Brooklyn ‘buskers' Spirit Family Reunion are Bangor-bound

Michael Jackson chats to Brooklyn 'buskers' Spirit Family Reunion as who kick off their huge European tour at the Open House Festival in Bangor tomorrow evening.

Spirit Family Reunion play the Open House Festival tomorrow
Michael Jackson

MODERN day New York may not seem like a city where folk-music careers are typically launched – but then there is nothing typical about Brooklyn band Spirit Family Reunion.

They have made it 'there' and could, as Frank Sinatra once hypothesized, 'make it anywhere' as they begin a huge European tour at the Open House Festival in Bangor tomorrow.

Formed in 2010, Spirit Family Reunion started out busking on street corners like many other musicians. For most buskers the plaudits begin and end with a few coins hastily fished from the bottom of strangers' pockets as they pass by.

However, Spirit Family Reunion were not content to stop there: despite not being signed to a record label, they tenaciously worked to create three self-released albums by 2012 – the year they first visited Ireland.

The alternative-folk sextet now has another two albums under their belt and, given the reception they received last time they were in Ireland, it made sense for them to return for their current tour.

I caught up with the band for a Q&A ahead of their Bangor, Cookstown, and Kilkenny shows.

Hi guys. You're kicking off your European tour here in Ireland at the Open House Festival in Bangor. Are you looking forward to the festival? How does it feel to be coming back to Ireland?

Since our last tour in Ireland in 2012 we've been itching to return, so we're really excited to come back and kick off our first broader European tour from Ireland.

Mark Hamilton will be supporting you on the bill at Open House Festival. What do you think of his music? Are you excited to hear him play?

It was great to catch up with some Irish musicians last time we were around, so yeah, we're looking forward to hearing much more.

It has been a few years since you have visited Ireland. What is it like for you playing here?

A lot of the crowds we've played for in Ireland were really enthusiastic and just seemed like great lovers of music. We have been fortunate enough to build a relationship with some audiences around America, who we've played for and visited time and time again.

A country where we haven't played as much, like Ireland, is like playing for people who've never heard our music before and don't know us.

Getting the chance to make a first impression is exciting.

You are a pretty prolific band, releasing five albums in five years with your latest being just over a year old. Are you working on any new material at the moment?

We've tried to share our music in all different forms, whether it's studio albums, or songbooks, home recordings, or the live album we put out earlier this year – trying to enjoy the freedoms of the Internet and not being constrained by any big contracts.

We do have some new stuff we've been recording in the studio this year and we'll be playing some new songs, learning some new songs, maybe even writing some new songs on this tour.

What is your process for writing new music?

Different songs have different origins, but it remains a pretty loose structure and whoever brings a good song into the fold, whether it's something they wrote or something they picked up somewhere, we'll all learn it and try to deliver it together.

Most of our songs do have one original author as far as basic melodies or words go.

Many of your albums have been self-released. Did you find it difficult to adjust when working with bigger record labels?

We've always been an independent band and that hasn't changed. We've had some help with distributing our last album but we've still been just as hands-on for the whole process.

Working with a company can be handy to get into record stores. But nobody will care as much about your music as you do, and it takes that love and dedication to do a good job.

There is real appetite for American-folk music throughout the world at the moment. Do you think there is a revival underway?

I guess good music always has a place. If it's strong, humble, vulnerable, genuine, people will relate to it.

As that becomes more and more distinct from everything else we encounter, the appetite grows.

There seems to be a natural affinity for American folk music here in Ireland. Why do you think that might be?

There's a clear line between traditional Irish music and American music. We just repackaged it. That's the American way.

How does playing at bigger venues compare to when you started out? Do you ever miss busking or playing at some more intimate venues?

This is actually going to be our first time playing in Europe outside of Ireland, which we've always wanted to do.

We're built for small stages and intimate rooms, but we always try to play with the same intensity no matter where we are.

:: Spirit Family Reunion, Saturday August 13, The Goat's Toe, Bangor. Tickets priced £15 from


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