St. Patrick’s Day in the United States has evolved into a secular celebration of the patron saint of Ireland and Irish culture, an unofficial holiday filled with parades and awash in green beer and traditional Irish music.
For people like Nick Carswell, a Lawrence resident and native of Limerick, Ireland, the day means something more, especially when it comes to music.
To that end, Carswell has organized a concert Thursday night at Liberty Hall in Lawrence that he is calling “Songs From Ireland.” It will feature a variety of music from several decades and centuries, from traditional Celtic music to rock and roll.
“I hope it will be all about showcasing the wide range of music that has come out of Ireland,” he said. “If there’s a common thread, it’s the voice of the singer-songwriter and the role it plays.”
Carswell will perform at the concert with his pop/folk/soul quartet Carswell & Hope. But the show will open with some traditional Celtic music from Kansas native and Celtic singer-songwriter Ashley Davis. She’ll be performing with Cormac de Barra, a renowned Celtic harpist.
“She’s a Celtic singer-songwriter and will be probably the closest to the traditional form of Irish music,” Carswell said. “...So it’ll be a true Kansan doing the purest renditions of traditional Irish songs.”
Carswell & Hope will follow with a set that will mix some original songs with covers. Carswell plans on adding Audrey Herren on cello and Katlyn Conroy on some vocals.
Then the show will take a wide turn.
“Then we’re going to open it up to a wide range of songs from Ireland, everything from ’70s Van Morrison, some Paul Brady, some Boomtown Rats — a bit of Bob Geldof (who organized Live Aid) — and then move toward something even more contemporary, like The Cranberries and Sinead O’Connor and then a Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy) song by way of The Corrs,” Carswell said.
“So there will be songs for fans of the traditional form, then a branching out to a wider range and time frame. Some people may not even recognize The Cranberries are Irish, but they’re from Limerick, my hometown.”
Carswell wants a theme of sorts to emerge from that part of the evening: the varied roles and styles of the Irish singer-songwriter.
“Like Paul Brady is a great example of someone who has been around a while in many facets,” he said. “He was made famous singing versions of ‘The Lakes of Pontchartrain’ and other amazing traditional songs, even stretching beyond Ireland’s shores, stories that are more than just Irish stories and songs.
“And then there are people like Van Morrison who makes you think, ‘What makes someone an Irish singer-songwriter?’ Van now works in the blues but still has his folk roots.
“I’d like to show in a lot of different contexts that there’s a common thread to it all.”
The greater intent, however, is, on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, to broaden the exposure to one aspect of Irish culture, one that can get overshadowed by all the parades, green beer and “Kiss Me I’m Irish” buttons and T-shirts.
“All good holidays are about people having a good time one way or another,” said Carswell, who moved to Lawrence in 2011. “But having been over here for some time now, I’ve noticed a culture’s identity is kind of a fluid thing, in some ways. That’s what’s exciting about celebrating the different aspects of Irish culture.
“What gets tired is when the stereotypes come into play and become the standard, and there’s no real room for variety. There’s a lot more to Irish heritage and culture than that, and as an Irishman, I feel it’s important to celebrate all of that.”
“Songs From Ireland” begins at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Liberty Hall in Lawrence. Performers will include Carswell & Hope, Ashley Davis, Cormac de Barra, Audrey Herren and Katyln Conroy. Tickets to the all-ages show are $15 and $20.