TRYING to recreate anything Bruce Springsteen has done can be a risky business and few have managed it successfully.
Born to Run, The River, Human Touch, classics one and all.
Add to that the sheer brio with which The Boss delivers them and they are elevated beyond the capabilities of most other artists.
When Chris Speer summoned four friends to a community hall in Killeter in 2021 then to tell them he was thinking of reviving The Seeger Sessions, there was undoubtedly an element of scepticism.
Speer though, best known as one fifth of Castlederg folk rock outfit The Logues, was adamant that it could be done.
He got to work convincing a total of 14 musicians to get on board – a mix of fiddle players, banjo, accordion, steel guitar, whistle, drums, brass and a thumping rhythm section.
Over the following weeks and months traditional bluegrass, folk, Dixieland and gospel tunes like John Henry, Mrs McGrath and Old Dan Tucker were resurrected until The Seeger Sessions Revival was complete.
Donegal vocalist and double bass player Michael Gillespie was there that night in Killeter when the idea of revisiting the Springsteen project was first aired.
“I knew Chris because I was in a band called Kintra some years ago,” Michael said.
“It was 2021 when he sent me a message saying he was thinking about this idea and would myself and another Donegal musician, Zara Montgomery, be interested in seeing how it went.
“So there was four of us, Dermot McGee from Letterkenny was there too, in this hall in Killeter.”
The Seeger Sessions Revival’s opening gig was a relatively low key affair in front of a crowd of 50 people in John Joe’s Bar, Kilcar.
Their first official outing though was on stage in Strabane’s Alley Theatre on April 28 last year.
impact of COVID
“The whole thing came about on the back of Covid where most of us went from playing 100 nights a year to basically no nights,” said Michael.
“When Chris got in contact, none of us knew how it was going to go and that night in John Joe’s, that was actually the first time we were all in a room together.
“John Joe’s only advertised us as a ‘surprise band’ and then the whole lot of us turned up. I don’t know what they must have made of us but about 50 people turned up and they seemed to enjoy us.”
From the back lounge of John Joe’s things quickly grew more spirited, energetic, musically exuberant and busy. The band’s return to Kilcar, this time to the Áislann Chill Chartha, saw 420 people pack in to see them.
What would Springsteen make of it?
There is a possibility he could answer that very question in person shortly.
The Seeger Sessions Revival has a gig in Dublin’s Button Factory on May 6, a night off for the New Jersey legend during a three concert run in the RDS.
As for the man who inspired the original project, singer and social activist Pete Seeger, chances are he would have loved it.
After all didn’t he drop out of Harvard to join Woody Guthrie on picket lines and at soup kitchens to sing the same rousing songs of protest in support of America’s disenfranchised?
“It has been fun and that has all stemmed from Chris who had this vision about what he wanted to do,” said Michael.
“On stage there are a lot of moving parts but at the same time you have a lot of professional musicians who just naturally fall into the same flow.
“I think what makes it such a great live experience for an audience is how much fun the band is having. You have such a mix of different talents and everyone is just up there having fun which in turn makes it fun for those on the other side of it.
“I’ve met people who have come to every gig we’ve done. I’ve met people at our gigs who have travelled all over the world to see Bruce Springsteen and who have an incredible love for what he does and for that style of music.”
So far The Seeger Sessions Revival has played only in Ireland. But with the likes of John Byrne of the Minertones and Daryl Nelson and Chris Speer of the hugely popular Logues, it is only a matter of time before it becomes bigger than the island.
Nothing has been set in stone but it does appear that at some stage audiences overseas will get to enjoy the group’s unique brand of Irish Americana.
“The way I see it is that if it gets established as a good night and a fun time then it can’t fail,” said Michael.
“What is really encouraging is that when we are playing people are on their feet earlier and earlier.
“With a new band you usually have family and friends at your first couple of gigs and you might have had them up dancing for two or three songs.
“What we are seeing is people on their feet from early in the second half and that can only be a good thing.”
The Seeger Sessions Revival comes to Letterkenny’s An Grianán Theatre on February 3.Tickets are on sale today from www.angrianan.com.
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