It is now ten years since the Johnny Keenan Banjo Festival strummed its first cord in Longford town. Tomorrow (Thursday September 22) the festival swings into action once again and with it comes a schedule of artists that would surely be the envy of many festivals.
“I think in the beginning a lot of people wouldn’t have thought that we would make it to our 10th year because let’s face it, a lot of festivals don’t make it,” said Chris Keenan, co-founder of the Johnny Keenan Banjo Festival. “The festival was originally set up after my husband Johnny died of lung cancer in 2000.
“In America I worked in recording promotions and marketing so it just made sense as there was a gap in the market in terms of banjo festivals in Ireland. Then I met Kathy Casey and I dragged her on board and the rest, as they say, is history.”
For Chris one of the key highlights over the ten years has been the Earl Scruggs performance at Slasher’s in 2004.
“It was the largest seated event in Longford and it was the first time I ever saw a massive standing ovation before the artist even played,” said Chris. “It was certainly overwhelming for me.”
According to Chris the Johnny Keenan Banjo Festival has been developing with each year that goes by.
“Little by little we have gotten more local people to come and listen to the music,” she said. “We develop every year and in fact the banjo festival is probably more famous in America than it is in Longford.”
Over the course of the ten years, the Johnny Keenan Banjo Festival has seen many international award-winning artists flock to Longford. Names such as Gerry Douglas (Dobro player), Alison Brown, Steve Earle and Iris de Ment have become common place each year at Longford’s banjo festival.
This year there are a number of events taking place to celebrate the 10th year of the Johnny Keenan Banjo Festival, including the first ever busking competition.
“This will add a lot of life to the town,” said Chris in speaking to the Leader. “It’s free to enter and all types of instruments and music is welcome. All types of players too.”
On Saturday and Sunday next an independent panel of judges will walk the town listening to these musicians. If you are interested in registering for the busking competition, contact the Banjo Festival Office at the Longford Tourist Office in the Market Square. Once registered, each act will receive a number.
“The overall winner will then be invited to perform on the main stage on Sunday night,” said Chris. “We’ve had several people register already, both individually and as bands.”
Among the notable figures to travel to Longford for the 10th year of the Johnny Keenan Banjo Festival are Deering Banjos, the largest banjo makers in the world, and Tre-o Records. Also present will be Clareen Banjo who are making a special banjo called the Johnny Keenan 10 that will be auctioned over the course of the weekend.
Also during the weekend two CDs will be officially launched by Irish band Tupelo and the Carter Brothers (USA). On Thursday September 22 Tupelo will launch their CD in Fox’s pub on Richmond Street. On Friday the Carter Brothers will follow suit with their launch in Foley’s Pub on Ballymahon Street. Their CD is called ‘The Road to Rooskey’.
Overall it promises to be a weekend to remember. Book your ticket now by clicking on www.ticketmaster.ie or visit the Music Centre, Longford. For further information about the Johnny Keenan Banjo Festival 2011 visit www.johnnykeenan.com