Special/Signature Issues » Folk Used to Be a Bad Word

Martin Hayes: Shamrock Star



You never know where your music will end up. Just ask Irish fiddler Martin Hayes about one of his famous fans. “I heard Steven Spielberg has one of my albums,” he says. “That's pretty cool.” 

A modest kind of guy, he'll gladly offer a brief history of traditional Irish music that far surpasses most Americans' assumptions that it's merely the soundtrack to St. Patty's Day and the backdrop for Michael Flatly-style river dancing. “With all indigenous cultures there are music forms that are rooted in the heart, the land and the people,” he says. “That music has a lot to offer for humanity. It's almost like the earth speaking.”

The soft-spoken, County Clare native has been recognized internationally as one of the most revered Irish music players, snagging such accolades as the Folk Instrumentalist of the Year from BBC Radio and a National Entertainment Award (aka the Irish Grammy). Of his songs, Hayes says, “it's traditional Irish music, but as with all music the artist is allowed to find a voice with that and I feel we do.” The “we” refers to his longtime touring and recording companion, Dennis Cahill, a guitarist that he met upon coming to America some 25 years ago.

Unlike many virtuosos, Hayes acknowledges, “It didn't exactly come naturally, I mean I forced a fiddle under my chin.” He laughs. “I struggled with it the same way everybody does. I don't think I have any genetic culture or advantage. That all being said, the music, the melody especially, comes naturally.”

Embracing the idea that folk music is by and for all people; he reiterates time and time again: “You don't have to be familiar with it to enjoy it.”

: 9:45-10:30 p.m. on the Altria Stage.
Saturday: Noon-12:45 p.m. on the Ukrop's/First Market Stage.
Saturday: 5-5:45 p.m. on the Altria Stage.

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