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“I can do ‘Summer in Dublin’ for you” McKrell replied.
“That would make me happy,” said the man.
“That’s my lot in life,” he grinned, “what I live for.”
“Things are good with you?” the man asked.
“Yeah,” replied McKrell dryly. “I’m sitting up and taking soup.”
The band has tuned up and is waiting to go on stage. It wasn’t hard for the McKrells to find players to work with. Kevin must know everybody in the business, and he knew what he wanted. “I asked a bunch of guys if they liked being in a band that’s not really a band. We come together for big festivals, we do big venues, we don’t slog out the bar stuff. And it’s working great,” he laughs. “We have festivals booked without having played a gig.”
“The new band is like a co-op,” he explains. “Coming from the pressure of being in a band for 15 years, doing all the work, doing the booking for all this stuff, and worrying about whether we had work or not, I don’t want to do that again, but I want a band. And I want an Irish band.”
McKrell’s Irish heritage is a key part of his musical identity. He has considerable history with the island. “My father’s family is from County Louth,” he says “a small town called Carrickmacross where we still have tons of relations. I also have family in Newry in the north. My Ma’s family, the McCauleys, are also from Ireland, emigrating to Canada, where they settled in Edmonton, Alberta.”
Kevin’s musical roots resonate with centuries of Irish bards and singers. Likewise, given who her parents are (her mother Carla, herself a vocalist, also played with the old McKrells from time to time), Katie was probably destined to become a musician. It seems logical that she would join the family business, but working with her father wasn’t something either of them foresaw before now.
“The right thing at the right time,” Kevin says of their collaboration. “She wasn’t sure whether she wanted to get into it, and I wasn’t sure whether she was gonna be able to pull the weight—the schedule, and the crap that people say to you.”
Katie can come off as cool and detached at times, but onstage she’s vibrant, engaged, and appears glad to be there. “He never, ever pushed the music on me,” says Katie. “Actually, when I started to play at age 16, he was on the road. He came home and I was playing and it was like, ‘Whoa, she’s writing songs.’ I did my own thing, had my own gigs. Any daughter or son needs to separate themselves from their parents. I really did that. We never joined our stuff.”
On an excursion to the UK, however, that artistic separation changed by chance. “We went to a hootenanny in Scotland,” Katie recalls “and we did an open mic—we were there, and it was like, ‘Let’s do it.’ We did a song called ‘Queen of Argyle’ and they went nuts. It just clicked. [Then] the band went their separate ways, and it was perfect timing. It was just there. We’ve been just having a blast.”
“The camaraderie between the two of us, the experience, who better to learn from?” she asks. “He’s been a working musician for so long. And just being able to play with very, very good musicians, and all sorts of different gigs that I could never get.”
Though Katie is singing just two leads so far, she by no means takes a back seat. Her harmony isn’t layered way in the background, it’s of equal volume, and she doesn’t stand in the background either. Katie may be singing Celtic, but, feet apart, arms outstretched, she has the stance and attitude of a rocker.
Which is who she was in her solo career, a career that’s on hold for the moment. “The stuff I have on MySpace is harder,” she says of her own work. “I’m gonna pick it up again, but I’m learning so much right now. It’s like an apprenticeship. I’ve had to put my independent project very much on the back burner. [It’s] my own choice, of course. I don’t have the time.”
“I’m gigging like a seasoned pro,” she continues. “I know when I go back that my songwriting and performance skills, my own stuff, will be much better. When you play four or five gigs a week, your chops are better. My confidence onstage has gotten so much better, [learning] to talk to the crowd, being funny, entertaining people. Learning how to think on your feet, [and] working off of other people, their jokes and stories and interjecting.”