Concert Review: Kevin McKrell’s Upstate Irish @ The Egg, 03/16/2023
ALBANY– Kevin McKrell’s Upstate Irish show drew a jovial crowd on St. Patrick’s Eve at The Egg in Albany. Joined by Bernie Branch, Jeff Strange from Donnybrook Fair, Get Up Jack, and Good Things with Michael Eck, McKrell and his band by the same name sang sorrowful ballads and fast-paced drinking songs to punctuate the holiday.
Kevin McKrell is the Capital Region’s legendary Irish folk expert, and his very presence on the stage drew excitement from the audience throughout the night. Every time he came on stage, he brought with him the lively air of someone who was so happy to be present that you couldn’t help but be content along with him. He started the night with a ballad, “to the ones who brought us here,” expressing deep reverence to his Irish roots and ancestors that he clearly lives in every fiber of his being.
McKrell further set the tone with his ground rules for the evening. “Sing-alongs are good and do sing along. Just do sing the same song we are singin’,” he joked with a wry wink. “And as for clapping, clap on 2 & 4,” McKrell charmed the crowd.
He was clearly the conductor for the evening, moving artists on and off stage with encouraging and often humorous words, reminding me that Irish culture loves its spoken word almost as much as it loves its music. Dressed in what I can only describe as a flashback to the 90s (baseball cap on backward, flannel tied around his waist), McKrell provided vocals, guitar, and even the bodhran throughout the night. Cheerful, witty, and incredibly talented, I understood why all of us follow McKrell around for the month of March. He appears to be Ireland embodied in music.
McKrell brought Bernie Branch out early, bringing great joy to the audience with their duet “Star of the County Down.” Branch continued on with crowd favorite “Four Green Fields,” Tommy Makem’s famed folk song.
Directly after Branch’s performance, McKrell and his daughter Kate McKrell melted my heart with their gentle and sweet harmonies on “Danny Boy,” a song McKrell introduced as his most requested song. Rather than getting louder as they rose in pitch, the duet was able to lean into each other and rest on the harmonies together, creating a lush, full sound that contrasted the sad emptiness of the lyrics about loss.
From there, the night just took off, with McKrell zooming on and off the stage with introductions. Michael Eck joined Good Things and covered The McKrell’s “I Miss the Rain” with some breathtaking plucking and harmonies. Eck impressed us again with “One of the Old Songs,” sharing his sadness about the loss of many of his contemporaries and friends. Reverence for Eck was notable both from the musicians on stage and the audience; he is a local giant whose beginnings in punk have transitioned most recently to Lost Radio Rounders’ folk sound. The group ended with “Seize the Day” in tribute to Frank Jaklitsch.
McKrell’s daughter Kate was then joined by local musician Chris Powers on stage for their powerful rendition of “City of Chicago.” While focused on the Irish immigration story, the song was a reminder to many of Irish heritage that our more contemporary immigrants still face similar issues that their ancestors faced.
The music continued to shift to more modern Irish songs for much of the night, and the crowd both enjoyed the music but called out demands for more Irish music. When Jeff Strange asked the audience for requests, many Irish folk songs were requested simultaneously. And while Get Up Jack joined the stage and helped out, much of the music strayed from traditional Irish pub tunes and folk songs as the night progressed.
McKrell is a gift to our community in many ways, and not just around St. Patrick’s Day when he helps us celebrate Irish culture through music. His willingness to share the stage, bringing out old and new musicians alike, lets him shine as a collaborator and community organizer.
The night went long and finished as all McKrell concerts do: with great pub songs and a gorgeous rendition of “The Parting Glass.” Their encore, “All the Hard Days Are Gone,” lifted the audience out of their seats and, as McKrell predicted, raised the roof of The Egg with joyous song and dance.