Cork musician Roy Buckley has been discussing recently how he took his music across the sea and broke into the American market.
The 34-year-old, who recently released his single The Old Man on Patrick Street, has been playing in Las Vegas for a while now. His mix of traditional folk songs and Irish ballads have a wide appeal but, despite working full time in music since the age of 18, success did not come instantly for Buckley. The Irish Examiner reveals that Irish culture is hugely popular in the United States, with a large ex-pat community and many modern-day Americans having Irish roots. However, that alone is not enough for an artist to thrive, as Buckley explained recently.
“I started in America when Dave Browne from The Black Donnellys brought me over there. Derek Warfield (from The Young Wolfetones) booked gigs around America and started giving me places to play such as in Florida and Las Vegas. I was lucky to have music friends who were able to give me work.”
He was in the United States just prior to lockdown, returning to Cork just before the crisis took hold. Since then, Buckley has been writing material and hosted a virtual Irish pub gig for St Patrick’s Day, which he says, ‘went crazy’ and is now a regular thing.
“I do it every Wednesday and Saturday now on my Facebook page. That has kept me sane. I’m having great fun with it and my heroes are dropping in such as Pete St John and Phil Coulter, who leave a few comments.”
Part of Buckley’s appeal was described in an interview with Shane Supple in 2010. His knowledge of folk songs, and the stories behind them, allow him to create a real connection with his audience, not only through the music but the folklore that inspired it. In a country with such a fondness for Irish culture such as the United States, that makes him a popular act.
The fact that he has been such a success in Vegas is not surprising as the city has a rich history of embracing Irish culture. Earlier this year, 8 News Now investigative reporter George Knapp hosted a televised talk titled the Cultures of Las Vegas: The Irish. “Historically, the Irish are known as great storytellers, in literature, poetry, and music,” said Knapp. “Irish-Americans have carried on that tradition and have played key roles in both the telling and the making of the history of Nevada and the country.” This is a key reason why Irish culture is also heavily present in Las Vegas’ through the many Irish pubs on and off the strip.
Indeed, many of the city’s Irish pubs have successfully brought Vegas and Ireland together through concerts, food and beverage, and gaming. Roy Buckley has played at establishments like the Ri Ra on Saint Patrick’s Day, to bring authentic Irish folk music to the strip. Other bars like McMullan’s Irish Pub have embraced Vegas through holding Keno progressive lottery games and video poker that are heavily influenced by Irish culture. This is no surprise as Vegas and online gaming platforms have always embraced Ireland’s rich heritage to find new audiences. Foxy Games has lots of titles that draw heavily from Ireland’s folklore, including Book of the Irish and Leprechaun Song, which include many of the same motifs that inspires much of the music that Buckley plays. This merging of Irish culture, live performances, and gaming in bars is how many of Vegas’ residents and visitors will have likely first experienced Irish folk music. And by embracing Irish art, music, and literature through these outlets, as well the numerous live concerts, Vegas has become one of the best locations in the U.S. for Irish music and culture.
Another Irish musician who could be poised to break out in the US is James Yorkston. He has not had the commercial success of Buckley overseas yet, but 2019 tour saw him perform in Munich, Berlin and Stockholm before several UK dates. His recent release The Irish Wars of Independence also drew heavily from the sort of influences seen by Buckley. However, to crack the US market, it seems a little leg up is the only way forward.
Once the world returns to normal we can expect Buckley to keep expanding his fan base in America, and promoting Irish music to new audiences.