Arts, Dining & Entertainment, Column, Rockin' The Region

Rockin’ the Region with Curragh’s Fancy

By DJ Dave Hoffenberg

Live music is what I missed most during the pandemic. Killington had a few places doing music but one had taken 15 months off, until now. One that people, including myself, have come to love seeing music at unfortunately had to take a break, until now. I am pleased to announce that July 9 and 10 at 7:30 p.m., McGrath’s Irish Pub will be bringing its longest running band, Curragh’s Fancy, back and will now have live music every weekend.

Curragh’s Fancy is Bob Fowkes from Braintree, Massachusetts, on guitar/bass, Michael Kelley from Bridgewater Corners,Vermont, on bass/mandolin/guitar and Dave Leahy from Stoneham, Massachusetts, on guitar/tenor banjo/tin whistle/mandolin. All three of them share in the singing. Fowkes said Kelley is a terrific player and Leahy can play anything with strings and is unbelievably talented. He said jokingly his own three chords hold it all together but it’s their harmonies that really make the group.

Curragh’s Fancy first played at McGrath’s during February vacation 1986 and have been coming back every year since. You can also see them Columbus Day weekend.

Fowkes said, “It’s one of our favorite places to play.”

Most of their show is Celtic oriented. They play a lot of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. Fowkes added, “Those have been around forever. People know them, love them and sing along with them. It’s a lot of fun to do those.”

They also play some newer Irish bands like Great Big Sea, Black 47 and play folk songs from Bob Dylan, The Beatles, John Prine and many more. They try and add 10 songs a year. They play a lot of maritime music from Nova Scotia where Fowkes’s wife is from. He said the musical culture up there is amazing.

A curragh is an Irish boat used for fishing. Since the band plays a lot of Celtic music but also Maritime music, they felt the name captured their flavor perfectly.

Fowkes said they really enjoy playing at McGrath’s. “The beauty from a performance perspective is the people who come into the Pub want to hear the music and we’re delighted with that. It makes us play better to know people are listening.”

They’ll play a long first set, then each member will do a short solo set and then back to the trio.

Being there as long as they have, they’ve come to know the staff really well and had high praise for them. Fowkes said, “Murray and Patty are terrific, Owen at the bar, Bob and Anna are some of the nicest people. And Oke at the front desk always offers a wonderful welcoming. We come in, they have big smiles and are happy to see us. We’re really looking forward to coming back.”

Leahy and Fowkes have been playing together since 1981. They were in a duo for a long time and also played in a larger group, The Irish Volunteers.

Fowkes said, “They took us in and showed us the ropes. They were the greatest guys. It was a lot of fun.”

He and Leahy just happened to be at one of their shows on the same night. They met Kelley through a mutual friend and Fowkes said, “He jumped in on bass and his harmonies were terrific. He organically started playing with us and that was 25 years ago so we’ve been at it a long time. Sometimes you make a mistake, here and there. We just laugh it off, move along and have fun.”

There’s been talks of retirement, but for now this is what they do and they like it. They’ve become great friends over the years.

They hooked up with McGrath’s through Murray’s dad, Kyran. He booked them sight unseen. Kyran said, “If it works for you, we’ll go forward. If it works for us, we’ll go forward. If it doesn’t work, nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

Fowkes said he couldn’t have been nicer and Murray’s mom Rosemary was a sweetheart. Fowkes talked about the inn now, saying Murray and Patty really know how to run a place and that comes from Kyran and Rosemary. He added, “It’s no surprise Brogan is fitting right in there. Overall experience, it’s just the best room that we play. Top shelf. It’s developed into a great relationship.”

They’ve made a lot of great friends up here over the years but none stand out more that Lenny Burke and his mother, Emmie. Burke suffered a traumatic brain injury in high school. They met him years later as an adult but Fowkes said Burke would come in and was always smiling even with all his challenges and had such a positive attitude. They started Lenny Burke Farm which is a residential treatment center for people with brain injuries. The band would go there and play for them.

Fowkes said, “Emmie is a pillar of strength, she’s unbelievable.” Burke passed in 2018. (Please Google his story.)

The pandemic gave Curragh’s Fancy an 18 month break. They had their first gig a month ago and all remarked later how much they missed playing and seeing the smiling faces in the crowd. Fowkes said, “The takeaway from Covid is we realized how lucky we are to be able to do this and make friends. The energy and camaraderie we share with each other and the crowd is powerful. We reach for that every time we play. Sometimes we get there, sometimes we don’t but we send everyone home with a smile. Music is good for the soul.”

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