It's hard enough for a musician to get gigs in his own country where he might have a few connections, but trying to book a tour in another country for the first time can be even more challenging. Josh Harty found this out on his current trip to Ireland.
Despite months of preparation online and via the advice of fellow musicians who have made multiple trips overseas, when it came time to leave he had five tentative dates and one confirmed. Even though all but the show at Brendan O'Connor's Pub in Portroe fell through, I think it is safe to say by that by the end of this week he's going to be huge in County Tipperary.
My friends and I arrived in the charming town of Portroe near Nenagh on Sunday and met Harty and his friend Tim Quigley, a native of the area who now lives in Madison, at the pub. Cozy and elegant, O'Connor's décor stood out from the many traditional pubs we had visited in our first three days in the country. While it was the only pub that inspired me to use the word "swanky," they still had plenty of Guinness on tap and an endless supply of whiskey.
They also feature the weekly music sessions that typify the Irish pub scene. O'Connor's hosts a traditional session on Sunday and a looser one on Wednesdays where country, blues and American folk are also welcome. While bands usually play on weekends, this was the first time they had scheduled a show like this one.
Since the big show was booked for Thursday, it wasn't originally planned that Harty would be playing tonight, but one of the locals who knew he was in the bar suggested that he play a short set before the session started. It didn't take much convincing to convince him to plug in and play a few songs. In addition to the newer songs that will be on his upcoming record, he played the Robert Johnson classic "Malted Milk" and the terrific Blake Thomas song "How Long."
Thomas and Harty have been playing a lot of shows together recently, and we decided that the only thing that would have made this trip better was if he had been there with us. For the entire week, every pint raised (and there were a few) was "to B.T."
Even though I had seen him play these songs many times, it was interesting to witness a group of people who were all seeing him play for the first time. Unlike in the States, Sunday night is a big pub night and the large crowd on hand was very receptive to his impressive guitar playing and fantastic voice.
P.J. Bently, the singer/acoustic guitarist who played earlier in the night, commented after his set, "Thank god I didn't have to follow him." Later Harty was encouraged to take a seat next to the pub's gregarious owner during the session, playing a dozen or so traditionals he'd never heard before, as a succession of lovely-voiced girls sat down to sing. By the end of the night, I was convinced that everyone in Ireland can sing.
Anyone who saw him play that night or on Tuesday when, he did a short set for a smaller crowd (which I actually preferred because it wasn't as chatty in the bar), was sure to come back for Thursday's show. An even greater audience may have been reached by an article that appeared in the Nenagh Guardian on Wednesday. Even more glowing than anything I've ever written, they called him a "singer/songwriter prodigy," and said Thursday's show was "certainly not a night to miss for local country and blues music fans."
Since I had bought a plane ticket having no idea when and where he would be playing, I was scheduled to return that day. I will just have to wait till Harty gets back to find out how the big show went.
Given the amazing friendliness and genuine kindness of everyone I met during my few days in County Tipperary (especially Allison, Sarah and Dawn, three truly terrific girls who, of course, all sing beautifully), I'm sure it will be a smashing success. And with that on his resume, he's sure to have an easier time booking the next tour.
I owe an extra special thanks to Quigley's sister Kate and her lovely family, who made me feel so welcome during my stay. And in case you were wondering, I didn't go to Ireland just to see Harty play. That would be crazy. Nope, I went to see the New Jersey band The Wrens, who played in Dublin our first night there -- not crazy at all.