Derek Warfield performs at a past Irish music festival in Ocean Shores.

Derek Warfield brings decades of Irish balladeering back to festival

  • Mon Oct 17th, 2016 6:00pm
  • Life

By Scott D. Johnston

At 73 years young, Derek Warfield is enjoying an amazing year. His melodic Irish accent and lyrical manner of expression affirm that he is, indeed, most pleased that one of the highlights of this memorable year is a return to Ocean Shores and the Celtic Music Feis — or festival — at the Galway Bay Irish Pub, Ocean Shores Convention Center and 8th Street Ale House in Hoquiam through Sunday.

Warfield and The Young Wolfe Tones are co-headliners of the 13th annual event, which has become the largest Irish music festival on the West Coast. They will perform a dozen times beginning Wednesday on the Main Stage at Galway Bay, 880 Point Brown Ave. NE in Ocean Shores. Their performances, and those of more than 30 other bands and artists, continue at Galway Bay, the Convention Center and the Ale House through Sunday.

As an Irish balladeer, songwriter and historian, Warfield has achieved international success and generations of faithful fans since forming the original Wolfe Tones in 1963. After 13 albums, three No. 1 hits, and touring the world for a half-century or so, playing legendary venues such as Carnegie Hall and the Royal Albert Hall, Warfield’s definition of “such a big, big year for us” sets the bar pretty high.

Despite the fact that Warfield and his new band (since 2005), The Young Wolfe Tones, “played for President Obama on St. Patrick’s Day,” he explained that it was another event this year that was actually “the highlight of my career.”

A seasoned performer who first took the stage at age 6, Warfield knows what it’s like to headline a big event. And the hour-plus concert he and his band delivered on April 24 this year was so similar yet totally unique, moving and memorable. He explained that centuries of British repression of Irish culture meant that songs often became the vehicle for recording actual events, as well as social movements. That tradition and its role in Irish history were huge elements that drew Warfield to vintage Irish folk music as a youth, and shaped his career.

“Irish music development was very different from the rest of Europe,” Warfield explained. “We didn’t have the renaissance of music like much of Europe. Because of the colonial government in London, most of our tradition was not considered to have artistic value.

“Irish music developed its own sense of importance; every episode in our history had to be recorded in song by balladeers, in songs that tell stories of our social and political traditions. Irish music carried the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the people of our country for centuries.”

And so Warfield found himself earlier this year, 53 years into an amazing musical journey, playing in Dublin, Ireland, and starting at exactly 12 noon. That was exactly 100 years to the minute since the start of the Irish Easter Uprising of April 24, 1916, a pivotal moment in Irish history. And Derek Warfield and The Young Wolfe Tones were playing the songs he loves, songs he’s played almost all his life, songs that told the stories of that historic event, before a crowd of 30,000, as the celebration of the centennial of the event reached its peak.

“It really was the highlight of my career,” he said. Part of his performances throughout the year, and in Ocean Shores, is a selection of songs celebrating the 1916 Easter Uprising.

With the original Wolfe Tones and now the Young Wolfe Tones, Warfield and his band are seasoned road warriors. In 2016 alone, they will have delivered more than 200 live performances and participated in 16 Irish music festivals, from Ireland to Italy, New York to Florida, and this month, Hawaii to Washington and British Columbia.

But unlike their sometimes infamous rock’n’roll brethren, the Wolfe Tones’ “tales from the tour” tend toward the tame, sometimes touching. Among this year’s favorite memories:

“We played at Iowa — Waterloo — and had the next weekend in Butte Montana. So in between we took road trip and visited O’Neill, Nebraska,” a town of 3,700 founded over a century ago by Irish immigrants.

“About an hour outside of town we were pulled over by the highway patrol. Pretty soon he’s asking, ‘Does anyone here speak English?’ since he couldn’t follow our Irish voices. We told him who we are and he sent us to visit The Blarney Stone, a nice restaurant in O’Neill, and pretty soon the mayor was called out, and he gave us keys to city!”

This year marks their fourth appearance at the Ocean Shores festival since 2011. Warfield rates the event here as “one of the top 10 Irish music festivals in the world,” for several reasons:

“Firstly, it brings together a lot of different styles of Celtic music. The atmosphere is very informal, audiences very responsive, and every aspect of the music is given great value at this festival.”

He feels Galway Bay owner and festival promoter Bill Gibbons has created “a wonderful example of how you can gather so many different strands and present them in a unique way.” Warfield also enjoys “the lack of overt commerciality … that retains a sense of authenticity” not always found in major music events. And he appreciates the fact that Gibbons chooses to “showcase bands that are up-and-coming.”

Warfield said the Ocean Shores audience has always been very appreciative. He particularly enjoys events such as this because they give the artists “a chance of showcasing what we have in our tradition and our culture. I like to entertain but I also love to educate. It’s a big round ball with some different ingredients, and I like to give oxygen to all aspects. The music is easy — you don’t have to work at all, the music sells itself.”

He also enjoys visiting the area. Last year they went to the Quinault Rainforest, which they found to be “very much like Ireland, very much like home – green!”