, Cathy Davey, Sample Answer, Bronagh Gallagher, Roesy, Tim Easton (USA) and David Kitt.
Tour and production management include worldwide tours with Lisa Hannigan, James Vincent McMorrow, Bell X1, Natalie Merchant (USA) and Valerie June (USA) including Asia, Australia, Europe, USA and the UK.
TP are known for their collaborative MixTape shows. These take in all sorts of events from corporate events to charity shows, culminating in the annual Turning Pirate NYE Mix Tape in Vicar Street. The shows bring together Ireland’s best musicians and artists for a collaborative party with artists like Paul Noonan, Delorentos, Villagers, James Vincent McMorrow, Lisa Hannigan, Jape, Declan O'Rourke, Wallis Bird, Cathy Davey, Wyvern Lingo, Saint Sister and lots more (see videos below).
Úna has managed Booka Brass from their beginning, through their successful multiple sold out tours including Cork Opera House and Vicar St, Glastonbury, Latitude along with numerous other festivals in the UK and Ireland. They have been proclaimed 'Ireland's best live music act' by numerous media outlets.
TP have produced a number of shows including the Today FM 20th Birthday Party (David Gray, Bell X1, The Coronas, Hudson Taylor and many more), Tony Fenton Tribute Night, they have been involved in the Iveagh Gardens Comedy Festival every year booking the music and street theatre.
In 2015 Úna Molloy’s work with Turning Pirate was acknowledged at the IMRO awards, where she was honoured to be awarded the very first IMRO Outstanding Contribution to Live Music Award.
In 2018, Úna began working with The Porterhouse Group, piecing together plans for a new music venue in Dublin. The venue, Lost Lane, opened in April 2019. Úna took on the role as programmer and through her strong relationships and years of experience in the Irish music industry, has been quickly building the venue’s reputation as one of Dublin’s best venues and clubs, welcoming all genres of music and events including gigs with The Coronas, Saint Sister, Tebi Rex, Steve Gadd (Paul Simon, James Taylor), Mick Flannery, as well as hosting events with MOTHER, Hidden Agenda, Mirage, Aiken, MCD, POD, aftershows for festivals and gigs, Vinyl and Wine, Jim Carroll’s Banter and many more events of all kinds.
The Journal of Music
Toner Quinn is a musician, writer about music, publisher, editor and lecturer. He studied music at Waterford IT and publishing at the University of Stirling in Scotland.
In 2000, he founded the music magazine JMI – The Journal of Music in Ireland (now The Journal of Music), which won the Utne Independent Press Award for Arts Coverage in Washington DC in 2010. The Journal of Music today has an international readership and is highly regarded for its music journalism and criticism.
As a musician, Toner released a duet album in 2013 with fiddle player Malachy Bourke, Live at the Steeple Sessions (Ergodos), which was chosen as one of the Irish Times traditional music albums of the year.
As Project Officer for the Arts Council’s Special Committee on the Traditional Arts in 2004, he was responsible for drafting the document Towards a Policy for the Traditional Arts. He was also commissioned by the Council to write a major report on the Irish harping tradition that was published in 2014.
He is editor of the collection of essays Desmond Fennell: his life and work, exploring the work of the late Irish writer, and recently contributed a radio essay on Fennell to the RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta series Aistí ón Aer. Since 2008, Toner has lectured in publishing on the MA in Literature and Publishing at the University of Galway.
Macdara Ó Faoláin
Macdara Ó Faoláin builds unique, handcrafted, mandolins, bouzoukis & guitars in Gaeltacht na nDéise, Co. Waterford. After building his first instrument at the age of 14, Macdara continued to develop his skills and his design, building instruments part-time whilst he was in education.
After finishing a Bachelors of Music in the Cork School of Music, Macdara began making instruments and performing full-time. His instruments are played by clients in Ireland, Europe and the US. Macdara has a particular interest in using sustainable & native tonewoods.
As a musician, Macdara has played with a wide range of musicians including Victoria Adiiye, Derek Hickey, Páraic MacDonnchadha, Pádraic Keane, Nell Ní Chróinín, Skara Brae, Cormac McCarthy & Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh.
Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival / Wintergrass Music Festival
Mary Burdette has been involved in music festival production, programming and education since the 20th Century. She is currently Assistant Director of Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival (NY) and Production Manager of Wintergrass Music Festival (WA).
As a musician, Mary has toured the US, Canada and Europe with Skip Gorman, Tom Sauber, Patrick Sauber, and Ruthie Dornfeld, and performed at major music venues from Grass Valley (CA) to Lunenburg (NS); from IBMA to the European World of Bluegrass; and at the country’s leading cowboy poetry gatherings. In 2015, she joined Gorman, Rick Starkey and Dave Kiphuth for a reunion of the classic brother duet, Rabbit in a Log, at the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival.
Her bass playing and harmony vocals can be heard on Rounder and Music of the Old West recordings, as well as on the soundtrack of Ken Burns’ PBS documentary, Lewis and Clark: Journey of the Corps of Discovery and other collaborations.
Mary began gigging professionally with John Rossbach and Chestnut Grove, a quartet that toured the Eastern seaboard and participated in a State Department cultural exchange to Trinidad and Tobago with banjo innovator Bill Keith, dance callers John Kirk and Trish Miller, and bandleader John Rossbach.
Sherrie Mondello, MA AMFT
Sherrie is an experienced Associate Marriage and Family Therapist and Holistic Wellness Coach who helps clients explore and prioritize their well-being while developing their inner awareness. She combines various therapeutic approaches, including Attachment-based, Polyvagal, CBT, and Client-Centered Psychotherapy, in order to provide her clients with a holistic approach to therapy.
With a focus on family origins, Sherrie helps clients make sense of their past, find meaning in their suffering, tune into their authentic selves, and align with their unique path in life. Whether her clients are dealing with anxiety, depression, procrastination, addiction, relationship issues, racing thoughts, self-doubt, or a lack of direction or zest for life, she uses each discomfort as a pointer to turn her clients' attention inward and shine a light on the parts of themselves that may be dormant and shadowed.
Sherrie also works with musicians and was a panelist at Your Roots Are Showing in its first year. As a therapist, she continuously works on deepening her self-awareness to collaborate wholeheartedly with her clients and provide them with tools that give them the freedom to explore themselves without feeling judged. Sherrie sees the vast individual who resides just beyond the mask of family history, complex trauma, limiting beliefs, and psychological drama, and believes that each person has the potential to connect with themselves and live an authentic life.
Sherrie believes that the key to moving away from patterns of self-sabotage is prioritizing the connection to our authentic selves and developing our inner awareness. By centering on honoring our true selves and letting go of codependent contracts, we become free from confusion and existential angst and develop the ability to discern for ourselves what decisions and actions will help us navigate life more easily. With a therapeutic journey with Sherrie, clients can expect a collaborative process that will help them uncover their inner wisdom and build a deep connection with themselves.
Ethnomusicologist - Dundalk IT
Ethnomusicologist, geographer and performer Dr Daithí Kearney is a lecturer in music and tourism, and co-director of the Creative Arts Research Centre at Dundalk Institute of Technology. His research focuses on Irish traditional music, song and dance, and he has toured regularly as a musician, singer and dancer with a number of groups including Siamsa Tíre, The National Folk Theatre of Ireland.
A composer, he was commissioned to write a suite for the Oriel Traditional Orchestra with funding from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (2018) and has been musical director of Ceolta Sí. Albums include the critically acclaimed Midleton Rare (2012) with accordion player John Cronin, and A Louth Lilt (2017 with Dr Adèle Commins.
A published poet and songwriter, and experienced actor and dancer, he advocates for cross-arts approaches that embrace diversity in creative projects. His research has appeared recently in the International Journal of Traditional Arts, Musicultures, and Confluente, as well as book chapters in Staged Folklore (ed. Motherway and O’Connell, 2022) and Timbres of Identity (ed. Dogus Varli, 2021).
Ireland is famed throughout the world for the art of storytelling and Francis McCarron is one of Ireland's most well-known storytellers. His wide and varied repertoire includes legends, local tales and everything in between. It also includes riddles, rhymes and songs – although he can’t sing to save his life!
Francis is a member of the Storytellers of Ireland and is currently Monaghan County Councils Storyteller in Residence.
A storyteller tells from memory rather than reading from a book. The tales have no set text, but are endlessly re-created in the telling. The listener is essential for stories to live, as they need the hearts, minds and ears of listeners. Without the listener there is no story.
Gabriel Gonzalez is a musician and producer based in Galway. Over the past 18 years he has been part of multiple musical projects in Ireland as a flute player and guitar player and has toured Europe and USA with different musical projects.
From a musical family and trained as a classical musician from an early age this multi-instrumentalist has been very active composing and producing music for film and documentaries.
In April 2020 during the first lockdown in Ireland, when live music stopped all over the world, Gabriel decided to record and produce a number of tunes he had composed in recent years, creating this very intimate album called “Waiting for The Tide”. An album encapsulating the different emotions inspired by Galway and the West of Ireland.
He reached out to some musician friends he worked with in the past in many projects like Olas, Anna Mullarkey, Alalé, Baile An Salsa, Pulse, John Conneely Inc. and many more. They were able to send their magical collaborations to his small studio from different corners of the world. It was in his home studio during the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021 that Gabriel produced and arranged this collection of tunes. The finished album is called "Waiting for The Tide".
“This has been an adventure and a great experience. Music will always be the way to connect us all, even if we are far from each other.”
Fiddle player and composer Maurice Lennon was born in 1958 to the Lennon family of traditional musicians in Co. Leitrim. His father was the well-known fiddle player and teacher Ben Lennon – who received the Gradam Ceoil Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011 – and his uncle, Charlie Lennon is a renowned composer, pianist and fiddle player who also received the composer award in 2006. Maurice Lennon is the recipient of the Gradam Ceoil Composer Award in 2023.
Lennon began playing traditional music at age 13. At age 17 he won the Senior Fiddle Championship at the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil in 1977. In the same year, he founded the folk-rock band Stockton’s Wing with flute and whistle player Paul Roche, banjo and mandolin player Kieran Hanrahan, guitarist and singer Tony Callinan and bodhrán player Tommy Hayes. The band grew international success in the 1980’s and 1990’s and released many albums including Stockton’s Wing (1978), Take a Chance (1980), and Full Flight (1986).
After leaving the band, Lennon’s solo career has seen him collaborate with singers Seán Keane, Ronnie Drew, Finbar Furey and Johnny McEvoy, as well as performing a central role in the music of Irish dance production Ragús. His most famous composition ‘If Ever You Were Mine’ was recorded by Cherish the Ladies and featured on their 1992 album The Back Door, and also by Canadian fiddle player Natalie MacMaster. Other artists to record his compositions include The Kilfenora Céilí Band, Blazin’ Fiddles, Noel Hill, Brian Rooney, Karen Tweed, Pride of New York, Liam O’Brien, Jerry O’Sullivan, Cathy Vard and Liam Lawton, The London Lasses and many more.
Lennon has released a number of acclaimed albums as a solo artist, including Brian Boru – High King Of Tara (2001) and his solo fiddle album The Little Ones (2013), which included compositions ‘The Road to Garrison’ and ‘The Belltable Waltz’.
Dr. Fintan Vallely
Dr. Fintan Vallely is a musician and author on Traditional music. He has played throughout the world, and teaches flute annually at the Co. Clare Willie Clancy Summer School.
His earliest recording is a 1979 LP, this and a 1990 album made with Berklee professor and guitarist Mark Simos; his most recent is a 2022 solo CD Merrijig Creek. He toured with singer and accordionist Tim Lyons, and toured and performed A Fool’s Errand with the poet Dermot Healy.
He was a critic with The Irish Times and The Sunday Tribune, and has been a university lecturer on Traditional music in Ireland and abroad.
Among his numerous books is the 1999, 2011 and (t.b.p. 2024) encyclopedia Companion to Irish Traditional Music, and its touring show and CD Compánach, and DVD Turas. Just completed is Beating time – the bodhrán story, a substantial, first-ever history of the Irish drum.
In 2022 he was honoured as an Adjunct Professor with University College Dublin, and in 2023 was awarded the highest national accolade for his work, the TG4 lifetime achievement award, Gradam Saol.
Sligo Live/Midnight Mango
Willie Kelly is an experienced freelance music professional –Songwriter, Musician, Music Producer, Festival Producer and Live Booking Agent.
Co-producer and lead programmer at Sligo Live Festival, he has worked with artists such as Robert Plant, Jools Holland,Imelda May, Bob Geldof & The Boomtown Rats, Indigo Girls, The Coronas, John Bishop, Dara O Briain, Willie Watson, Rhiannon Giddens and many more. Also, a live booking agent at Midnight Mango UK, Willie represents several international touring artists in the Country, Folk and Americana sphere, including Thomas Gabriel, IV and The Strange Band, Julian Taylor and Josh Okeefe.
Willie, is also a recording and touring artist, most recently and notably with Irish band Rackhouse Pilfer. When has toured Ireland, UK and Europe extensively, performing at Glastonbury, C2C London, Body & Soul Ireland, Country Piknik Poland, La Roche Bluegrass France.
Rackhouse Pilfer were awarded Hot Press Magazine ‘Best Trad/Folk Band’ 2015 and Hot Press Magazine ‘Live Band Of The Year’ 2014. They were invited to perform for Irish President, Michael D Higgins, during a private party at the President’s residence Aras An Uachtarain in 2014. They independently sold 20,000+ Albums and have 500,000+ streams combined across platforms such as YouTube and Spotify, where Willie had 11 songwriting credits across 2 original Rackhouse Pilfer albums. With Rackhouse, Willie has worked alongside world renowned producers Gareth Jones (Depeche Mode, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Erasure, Grizzly Bear), Brad Jones (Steve Earle, Josh Rouse, Bobby Bare Jr.) and with Ethan Johns (Kings Of Leon, Paul McCartney, Ryan Adams) on Sir. Tom Jones 2015 album ‘Long Lost Suitcase’, where Rackhouse Pilfer were invited to be the session band on two tracks,including ‘Honey, Honey’ the lead single and duet with Imelda May.
Most recently, Willie has Co-Produced Sandy Kelly’s forthcoming album ‘Leaving It All Behind’ with five time Grammy winning producer John Carter Cash (Loretta Lynn, Chris Cornell, Kris Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, John Prine, and his mother and father June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash), working at The Cash Cabin in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Where Willie also worked on his 2007 solo album ‘In The Unlikely Event Of Fire, produced by John Cater Cash and Jim Reilley.
Annalisa Monticelli is a highly sought-after musician, having performed internationally as a soloist, with ensembles and various orchestras. She studied Classical and Jazz Piano, Voice, Conducting, Chamber Music and Music Education in Italy, Argentina, and the USA.
After spending 3 years in America, she moved to Ireland to work as an instrumental accompanist for the Royal Irish Academy of Music where she later became Italian and vocal coach. In 2015 she became Assistant Lecturer-Repetiteur at Dundalk Institute of Technology where she also serves as program director for the Musical Theatre programme.
Since her arrival in Ireland, she has appeared in all major Irish venues and has released several CDs.
In recent years she performed in Warsaw, Zurich, Vilnius, Glasgow, Paris, Johor Bahru (Malaysia), Madrid and toured the USA. Upcoming engagements will bring her to Porto and Scotland.
She is an eclectic musician, that loves performing classical music alongside Tango, Jazz and Latin-American Music; both as a pianist and a singer. She is pianist for the Irish-Latin band Baile An Salsa since 2018, and pianist/singer for the tango quintet Hibertango.
Banjo Maker - Clareen Banjos/Musician
Tom Cussen is a musician and banjo maker.
Clareen Banjos is a family business that specialises in manufacturing hand-made banjos from the same location in Clarinbridge, Co. Galway, for the past 40 years. Tom has built Clareen Banjos, into a world-renowned business which sells online, through several retailers and from its showroom in the West of Ireland. His son Fintan joined the business in 2004.
Tom is also a highly regarded musician and is an original member of the traditional Irish band, Shaskeen, who are still going strong and recently celebrated a whopping 50 years as a band!
Irish Music Magazine/Music Business Ireland
Robert Heuston is Owner, CEO and Publisher of Irish Music Magazine which is available monthly in over 30 Countries worldwide and established 28 years in 2023. Their mission statement is to preserve Irish & Celtic Music Culture and integrate its positive values to the Irish diaspora and society in general internationally.
Their sister company Emerald Isle Media specialises in Online and Made for TV productions and in 2021 successfully completed St Patrick's Day at Home with a reach of over 1.5 Million viewers. During Covid 19 they delivered 100+ online concerts taking in each continent around the World.
In December 2022 Music Business Ireland (MBI) was launched which will provide an invaluable resource to the Irish music industry across all genres and with the primary mission statement of supporting and guiding the music industry post Covid 19. Their contributor base will include Music writers, lawyers, accountants, producers, agents, managers, musicians, record labels, festival directors and technical personnel within all facets of the industry.