Sabrina Fallon/ George Murphy

First Published April 2022

KEEPING THEIR HEARTS IN THEIR MUSIC

Singer, songwriter, country music star, and artist SABRINA FALLON at the launch of her WE LOVE COUNTRY MUSIC exhibition in Galway.

This week I want to tell you about two phenomenal artists who, by how they live, keep their music in their hearts in a way that’s a lesson to anyone in the music business. Some people preach it, but by God do country star SABRINA FALLON and folk favourite GEORGE MURPHY live it. 

I’m lucky enough to know them both, and in the last week, I’ve been further reminded of why I hold Sabrina and George – as people and as artists – in such high-esteem, and why I’ll never tire of telling anyone who’ll listen that they should take any chance that ever comes their way to spend time in the company of both. 

SABRINA FALLON, as regular readers of this column will know, is someone whom I’ve always considered to be one of Irish country music’s finest voices. It’s as simple as this: If you ever come across someone who wants to know what a country song should really sound like, when sung the way a real country song should be, just tell that someone to go listen to Sabrina Fallon. You won’t need to offer any further explanation. Once they listen to Sabrina, they’ll FEEL all they need to know about what real country music is. But Sabrina isn’t just a great country singer. She’s also a remarkable songwriter, as evidenced by her recent release in honour of her beloved parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, Waltz With Love.

“I wanted to express my parents’ love for each other”, she explained at the time, “a love they still hold on to 50 years down the road. Mum (Eileen) told me that she and dad (Patsy) waltzed in the kitchen when Valerie Hughes played it on Galway Bay FM. As long as mum and dad see how much their love has inspired me, that’s enough.” Sabrina’s artistry extends to creation in so many forms, and now, she can add the gorgeous WE LOVE COUNTRY MUSIC exhibition to that list.

This exhibition is a visual art and music project born from the clear love of country music always demonstrated by the participants of the That’s Life Community. Officially launched on April 22nd, the exhibition will run for a week at Nun’s Island Theatre in Galway.

We Love Country Music includes wonderful personal video messages projected onto a large screen, with contributions from Daniel O’ Donnell, Mike Denver, Nathan Carter, Brendan Shine, John Hogan, Ray Dolan (as a representative of the late Joe Dolan), and former Glór Tíre contestant Damien Davis (as a representative of the late Big Tom), all of whom received personal handwritten letters from the participants to which they are replying in these messages. 

We Love Country Music also features a large-scale textile exhibition created by Sabrina as a celebration of country music.

Sabrina had worked with the participants on several occasions and witnessed first-hand how much love they all displayed for country music. As she investigated the possibility of bringing the idea for this project to life, Sabria asked participants to gather some of their favourite and most treasured mementos collected from over the years, with some of the items eventually presented ranging from ticket stubs to the late Big Tom’s autograph.

Participants were also able to write to their favourite country singer because Sabrina herself – because of her position as a much-loved and respected recording artist and performer in Irish country music – was not only able to personally deliver those letters, but also get a personal message or letter in response from many of the country scene’s top performers. Many of  these beautiful pieces were then photographed, and using a process known as a sublimation print, Sabrina created her large-scale textile exhibition. 

This project has highlighted the wonderful two-way relationships between the performers and people with intellectual disabilities. It has, as Sabrina points out, “… many forms of beauty interlocked together”.

As well as getting in touch with their country music heroes and idols, the participants also had the fabulous opportunity – guided by Sabrina’s gentle hand and caring eye – to write their very own country song. The result is called Music In Our Hearts and it wonderfully and touchingly expresses the participants love and joy for country music. Music In Our Hearts was then professionally recorded and is now available to request from radio stations nationwide. Among the many highlights of last week’s official launch was Sabrina performing Music In Our Hearts ‘live’ for the very first time. Further adding to the all-round feel-good factor of that night were typically whole-hearted performances from both the legendary Johnny Carroll and another of the country scene’s friendliest faces and most enjoyable entertainers, Shane Moore

The We Love Country Music project has been more than a year in the making, a fact which perfectly demonstrates Sabrina’s unwavering commitment to transforming the project from something that was simply an amazing idea to begin with, to something which has already touched countless hearts in unforgettable ways through the process of making it a spectacular, emotional, living, breathing, tactile reality. 

When we sat down for a chat with Sabrina almost exactly a year ago, her excitement at what she was so passionately devoting her time to was easy to feel…

“I’m working with the That’s Life project, which is the Brothers of Charity. It’s an artistic community project that they’ve developed over the years, and it’s absolutely fantastic. Specifically, I’m working artistically with people with intellectual disabilities. I was singing for them once a week, because a lot of them – A LOT of them – LOVE country music! And I mean really love it. They, the Brothers of Charity, have created this project for me to explore why these people with disabilities love country music, to find out what it is that they love. To find out how it makes them feel. That’s what I’m working on now for the next couple of months with them. Part of the project is that each participant will bring in an item – not bring in, send in obviously, because this is all being done via Zoom at the moment to keep everyone safe. That could be a picture of their favourite artist, or them with their favourite artist, their favourite experience of them with their artist. Or maybe they have a stub of a ticket from a concert they were at. One gentleman is going to send in his cowboy hat. We’re going to get professional photos taken of all of these, and then have those superimposed onto fabric to make a big country quilt! Another part of it as well, is that they’re going to send letters to their favourite artists, hand-written letters, because there’s no such thing as a hand-written letter anymore. And hopefully, they’ll get one back from their artist as well. And using sublimation printing these will all be put onto the fabric so we can create a big, beautiful piece. The other part of that project as well, is that we’re going to be recording a song! So the participants are going to write their own country song about why they love country music, and we’ll be releasing that. I’ll be singing on it as well, so it’s a very exciting project. I’m really lucky to be working with them.” 

And all of the participants are equally lucky to have had Sabrina step into their world. And so too, for that matter, should the country music scene count its blessings to have someone like Sabrina as a representative. Her selflessness and care for others is the perfect example of how we can truly keep music in our hearts, and a vital antidote to the rhetoric of some who throw around like confetti empty words or phrases, designed and intended only to impress without ever making any substantial difference to anyone’s lives but their own.

Sabrina, on the other hand, through her music – and because of her heart – is changing lives in the best and most beautiful ways. Gimme that any day. 

Fiddler of London finalist KIMBERLEY DELANEY with GEORGE MURPHY after George’s gig with THE RISING SONS in Hugh Lynch’s of Tullamore.

Last Friday night GEORGE MURPHY and his band, THE RISING SONS, brought their combined musical powers to Hugh Lynch’s in Tullamore. Now, George, as many of us will remember, first shot to fame on RTE’s You’re A Star show back in 2003. Just out of school and only seventeen years old, his talent was – and remains – beyond question. In the years since, George has been both a solo artist and for a period of time, a member of The High Kings, thrilling fans across the world with his musicianship and a voice that ranks among the most sublime of all that Ireland has ever been able to lay claim to. It’s a voice that warrants descriptions such as ‘breathtaking’, ‘spellbinding’, and ‘spine-tingling.’ And yet, even they feel like they lack the accuracy to fully explain what happens in a room when George begins to sing. 

And like Sabrina, George is also a gifted songwriter. Check out Hands Of Time and Shadowman (co-written with Donnacha Fox) on The Rising Son’s Live In Dublin album. And now, as he writes in the liner-notes of that same long-player, George has – in the company of ‘the Sons’ – rediscovered a love of music in a place so close to home that it took him by surprise…

“The setting up of The Rising Sons is my proudest musical achievement. I am still amazed that it was completely spontaneous that I would find my favourite experience in music on my doorstep and in the local pub. That really is the beauty of music.” 

And he’s right. The beauty of music is that it transcends all else, brushes away differences, and illuminates gloriously what is shared. Emotions. Feelings. Hopes. Dreams. Possibility. Defiance. Resilience. Remembrance. Love. For those with music in their hearts, this is always true. What’s also true, though, is that in the music business, it’s not always the music that rules all hearts. Often – too often – ego dominates. The stage and the spotlight can be seen as being only so big. 

That’s why what George and his bandmates did in Tullamore last Friday night is a rare enough sight, and one deserving of praise. In calling on Kilcormac’s champion fiddler KIMBERLEY DELANEY to join him on stage for a poignant and hauntingly beautiful version of When You Were Sweet Sixteen, in honour of Kimberley’s former teacher, the late Ashling Murphy, George – and indeed all of the Sons – showed the size of their hearts. Having been given a heads-up on Kimberley’s talent and her recent achievement in being chosen as a Fiddler of London finalist (only ten fiddlers selected out of open entries from all over the world), he extended the invitation for Kimberley to join him at his show in Tullamore. 

No headlining artist is ever obliged to share their audience with anyone, be it an opening-act or any other kind of guest-appearance. That’s just a fact. And that’s fair enough in some ways. But, if and when they do, however, they are literally giving the gift of their audience to someone else. And that takes a lot of trust and belief in the talent of whoever that someone else might be. It also demonstrates a huge amount of grace and kindness. And that’s exactly what George and the band showed Kimberley last Friday night. After only meeting her in person for the first time for the soundcheck to run through When You Were Sweet Sixteen, George very graciously offered Kimberley the chance to stay on-stage after that song and play a couple of tunes herself. 

Trust. Belief. Grace. And kindness. That’s what George and the Sons showed to a seventeen year old who they had only just met. That’s the beauty of music, too, that talent can so easily recognise talent, and know that talent is all that counts. Not age, not experience, not being some ‘big-name.’ And that’s what happens when people – people like Sabrina and George – live with their music in their hearts. 

Kimberley, deservedly, earned herself a standing ovation at the end of her performance. And so too did George and The Rising Sons at the end of the night. And again, completely deserved. I’ve been to a lot of shows in my time, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a closing number as powerful as when George and the Sons break into The Auld Triangle. The Sons, by the way, are (as named on their Live In Dublin album); Declan Parsons, Joey Hughes, Luke Cosgrove, Jimmy Morrison, Tom Whelan, David Brown, and Shane O’ Hannigan. Throughout their set, the quality of their musicianship is as clear as a winter’s night sky in the countryside…stars in all directions. But what really steals the show and makes their performance unforgettable, is when everyone in the band – literally every member – takes a verse of The Auld Triangle.

George Murphy and The Rising Sons will be back in Tullamore again. And next time they are, whatever it takes, make sure you’re there. Nights like these – and bands like this – don’t come along often. 

And neither do people like Sabrina and George, who keep their hearts in their music in every way. Legends. ~

 MUSIC IN OUR HEARTS by SABRINA FALLON is OUT NOW, available on all platforms and to request from radio stations nationwide. For more details on her WE LOVE COUNTRY MUSIC exhibition, follow Sabrina on Facebook and Instagram. 

Sabrina has also released two great duets recently, both of which are also available on all platforms and to request at radio. They are The Taxi’s Waiting (written by Finbar Furey) with P.J. Murrihy, and a beautiful version of If Teardrops Were Pennies with Shane Moore. Sabrina’s TV show, COUNTRY SHOWTIME WITH SABRINA, continues to air on Sky channel 365 at 7pm every Thursday. 

You can follow GEORGE MURPHY on Facebook and Instagram, and THE RISING SONS on Facebook. 

ENDS

Caitríona O’ Sullivan/ Chayce Beckham

First Published March 2022

MUST-HEAR NEW SINGLES FROM TWO EPIC VOICES

We all know Kerry’s CAITRÍONA O’ SULLIVAN from her long-running role as a judge on TG4’s hit show Glór Tíre. But what some people may not be as aware of, however, is that the wealth of wisdom and advice which Caitríona shares with contestants on the show each year isn’t just that of a passive observer. Far from it, in fact, because Caitríona herself is quite the accomplished recording artist and performer too. And to prove it yet again, the singer/songwriter and TV personality has just released DON’T SAY GOODBYE, an original pop-country style record that big name American country acts such as Lady A would be proud to call their own. 

And the good news for country fans in the midlands is that we’ll soon be able to enjoy Caitríona ‘live’ because she’s among the artists who will be lending their support to the VOICES FOR PEACE concert at the TUAR ARD Arts Centre in Moate on April 14th. Caitriona will join event organiser, the singer/songwriter Larissa Tormey, along with P.J. Murrihy, Charlie McGettigan, Alex Roe, this year’s Glór Tíre winner Aishling Rafferty, Dave Lawlor, Ger O’ Brien and the night’s MC Eddie Rowley of the Sunday World, for the fundraiser which will donate proceeds to the Irish Red Cross in aid of Ukraine. 


With intimate yet powerful vocals and catchy hooks, Don’t Say Goodbye is a heart-felt, radio-friendly, modern pop-country love song co-written by Caitríona, Stephen Andreucetti and John Walsh / Symphonic. It was produced by Ray McLoughlin and features some of Nashville and Ireland’s top instrumentalists. The track was mixed and mastered in Ireland and the UK, and was released on all digital platforms on March 25th, giving Caitríona a #1 in the process. The accompanying video was shot in the beautiful Barrow House, Tralee by Cinetex films and is scheduled for release on April 1st.

Caitríona also scored a #1 hit on iTunes in the Irish country music charts with her original duet This Country Girl in 2021a co-write and duet with renowned Irish country-rocker Johnny Brady. That single earned the duo airplay across both national and regional radio stations. 

In recent times Caitríona has also enjoyed performing and releasing numerous songs on social media with Mark Cahill on The Ivory Sessions, and numerous other online and live gigs such as her Sounds of Cinema series performed with Kerry’s Scotia Ensemble, a project that met with great enthusiasm from music fans.

Hailing from The Munster Bar in Tralee, Caitríona grew up listening to and performing a wide variety of music there in her parents’ bar. Classically trained in voice and piano, she studied at the Kerry School of Music and went on to study opera with renowned voice coach Dr. Veronica Dunne in the Royal Irish Academy of Music. She has a first class honours B.A. in music and Irish, B.Mus. and was awarded a scholarship to pursue a Masters in music from UCD.

A prolific songwriter, Caitríona wrote the Irish language lyrics to the chart topping tune Fionnghuala in 2016 in collaboration with John Walsh / Symphonic which featured on the Eir ad and on The Late Late show in 2016, and was sampled by renowned DJ Vini Vicci.

Caitríona’s musical story also includes a very successful album of original songs entitled Fallen Angel froma few years back. That project included the single I’ll Be There, which topped the airplay and Irish music charts, being playlisted on radio stations nationwide. Some of the tracks from that album were featured on RTE’s award winning drama-documentary Proof


As her long stint as a staple on Glór Tíre suggests, Caitríona is also passionate about the Irish language and is author of no less than EIGHT Irish language secondary school textbooks for Gill Education, including Aois na Glóire 1, 2 and 3, and she is co-author of Mol an Óige 1, 2, 3 , Samhlaíocht and Spreagadh.

One man we’d love to hear Caitríona duet with someday is CHAYCE BECKHAM.

Now it sounds like a cliche, admittedly, but when it’s true, it’s true, and the fact is that Chayce is one of the most buzzed about newcomers in American country music today, having won over millions of hearts while competing on Season 19 of ABC’s American Idol. The reigning Idol winner and 2022 Artist to Watch – from the likes of Country NowSounds Like NashvilleCountry SwagMusic Mayhem Magazine – has released the smooth, southern comfort track TELL ME TWICE. With what Wide Open Country has described as Chayce’s “raspy, blues-rock voice” front and center, the catchy, easy-listening track boasts a vibe reminiscent of that golden-era of 90s country.

Beckham, who Katy Perry said sounds “like the heart of America”, was also scheduled to perform on ABC’s American Idol on Monday of this very week March 28th at 8/7c (1am BST), as he mentors the remaining hopefuls through Hollywood Week.

“This title was my mom’s idea for me to write because it was something we had said to each other,” reveals Beckham in talking about his new record.

“It made me think about all the things in life that you should just do and not have to think twice about it. Growing up I really did learn the value of a dollar because I watched my family work hard for everything we had. This song is a reminder to not take the good things in life for granted and remember to appreciate them.”

After winning American Idol and the hearts of fans across the nation just last year, Beckham released his self-penned track 23 that skyrocketed to the top of numerous viral charts, racking up more than 75 million on-demand streams, a figure that’s still very much on the rise even now. 

Also climbing the country radio charts with his sensual yet supercharges duet Can’t Do Without Me with label-mate Lindsay Ell (the recently announced host of Canada’s Got Talent and an artist we’ve been privileged to chat to for OTRT), the “rugged, country crooner” as Beckham has been pronounced by USA Today, really shows the depths of his artistry with the life-lessons taught in his new track Tell Me Twice. 

Written by Beckham with Isley Juber and ace producer Ross Copperman, the song highlights how it’s the simple things in life that are most important, with Beckham singing lines like; To take a day off when you need the rest / Loosen up the drag on a two-pound test / Drink a cold beer when the weather’s right / But you don’t got to tell me twice.” 

Beckham actually auditioned for American Idol after undergoing a particularly difficult year, but went on to become the first-ever show winner to claim the title with an original song, an achievement which kickstarted his journey to fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming a singer, songwriter, and entertainer. With his family, his hometown of Apple Valley and now America behind him, the mellow 25-year-old released his debut single, the aforementioned 23. 

The song, a semi-autobiographical account of his struggles with alcohol and of the lows it can take on a person, quickly shot to the top of both the iTunes Country and All Genre charts, and numerous viral charts, racking up on-demand streams in the millions upon millions. Now signed to 19 Recordings in partnership with BBR Music Group/Wheelhouse Records and finding his home in Nashville, Chayce is getting ready to share his signature sound with his legions of fans with more new music slated to drop this spring, with Tell Me Twice giving fans their first taste of what they can expect. 

Currently on tour with Jimmie Allen, Beckham is also headlining shows across the country and will join Luke Combs on the road this autumn. For more information and a full list of tour dates, visit www.chaycebeckham.com.


DON’T SAY GOODBYE by CAITRÍONA O’ SULLIVAN is OUT NOW, available on all platforms and to request from radio. 

Caitríona is also one of the featured artists performing at the VOICES FOR PEACE concert at the TUAR ARD in Moate on APRIL 14th, with proceeds going to the Irish Red Cross in aid of Ukraine. Also performing on the night are LARISSA TORMEY, P.J. MURRIHY, Eurovision legend CHARLIE McGETTIGAN, ALEX ROE, Glór Tíre winner 2022 AISHLING RAFFERTY, DAVE LAWLOR, and GER O’ BRIEN, with EDDIE ROWLEY from the Sunday World as MC. Tickets are just €20, available from the Tuar Ard box-office at 090-6482042. 

TELL ME TWICE, the brand new single from AMERICAN IDOL winner CHAYCE BECKHAM, is also OUT NOW and available on all platforms. 

ENDS

Garth Brooks

First Published July 2014

FOR BROOKS SAKE

Firstly, as the last chance of any possible resolution to the GARTH BROOKS concert fiasco finally fades away into an epic failure of Craggy Island proportions (minus any funny side!), and the nightmare scenario of complete cancellation begins to unfold, let me be straight up about the fact that I still write this piece as a Garth Brooks fan.

Have always been one and will always be one.

Secondly, let’s be clear about this, also: no-one in their right mind is suggesting that this is a disaster such as the Stardust tragedy say, or a wrongdoing akin to Bloody Sunday. Of course not.

However, in the context of what this could have been, what it was planned to be, and what it has now become, this certainly is an unmitigated disaster and a mess-up of unrivaled folly.

A shortage of time and space mean I can only touch on some aspects of this crazy episode today, but as the fall-out begins there are some points which, I for one, feel must be made.

From the moment this shambles of a century first blind-sided our summer, far too many people have been quick to take aim and open fire on both Brooks and Aiken Promotions, painting them as everything from greedy to petulant to irresponsible. Exactly the kind of outbursts you’d expect when people engage their mouths before involving their heads – or enough of the facts – in any part of their thought construction process.

One ‘ramble’ worth dismantling is the notion that Brooks should somehow have been happy to play three shows and just get on with it, because it was only two to begin with anyway.

Listen folks, Garth Brooks didn’t ride into town and demand Croke Park for five nights. Tickets went on sale for two and when he heard that those had sold-out but there were still many more fans that had missed out on tickets, he simply said, well, let’s play for those guys too! And that’s what happened with shows four and five as well. The fans wanted to see him, and as long as they did, he wanted to play for them. Simple.

Brooks wasn’t making demands, he was in-demand. Big difference. Famously, Brooks spent twenty-three hours shaking hands and signing autographs for fans at Fan Fair in Nashville in 1996. He waited until every last fan who had queued up to see him and say hi had done just that. Brooks, you see, doesn’t just talk about taking care of his fans, he follows through. Hence his problem with not being able to treat all ticket holders for these shows the same way.

Remember too, that this was not Peter Aiken’s first rodeo. He has, working within the constraints of the licensing system as it stands, brought stars like Springsteen, Young, Dylan and more to our shores. The man is a professional whose reputation for doing things right has been hard-earned and is well deserved. To always wait for a license to be granted before putting tickets on sale would have one sure and certain result, that of Ireland fast becoming a venue of little interest to big acts. Big acts need to plan ahead. You can’t plan ahead if you have to have every last i dotted and t crossed before the wheels start turning. Not as things stand at the moment. If no big acts were able to work Ireland into their plans, you’d have the very same people now hollering that no tickets should have been sold without a license, screaming for an element of flexibility so that Irish fans wouldn’t miss out.

This has never happened to Garth Brooks before. It’s never happened to Aiken Promotions before.

So, what other variables are involved here? The G.A.A. (who knew they had an agreement with local residents), Dublin City Council (fronted by a man who once sanctioned the build of a cycle track around a roundabout!), and the residents groups (whose complaints have now been determined to include up to 40% forgeries).

Looking for someone to blame for the shambles of a century? Don’t look at Garth Brooks or Peter Aiken, folks. 

ENDS

Garth Brooks

First Published January 2014

MORE THAN A MEMORY…AGAIN

The door of the walk-in closet in my old bedroom at home in Lusmagh is kind of like a scrapbook of my life up to a certain point. Little reminders of people, places and times in the shape of stickers, photos, pictures cut from magazines and newspapers, and tickets to various events, all act like an always visible time capsule of sorts!

Looking back now from a distance of almost two decades, it’s funny, but somewhat reassuring too in their familiarity, to see who and what mattered most in those ‘bygone’ days.

There’s the newspaper cutting of a smiling Eric Cantona on the day he joined Manchester United from our then great rivals, Leeds. Similarly, there’s one of Roy Keane in one of his earliest appearances for the Red Devils. There are stickers of Mick McCarthy, Ireland’s captain at Italia ’90, and of Andy Townsend, the man who led us out in the U.S.A. 4 years later. As a keeper myself back in the day, pride of place was also afforded to images of the net-minders I strove to match for madness; Peter Schemeichel, Neville Southall, Peter Shilton, Tony Coton and, of course, our own Packie Bonner and Shay Given.

Resting among all of those is the reason why the New England Patriots are the NFL team with first call on my heart when the search is on for Super Bowl glory: a giant, bright silver foil sticker of the team crest that came in a Christmas stocking from my grandad back when my birthdays were still in single figures!

And, in the middle of all those sporting bits and pieces, a sticker of….Madonna! I guess her, ahem…music, had a big influence on me when I hit my teens!

In the late summer and early autumn of the nineties last year, I fulfilled a dream by paying a visit to Nashville, THE place to go or be for any country music fan. While there I had the opportunity to visit the Grand Ole Opry twice, once for a regular Saturday night show and then again for the final dress rehearsal of that years 33rd annual CMA Awards, where I sat transfixed as I watched the likes of George Strait, Alan Jackson, Shania Twain and Brooks & Dunn go through their set ahead of that evening’s live televised show. Tickets to both those nights are still treasures that bring back so many memories every time I glance at that door in my old room.

But, there’s one more ticket on there, one that simply stands miles and miles of memories ahead of all else. It’s fairly faded now, as you’d expect, I guess, after 17 years of daylight shining in on it. But if you stand close enough you can still quite clearly read what it says: GARTH BROOKS, CROKE PARK, PITCH STANDING, SAT. 17TH MAY 1997.

Now folks, if you were to go by some peoples’ reaction to the recent news that the above-mentioned Mr. Brooks is set to return to these very shores this summer, you’d swear it was the second coming they were expecting. Which, of course, it isn’t…

Because it will, in fact, as any dedicated and true disciple of Garth will know, be the third coming!!

Due in no small part to his own self-imposed retirement so that he could spend more time with his children while they were still young and growing up, it’s now been a long 17 years since the Oklahoma native last tipped his hat to an Irish audience. Back then, in an Ireland that was only just beginning to hear the first stirrings of a murmur from the Celtic Tiger that would be allowed grow up to devour us, Garth held court over 3 glorious nights that have since gone down in legend! A sea of Stetson wearing, stars ‘n’ stripes waving fans greeted him with a welcome on the Richter scale and, when they weren’t hanging on his every word, they were singing along to every word with him!

Even though he’d experienced these same phenomena during his run of 8 sell-out nights at The Point, the effect of it on a scale as large as Croke Park genuinely seemed to surprise and move him. So much so, that he promised if we’d wait for him, then when the re-development of Croker was a done job, he’d come back to us again for more of the same! Few at the time – himself included in all likelihood – could have imagined that wait would turn out to be the larger part of two decades.

But now that the wait is nearly over, none of that matters. No-one is looking back anymore. Since last Monday week all eyes are focused forward and the countdown to 2 nights in July has well and truly begun. Garth is becoming more than a memory again.

That fading ticket pinned on my closet door is so much more than just a reminder of a concert. Not least of all because it was my very first time in Croke Park (I know, I know, shame on me as an Offaly man, I can hear some of you tut to yourselves! Well, don’t worry. I’ve been back since…once, for Take That a couple of years ago! Another never to be forgotten musical extravaganza! So mock at will, I’ll take the blows, it was worth it!). Another reason is because it was just 2 days after my 21st birthday, so in more ways than one that May night was a milestone event for me. A Garth Brooks show, you see, is so much more than just a concert! It’s more like a big party with the kind of host who just wants to make sure that EVERYONE there has fun and goes home smiling and hoarse! And yet, it’s even more than that too…

For me back then, as a young ‘wannabe’ songwriter (as opposed to now, say, and being a somewhat older ‘wannabe’ songwriter!), the moment that defines the memory of the night came when Garth walked out to a little platform a ways out from the main stage and more in the middle of the crowd, and sang Unanswered Prayers and If Tomorrow Never Comes by himself with just his guitar for accompaniment.

One man. One voice. One guitar. And over 80,000 people held in the palm of his hand.

To this day I have never witnessed as masterly an example of the power of music. On one level, of course, it was a professional entertainer at work. But on another, it was what it was, and no more than that: a dude who loves to sing, singing some truly beautifully crafted songs. And that, I’ve always believed, is the key to ‘getting’ Garth Brooks. To him the songs really matter. They come first, always. They have to. And from there everything else, whatever it may be or become, has a chance to happen.

He said on this subject once, “If I’m driving down the road and something comes on the radio and it makes me think, and it upsets me – that’s good! If you’re upset after a song, that’s good. It’s as good as crying after a song, or it’s as good as changing your life after a song. As long as it brings an emotion then you know you’re living.”

Sometime, somewhere, I want to see someone hold 80,000 fans under a spell while singing a song I wrote. That’s a dream that was born that night back in ’97, one I owe to Garth. That’s the power of music, a power Garth knows he has.

Speaking even before his first Irish shows at The Point, he stressed that, “Music is a very, very powerful thing. Passion and emotion. So even though this thing, my career, could all end tomorrow – and I must live it like it might – I also have to rely on my first goal, and that is to consume that power, to try and emote people to do things that they wouldn’t have done, to take people out on the edge that have been playing it safe. Because I think that when we all extend ourselves, only better things come.”

To some, Brooks has never been more than either an overly emotional, American showman, or a shrewd and canny marketing whizz who has always had an eye on the bottom line. But what, exactly, is so wrong with someone getting emotional from time to time anyway? People often forget that Brooks is a very talented songwriter too, and as such, he’s bound to be more in touch with his emotions than those in other jobs or professions. No right or wrong about it, it’s just how it is. It goes with the territory.

The very first track on his self-titled debut album, Not Counting You, for example, is one of his own songs. He’s also co-written hits like If Tomorrow Never Comes, Much Too Young(To Feel This Damn Old), The Thunder Rolls and What She’s Doing Now, to name but a few from back in the early days.

Similarly, where’s the big problem with his having a sharp business brain and a competitive instinct? After all, he studied marketing and he has a strong sporting background. If neither area came into play in his career, THEN something would be wrong! But no, folks, if you judge him by the hat, the tears or the numbers, then you’re missing the point. To ‘get’ Garth Brooks, you only have to listen to the music.

People often forget that while albums like No Fences and Roping The Wind sold well into double figures millions-wise, his first album, Garth Brooks, moved only 20,000 copies to begin with. Over time, though, that too pushed close to the 10 million mark. And the reason has nothing whatsoever to do with any kind of marketing magic. It was all down to the music. While it’s probably true to say that later albums, Sevens and Scarecrow in particular perhaps, did suffer from some material that doesn’t carry quiet the same emotional punch as earlier releases, every other collection has been built with album tracks that are every bit as deep, strong and true-to-life as the hit singles have been.

Garth Brooks had If Tomorrow Never Comes and The Dance, but it also had Alabama Clay and I Know One.

No Fences had The Thunder Rolls and Friends In Low Places, but it also had Victim Of The Game and Wolves.

Roping The Wind had Rodeo and The River, but also Against The Grain and Burning Bridges.

The list goes on. Even Sevens had its own gems in I Don’t Have To Wonder and Belleau Wood, and Scarecrow had The Storm and Thicker Than Blood.

Lest there be any doubt about it at this stage of the game, let me just state it for the record, so to speak: I am a huge Garth Brooks fan. I’ve grown up listening to his music, and I’ve grown listening to his music. I’ve lived life to his music. I’ve learned from and been inspired by his music. And I have no doubt that all of the above will continue to be so.

If I’m lucky enough to get my hands on a ticket for July, I know Garth won’t have any reason to tell me apart from any of the other thousands of faces that will be smiling back up at him. Just like he didn’t know I was there looking up at him, awe-struck, in ’97. But, just like in ’97, I ‘ll walk away knowing I’ve enjoyed something amazing and very, very special indeed.

The kind of night from which dreams – big dreams – are born. And, why not? And, from July on, please God, there’ll be a new addition to that old closet door at home, something to remind me why Garth has always been more than a memory. And why he’s more than a memory once again.

ENDS

Cassadee Pope/MacKenzie Porter/ Olivia Lane

First Published September 2021

POPE LEADS TRIO TO WATCH

Grammy-nominated artist Cassadee Pope has confirmed the October 15th, 2021 release of her upcoming album, THRIVE, featuring latest single, Tomorrow Night, which is out now to stream and download.

The album, co-produced by Nick Wheeler (All-American Rejects) and Karen Fairchild (Little Big Town), also features previous singles What The Stars See and Say It First, both released earlier this year.

New song, Tomorrow Night, written by Pope, Dein Guisande and Aaron Chafin, is an upbeat track leaning further into Cassadee’s pop-punk sensibilities and describes a longing feeling that everyone can relate to – whether it is anxiously awaiting a well-earned holiday or anticipating the return of a loved one, we all understand wanting to push the clock forward. 

“I had a chorus idea before my session with Devin Guisande and Aaron Chafin that really excited me. As a big Weezer fan, I really wanted to lean into that influence for this track,” says Pope. “It’s a love song at its core, wrapped in walls of guitars and high energy percussion. I hope people relate to this lyric of just wanting to fast forward to the moment you get to be with the person you’re in love with.” 

Following a premiere last week with PEOPLE.com, Cassadee went on to share the music video for Tomorrow Night via YouTube. Directed by Kamren Kennedy, the quirky video calls back to the style and feel of the early 2000s as it takes us through all the fidgety ways in which we may try to busy ourselves while aching for the time to pass. The conclusion of the music video features someone near and dear to Cassadee’s heart and who she can’t wait to see every day – her beloved dog, Cuppy!

“I knew I wanted the music video for ‘Tomorrow Night’ to be fun, quirky and early 2000s nostalgic,” says Cassadee. “I wrote the treatment and was so happy that Kamren Kennedy was up for bringing it to life. I’ve never had so much fun shooting a video before. Getting to spend the day shooting with my dog, Cuppy, was such a blast. I hope this video makes people smile and feel like they’ve been transported to a time that was so influential for me.”

Cassadee is a Grammy-nominated, platinum-certified singer-songwriter, and Thrive will be her ninth album when it drops next month. The album’s first single, the aforementioned What The Stars See – featuring Karen Fairchild and Lindsay Ell – is a raucous anthem about longing to see what a past partner is doing since going separate ways. Pope performed the track on The Kelly Clarkson Show where she also revealed  what the title of her latest collection would be. The project is special to Pope – blending her influences from her pop-punk days fronting the band Hey Monday, and the country music storytelling and songwriting that she now calls home.

Last year, Cassadee released her first acoustic solo album co-produced by Pope alongside Todd Lombardo. The project followed her album, Stages, featuring hit singles Take You HomeOne More Red Light, and If My Heart Had a Heart.

From fronting rock band Hey Monday, to winning Season Three of The Voice and releasing her #1 debut album Frame by Frame, Cassadee has effortlessly re-arranged the lines of country and pop. She has already experienced tremendous success throughout her career, with Platinum-selling single, Wasting All These Tears being awarded with Breakthrough Video of the Year at the 2014 CMT Music Awards, and her #1 hit Think of You with Chris Young receiving a 2017 Grammy nomination for Best Country Duo/Group.

Cassadee has toured extensively, joining legendary artists Tim McGraw and Dierks Bentley, playing London’s iconic O2 Arena during C2C: Country to Country Festival, and earning the distinction of the only country artist to perform at 2018’s Warped Tour. Cassadee performed If My Heart Had a Heart on the TODAY show and toured with Maren Morris on her Girl: The World Tour. Cassadee continued to tour throughout the spring of 2019 as the headliner of the 2019 CMT Next Women of Country Tour, which brought the franchise outside of the U.S. for the first time ever.

Put October 15th in your diaries now, because as far as contemporary country music goes, you’ll make few better moves this year. 

Rising singer-songwriter OLIVIA LANE is another name to watch out for, and she’s just released her new full-length album HEART CHANGE, whichisalsonowavailable to stream and download also. The album features eleven songs, all of which are written or co-written by Lane, along with well-acclaimed songwriters including Matt Nolen (Eric Paslay, Trace Atkins, Lindi Ortega) and Skip Black (Craig Morgan, Jana Kramer, LOCASH), among others.

“When thinking of what to name this body of work, I had to reflect on what I had experienced in my life over the last few years,” says Lane. “I’m learning heart changes lead to growth, maturity, heartbreak, heart mending and new ways to look at life. They are necessary in becoming our truest selves.”

Olivia’s new collection features the brand new song BREAK, as well as recently released Lois Lane, Woman At The Well, and I Let The Devil In which has received airplay across the UK and Europe following its exclusive first play on BBC Radio 2 in February. Streams for the album tracks released to date have already totalled over 3.9 million, with 2.4million+ views for the official music videos, and features on high profile playlists including Wild Country and PopCo (Spotify), New In Country (Apple Music) and Country Waves (TIDAL).

Most people would probably know Olivia Lane from her appearance on NBC’s Songland, as host of her Living Instead podcast, by the songs that have earned her recognition as one of country music’s new top female artists, or from the highly lauded entrepreneurial spirit that led to the launch of her own publishing venture, Liv Write Play Music. 

But, this new album, Heart Change, heralds the arrival of an Olivia Lane her fans have yet to experience. A Houston native, Lane spent time in Los Angeles and graduated from the University of Southern California before settling in Nashville in 2013. Her sweet, soulful voice and insightful songwriting helped Lane earn an enthusiastic following and she continues to grow her audience on her socials and her consistent headlining UK tours. She’s a savvy businesswoman who enjoys being a publisher and mentor. 

At her essence, Lane is a singer/songwriter, and entertainer, and she’s excited for her audience to experience the songs on her new album.

Add Heart Change to your music library and you’ll find that it’s a long-player you keep coming back to. 

And finally for now, we come to Big Loud Records’ Country riser MACKENZIE PORTER who has released track-one in a series of new songs to come with UNLONELY ME. 

Penned by Porter herself, along with Nick Bailey and Craig Wiseman, the song is a light and sunny ode to wanting to rekindle a former flame, and is an infectious country track.   “I wrote ‘Unlonely Me’ at the very start of quarantine in 2020,” explains Porter. “I was super resistant to write over Zoom because I’m very much an ‘energy in the writing room’ person, but when I jumped online with Craig Wiseman and Nick Bailey, I started playing those chords and this song just kind of fell out. We wrote it about the beginning of a relationship, but for me personally, it was about feeling pretty lonely at that time. I can’t wait for y’all to hear it.”


This song comes on the heels of the launch of the Buy Dirt Tour withJordan Davisat The Fillmore in Minneapolis, MN. Porter is tapped as support for the tour this fall. From Minneapolis, she will start the three-month club run across the country, stopping at legendary rooms such as Webster Hall in New York City and Joe’s Live in Rosemont, IL. Porter also recently released a new Amazon Original cover of Natalie Imbruglia’s Torn. Featured on the playlist cover, Amazon Music listeners could find Porter’s cover of Torn on the highly coveted Breakthrough Country playlist. They could also find her on Canada Now, Amazon Music’s playlist celebrating the best new Canadian music. 

The 2021 JUNO Award nominee for Country Album of the Year is also featured on hitmaker Dustin Lynch’s current single Thinking ‘Bout You that is quickly climbing up the U.S. Country radio charts. About to knock on the doors of the 20s, this song has shown itself to be a massive hit. Selected by Lynch during a blind audition, Porter delivers her signature “girl-next-door vocals” that, according to Billboard, “cut like a blade.” 

Recently wrapping her 2021 extension of The Loft Sessions, directed by Caleb Donato and shot at the iconic Bluebird Caféin Nashville, the series originally launched in 2019 with These Days and continued in January of 2020 with a cover of Alanis Morissette’s Hand In My Pocket. With Nashville taking notice of what American Songwriter magazine has called her “authentic heart”, and Billboard paying attention to “her mesmerizing vocals and hook-driven songs”, Porter was also inducted into CMT’s Next Women of Country Class of 2021, joining an elite sisterhood of trailblazers and tastemakers.


Signed to Big Loud Records, Porter is currently enjoying the spotlight thanks to her headline-making Thinking ‘Bout You collaboration with Dustin Lynch at Country radio, plus her own Drinkin’ Songs: The Collection, an arsenal of two years’ worth of new music produced by Joey Moi.

Since moving to Nashville in 2014 from her native Canada, MacKenzie has developed a radiant country style which threads the needle between traditional heart and modern energy, often collaborating with songwriting mainstays like Nicolle Galyon, Craig Wiseman, Natalie Hemby, and Tommy English. Her songs have sparked a list of headline-worthy accolades, including multiple Canadian Country Music Award nominations – four times for Female Artist of the Year, Songwriter of the Year and Fans’ Choice – as well as 2021 and 2015 JUNO Award nominations, both for Country Album of the Year


In really making her mark, Porter became the first female artist to have three back-to-back #1 singles at Canadian Country radio in twenty-two years with About YouThese Days and Seeing Other People in early 2020, following Shania Twain who last achieved that feat back in 1998. Porter also earned her first crossover Top 10 at Canadian Pop radio – a first since 2003 for a Canadian Country artist – with These Days (Remix), and joined CMT’s elite sisterhood of tastemakers and trailblazers as one of their Next Women of Country class of 2021.

The Pandora 2021 Country Artist to Watch has toured extensively on her own, also sharing stages with Kenny Chesney, Rascal Flatts, Chris Lane, Blake Shelton and Dallas Smith, and co-starred in the Netflix series, Travelers. Her newest release Unlonely Me is part of a series of new music to come.


THRIVE, the brand NEW album from CASSADEE POPE, will be available on all platforms from October 15th. HEART CHANGE, the NEW and full-length collection from OLIVIA LANE is OUT NOW, available on all platforms, as is the latest single from MACKENZIE PORTER, titled UNLONELY ME. 

ENDS