JigJam’s I-Grass Fills Caffe Lena with New Fans 2/22/2020
Ireland’s tremendously talented quartet JigJam was the featured Bright Serie’s new artist at Caffe Lena on February 22nd. Playing to a sold out listening room, JigJam cycled through stories, songs, and even some fun dancing in their two hour show of Irish “new grass.”
There’s something about Irish folk music that reminds me of spring. It might be that St. Patrick’s Day is in spring, and that’s when I typically think of listening to Celtic themed music. It might be that I associate Ireland with green, and green certainly is the color of spring. The bright notes and major chords highlighted with high energy rhythms helps boost one’s spirits, adding a spring-like vibe to the music. It is the kind of music you want to dance to and celebrate life with, and it moves in your veins long after you hear it.
JigJam’s youthful and energetic sets definitely had that spring-like, hopeful sound. Alternating between originals and covers, JigJam went from one piece to the next with joyful energy. Even when singing sadder themed lyrics, such as in the solo piece “Set Me Free” about those suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s, there was a sense of optimism and love woven throughout.
Lead singer Jamie McKeogh (who also plays guitar and tenor banjo) is a showman, enjoying laughing at himself and bandmates as he told stories about favorite restaurants (including mocking fiddle player Cathal Guinan’s love of Applebee’s), challenges faced on the road when first traveling the United States on tour, and “stirring the pot” among the audience about favorite football and baseball teams.
JigJam is comprised of four tremendously talented multi-instrumentalists. McKeogh sings, plays guitar and tenor banjo. Cathal Guinan sings, plays double bass, and fiddle; he also mastered a kick drum to add excitement and added rhythm. Daithi Melia sang as he picked and strummed a 5-string banjo and guitar (his dobro was sadly stuck at Logan airport). Melia’s banjo skills demonstrated a strong right hand with his picking, managing quick tempos and capable technique. Last to join the band was Gavin Strappe on vocals, mandolin, and tenor banjo. Strappe’s family members were watching the concert via live stream back in Ireland, which brought a lot of excitement in the crowd’s response.
The rapport between musicians was palpable in how they managed tempo transitions, humor, and sweet harmonies. “Big Grey Dog” is a song about the band’s trip from Las Vegas to Indianapolis on a Greyhound Bus, which McKeogh explained was necessary because “we couldn’t walk because of these Goddamn skinny pants!” Not taking themselves too seriously, JigJam brought the audience with them through a rolling and rollicking good time.
Keeping with Irish folk music, they told sad stories. “Sea of Heartbreak” was about loss, but matched with cheerful major string playing it lost its hopelessness in its sound. Fiddler Melia danced a jig at one point in the second set, setting off clapping and cheers.
Audience members were stomping feet, clapping hands, and singing along.
JigJam even took a request (from Nippertown’s Jim Gilbert) and played “Beeswing,” a cover of Richard Thompson’s beloved song. They added their own beauty to it with fiddle and some gorgeous vocal harmonies between Melia and McKeogh.
When they announced that one song was left, the audience jeered. The band was called back for an encore performance, singing “This Little of Light of Mine” with solos for each member to say goodbye to their new fans. McKeogh flipped his collar and did his best Elvis Presley impression at one point in the encore, singing “Hound Dog” when bandmate called him the Irish Elvis Presley.
Watch for JigJam, this Irish Bluegrass (or I-grass, as they prefer) band whose new take on Celtic folk music is sure to win them awards and loyalty from fans far and wide.