Back in those fondly remembered days of the Grinch (if you can remember them), Kevin McKrell was a founding member of the much beloved Irish music trio Donnybrook Fair. Since then, he’s helmed several like-minded bands – including Hard Times, the Hard Road Ceilidh Band and, of course, the McKrells. He’s also been a regular at the annual holiday concerts Mountain Snow & Mistletoe and Melodies of Christmas. And let’s not forget his venture into doo-wop in the ’80s with the all-star Fabulous Newports.
But all the while, he’s also maintained his solo career, and his new album serves as something of a retrospective, as McKrell offers new recordings of some of his earlier songs, revisiting “I Miss the Rain,” “Lost in Your Eyes” and an exquisite take on “Bound for Boston.”
As the leader of any number of the Local 518’s finest Irish bands over the years – from Donnybrook Fair to the McKrells – Kevin McKrell is quite accustomed to having an over-loaded gig list when St. Patrick’s Day rolls along on the calendar.
But in recent years, the Christmas season has become just as hectic and jam-packed for him.
He’s back at The Egg in Albany at 8pm on Saturday and again at 2pm on Sunday for the annual “Mountain Snow & Mistletoe” celebration led by folk faves Christopher Shaw and Bridget Ball. Once again, Kevin joins fiddler John Kirk and percussionist Brian Melick as the three-piece Mountain Snow Orchestra, and the McKrell-Melick duet of “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (better known as “The Night Before Christmas”) is always a riotous highlight of the seasonal show. Tix are $24.
Then next week, Kevin and the McKrells roll into a four-day stand at Proctors in Schenectady, returning as special guests for the 32nd annual Melodies of Christmas concerts, featuring the Empire State Orchestra & Youth Chorale. Showtimes are 7pm on Thursday-Saturday (December 15-17) as well as 3pm on Sunday, December 18. Tix are $25, although there are a limited number of $15 tix available for Thursday and Friday.
This weekend there’s a two-day fundraiser for the Timothy J. Murphy Foundation, which provides scholarship support to the children and grandchildren of local public safety officers.
It kicks off with a benefit bash at McGeary’s Pub in Albany from 2-6pm on Sunday (July 10). Music will be provided by Nippertown fave singer-songwriter Kevin McKrell, followed by the band Jericho Joe. There will also be a wide array of raffle prizes offered. Donation is $25, which includes beer, soda and light fare.
The fun continues with a golf tournament at the Capital Hills Golf Course on Monday (July 11). Registration for singles and foursomes begins at 11am. Then lunch and a shotgun start at 12noon. After a great day on the links, there’s a Happy Hour session at 5pm, followed by a 6pm awards dinner, where lots of big prizes – including prime tix Saratoga Race Track and other sporting events, as well as certificates for merchandise and area restaurants – will be awarded to golfers. Tickets for golf and all other Monday activities are $125; dinner-only tix are $50.
NAME: Kevin McKrell
BAND: Melick, Moody & McKrell
1. THE FIRST ALBUM I EVER BOUGHT WAS … The first album I ever purchased was by Herman’s Hermits. Uncool as it may seem, it had great tunes: “I’m Into Something Good,” “Sea Cruise,” “Mrs. Brown.” The first album I ever owned was a present from my parents, also a very cool recording, The Kingston Trio’s “Live at the Hungry I.”
2. THE FIRST CONCERT THAT I EVER SAW WAS … Not really sure about this. The Allman Brothers at SPAC or the Star Spangled Washboard Band at Columbia High School in East Greenbush. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
3. THE FIRST MUSICAL INSTRUMENT I EVER OWNED OR PLAYED WAS … The first guitar I ever played was Jeff Strange’s Guild Madiera. The first I ever owned was a Guild D-40 C, which thankfully I still own and play.
OK, just about every Nippertown music fan knows that Kevin McKrell and his musical posse always work overtime in the weeks leading up to St. Patrick’s Day. But it seems that he works just as hard around the Christmas holidays, too.
The McKrells launched their holiday touring season on the day after Black Friday with a concert at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Mass. From there, they headed into Proctors in Schenectady for four consecutive days of “Melodies of Christmas,” sharing the stage with jazz vibes master, Grammy nominee and Albany native Stefon Harris and his band Blackout.
Last weekend, the McKrells Christmas show landed at the Rensselaer Chapel + Cultural Center in Troy, before Kevin headed over to The Egg in Albany for two performances of “Mountain Snow and Mistletoe” headed up by Chris Shaw and Bridget Ball.
Now the performance schedule really kicks into high gear…
On Thursday (December 17), the McKrells play the first of three holiday shows at the Parting Glass in Saratoga Springs. The other Parting Glass shows are Friday (December 18) and Wednesday, December 23. But inbetween, the McKrells will make a quick dash over to the Spa Little Theater in the Saratoga State Park for a Christmas show on Sunday (December 20).
You can see “Melodies of Christmas” – featuring the McKrells (Kevin McKrell, Katie McKrell, percussionist Brian Melick and fiddler Sara Milonovich) – broadcast on WRGB-TV (Ch. 6) at 5 & 7:30pm on Christmas Eve (Thursday, December 24) and again at 12noon and 5pm on Christmas Day.
John Kirk, Kevin McKrell, Chris Shaw, Bridget Ball
In the middle of Saturday night’s show, Chris Shaw explained, “People don’t like their traditions messed with.” And, dangling participle be damned, he’s right.
So a lot of this year’s Mountain Snow & Mistletoe show relied on the tried and true – from Bridget Ball‘s rousing rendition of the ever-hopeful opening and closing number “Light a Light” to Shaw’s masterfully understated tale of the Christmas that almost wasn’t and the generosity that saved it, “Ten Dollar Christmas” – a song that still makes me weep with joy every year when I hear it.
If Ball and Shaw act as the good, homespun parents and ringleaders of this musical family, the members of the Mountain Snow Orchestra are well aware of their roles in this “pageant,” and they over the years they’ve brought more and more to their parts. Kevin McKrell plays the black-sheep bad boy always ready with a quip. Percussionist extraordinaire Brian Melick plays the endearing clown. And John Kirk, well, plays just about every musical instrument with strings on it.
Let’s face it, Black 47 guitarist-bandleader Larry Kirwan isn’t really much of a vocalist. But what he lacks in the vocal nuance department, he more than makes up for with his sheer overpowering passion.
You can read my review of the Black 47/Kevin McKrell Alive at 5 show from Albany’s Riverfront Park in the Times Union.
Back in 1993 when Black 47 made their Nippertown debut at Bogie’s, they whipped up quite a swirling mosh pit in the crowd. On Thursday, the beer-soaked audience played it considerably cooler with only a bit of a jig or an occasional bout of step-dancing breaking out in front of the stage.
Which is not to say that Kirwan and company played it safe or toned it down any for their free, family-friendly performance. In fact, it was a bit of a surprise when they launched into their encore – the hilarious but definitely not G-rated “I Got Laid on James Joyce’s Grave.”
Meanwhile, Kevin McKrell – the Capital Region’s King of All Things Celtic – put together the Hard Road Ceili Band, a real all-star group of musicians featuring his daughter Katie on vocals and bodhran, exotic percussionist Brian Melick, bassmaster Rick Bedrosian, guitarist Brian Gibney and fab fiddler-vocalist Sara Milonovich.
Sara Milonovich and Kevin McKrell
They’ve all played with McKrell at various times over the years, but all six musicians had never actually played all together until this show. And as an opening act at a free outdoor concert, if you can get the crowd to sing along, as they did on “All of the Hard Days Are Gone” – an original song, no less – then you know you’ve got something special going on. Quite an auspicious debut, indeed. Expect to hear more from them in the coming months.
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