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Kicking it with the Dropkick Murphys

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A conversation with Ken Casey

BANGOR - Most of the time, labeling a band is fairly easy. As a rule, music tends to settle into an easily defined genre. Sure, there are a wealth of subgenres, but the majority of bands can still be painted with the broad strokes of 'rock' or 'folk' or 'country' or what have you.

Then there are the bands that simply refuse to be pigeonholed quite so easy. Bands like the Dropkick Murphys. Yes, they're a punk band, but they're so much more than that - they've achieved a unique synthesis of punk rock, Celtic folk and power-to-the-people sensibility.

And they're coming to the Bangor Waterfront.

The Dropkick Murphys are headlining the Shamrock-N-Roll Festival, a daylong extravaganza featuring Stiff Little Fingers, Street Dogs, Chuck Ragan, the Mahones and the Parkington Sisters among many others. This show hits the Waterfront Stage on Sept. 10 - it's the second stop on the tour after opening with two (long sold-out) shows at Boston's Fenway Park.

Ken Casey, bass player, vocalist and founding member of the Dropkick Murphys was nice enough to spend a few minutes talking with The Maine Edge about Shamrock-N-Roll, coming to Bangor, the band's newest album and assorted other topics. We started by talking about the festival.

'It's important to the band to keep things fresh and interesting - both for us and for the audience,' Casey said. 'It's a good opportunity for more bang for the buck; hopefully, it makes for a good day.

'All of the bands have been friends for a long time,' he continued. 'It's nice for the band to play with a bunch of groups that we respect. It's great to have the chance to spend time with bands that we like and enjoy.'

It speaks highly of the reputation that Waterfront Concerts has built in the short span of its existence that they managed to land a show like this. Even more impressive is the fact that they landed this show right at the beginning of the tour. As it stands, with the two Fenway shows sold out, this is the earliest ticket you can get. So what made the band decide to make their way north?

'We love Maine,' said Casey. 'That area has always been near and dear to our hearts. Northern New England has always been great to us. Our last time here was in Portland a while back; we were definitely due to come back. [Plus] we heard some really good things about the space and location.'

The Dropkick Murphys have been bringing their unique blend of punk rock and Irish folk to audiences for a long time now. The development of their sound was a gradual process, according to Casey. He might be the only remaining 'original' member of the band in a technical sense, but he doesn't see it that way.

'It seems like [it's been] ages,' he chuckled. 'We started up about 16 years ago. Matt has been with us since we started being a serious band, maybe nine months to a year after we started.

'The inception of the band was something very natural,' continued Casey. 'I grew up in a household where Irish music was prevalent. So I rebelled against it; as a teenager, I listened mostly to punk and hardcore. Turns out, the structures are kind of similar; they blend together. Irish music and punk go hand in hand as far as I'm concerned.'

In truth, there are a lot of people who have discovered that connection thanks to the music of Casey and his cohorts. And lest we forget, this is a band that is just as popular overseas as it is here - perhaps even more so. In fact, they will have only been back in the country for less than a month when this newest tour kicks off.

'We've got a [significant] international following. We've spent a lot of time in Europe,' Casey said. 'We tour overseas just as much as we tour the United States. Central Europe might even be our biggest fans. It's a vehicle to play for a lot of people.

'We definitely climbed the ladder over there; it reached the point where we were closing festivals over better selling bands.'

Of course, no conversation with a member of the Dropkick Murphys would be complete without some discussion of the connection that has sprung up with the Boston Red Sox over the past decade.

'It all started in 2004 with the remake of Tessie,' which is an old Irish fight song,' Casey said. 'The Red Sox approached us because we had done modernizations of plenty of Irish songs. When we debuted the song at Fenway, it was the Varitek/A-Rod game.'

(For those who aren't fans and have somehow never seen the iconic photo, this was the July 24 Red Sox/Yankees game where Jason Varitek and Alex Rodriguez got into it at home plate. Many consider this the singular turning point that led to 2004's delightful championship results.)

'[After the song's success], we played during the playoffs,' he continued. 'We picked a good year to get involved. They called again in 2007. We played again and they won again.

'We're two for two. After that, it naturally became sort of a thing. We played in the 2007 parade after the championship. We have a real history with the team in its biggest moments.'

He paused.

'I hope the fact that we're playing Fenway Park again this year might bring back the magic. Maybe we can go three for three.'

We also talked a little bit about the band's latest album 'Going Out In Style.' It was the band's best debut ever, reaching number six on the Billboard charts upon its release. It's their second studio release on their own Born and Bred Records label.

'It's been great,' said Casey. '[But] we're not the Rolling Stones, you know? We're not about quantity, we're about consistency. The older albums are just as popular as ever. Epitaph [the band's previous label] says that we're the biggest catalog seller that they've got.'

There's no doubt that the Dropkick Murphys are one of the most energetic, enthusiastic and unique musical acts out there. Their fan base is a fanatically loyal one. Living where we do, it makes sense that that regional connection would simply enhance our passion for the band. For instance, each and every Red Sox fan among us - whether we actually like the songs or not - instantly recognizes the opening strains of 'Tessie' and 'Shipping Up to Boston.'

Again, there are few - if any - bands out there that can match the Dropkick Murphys in terms of the quality of their music, the energy of their performances and the uniqueness of their sound. They are a punk band and an Irish folk band. They are an excellent live band and they are an excellent studio band. In truth, there is only one label that can reliably be applied to this band.

Great.

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