Arts

Stars Darin & Brooke Aldridge on performing at Omagh Bluegrass Festival

Jenny Lee previews the Annual Bluegrass Music Festival in Omagh and chats to headliners Darin and Brooke Aldridge

Bluegrass duo Darin & Brooke Aldridge, will bring this year's Annual Bluegrass Music Festival in Omagh to a close with a special gospel concert in the folk parks 18th century style Meeting House

THERE will be strumming on the porches of the log cabins, dancing in the cobbled streets and jamming outside the General Store as the 27th Annual Bluegrass Music Festival gets under way at Omagh’s Ulster American Folk Park tomorrow.

This year’s line-up includes traditional music veterans Mike Compton and Joe Newberry, Demolition String Band, Whiskey Deaf, Fellow Pynins and Allen Family Reunion all direct from the USA and Canada, plus Old Salt Collective from Belgium and Midnight Skyracer and Old Baby Mackerel from England.

There will also be homegrown talent from throughout Ireland including Two Time Polka, The Henrys and Northern Exposure.

The very talented Allen Family Reunion from London, Ontario will be opening the Festival with their traditional bluegrass standards. Husband and wife duo Darin and Brooke Aldridge can trace their roots back to Omagh, Co Tyrone, and their stellar band draws on the traditions of their native North Carolina.

Both highly acclaimed vocalists in their own right, Darin and Brooke combine rich harmonies with impeccable musicianship.

The pair, who met at their local church, combine their faith, talent, and ambition both personally and professionally.

Accompanied by a young, gifted band of five, they will headline Saturday's festival line-up, bringing the event to a close with their Spirit of Bluegrass concert in the 18th Century Old World Meeting House.

"We will have a few surprises for the folk in Ireland," says Darin, who is excited to be visiting and performing here for the first time.

"We will be performing hits from our last three or four albums. We have a new album coming out this Fall and we will be sharing a few singles off that as well.

"Airport security is the hardest part. We get nervous because we don't want our instruments to get lost or damaged, but so far we've not ran into too many issues," adds Darin, who spent six years as a member of the acclaimed County Gentleman and is a highly sought-after multi-instrumentalist.

Darin and Brooke Aldridge and band perform

Brooke, who has been lauded for her hugely powerful voice, is the current International Bluegrass Music Associations’ (IMBA) Female Vocalist of the Year, earning her the title 'Queen of Bluegrass'.

She has been nominated once again for the 2018 Female Vocalist Of The Year and the pair have been jointly nominated for the Gospel Recorded Performance Of The Year for I'm Going Under.

"It was definitely an honour to be recognised for something you love doing and have had a passion for your whole life," she tells me.

Throughout her childhood and college, Brooke was obsessed with singing and dreamed of heading to Nashville for a professional career.

Apparently, she still pinches herself every time she steps out on the stage of The Grand Ole Opry.

"July 2017 was our debut [there]," she recalls.

"We may have performed there six times this year, but for me every time feels like the first time every time. It's one of those stages which as far as a musician goes you dream about playing. It's surreal. There's no words to describe it.

"Other highlights include getting to play with a lot of our musical heroes such as John Cowan and Jimmy Fortune."

The Henry Family Band are also part of the three-day line up at this year's Ulster American Folk Park

Whilst they admit that when not touring they sit around the living room playing and come up with tunes, Brooke adds "we really wouldn't have it the other way."

For their latest single Every Time You Leave, which revives a classic country love song originally written and performed by The Louvin Brothers, the pair are accompanied by Jimmy Fortune of the Statler Brothers.

"Everytime You Leave captures the musical creativity and writing styles that we’ve always been inspired by from the Louvin Brothers," explains Darin.

"We were very excited to have our dear friend Jimmy Fortune add his vocal touch with ours. We were touring with Jimmy the last two years and we talked about recording something with him.

"It's one we pulled out for our new recording. It showcases the blend of our voices perfectly and makes an already amazing tune even more powerful."

The duo have had several tracks at the top of the charts on Americana/Roots, SiriusXM, Bluegrass and Gospel charts and are delighted to see the wide and enduring appeal of Bluegrass music.

"It's very family orientated," says Darin, who won the 2017 IBMA award for Mentor of the Year for the work he has down with young people and local bands over the past 20 years.

"The storytelling element is similar to Irish music, with stories of faith and love. It's very personal music which folk of all ages can relate to."

And his advice to young musicians of any genre?

"Put all your heart and soul into it. Always be creative and show people what you can do."

:: The 27th Annual Bluegrass Festival takes place at the Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh, from August 31 until September 2. For further information and tickets visit Nmni.com/Whats-on or call 028 8224 3292

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