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The best Irish festival is happening this weekend. August 11, 12, 13. Hope to see you all there. 

An Ri Ra is on the horizon, and Tom Powers was in our Thornton studio where he discussed all things Irish music festivals and more. Powers leads the Butte band Dublin Gulch and is retired from being the Clerk of District Court for Butte-Silver Bow. He’s a tall, soft-spoken man, but he still describes things with the enthusiasm of youth.

When asked about this year’s An Ri Ra lineup, he noted that all but one of the bands are making their debut at the festival, but said that some of the players have been here before.

The McLean Avenue Band returns to Butte. Powers calls it “a New York City Irish Party Band.” Powers first encountered the band during an Irish music cruise to Alaska. The band plays Celtic music with a rock style, he noted. “They’re not crazy, but you know they plug in and they play upbeat.” He said that the band was a lot of fun, and they don’t get out this way often.

Powers revealed that the other two bands that were coming had “new names but have some familiar faces.”

Reverie Road contains John Williams, Winnie Harran, Katie Grin, and Utsa Lal. Williams was here last year with the Irish All-Stars. Harran is a founding member of Solace, a band that’s played the festival, and she’s also been to Butte with Cherish the Ladies, Powers noted.

Powers said that he just stumbled upon the other new group, the Jeremiahs. The band features Joe Gibney on vocals, Niamh Varian-Barry on fiddle, viola, and vocals, Julien Bruneteau on flutes and whistles, and James Ryan on guitar, the festival website said. Varian-Barry was with Solace in Butte in 2013, Powers said.

The Jeremiah’s are not “a particularly well-known commodity on this side of the pond, but they’re very well thought of over there,” Powers said, summing up, “So lots of familiar faces, some unfamiliar group names.”

Of course, Dublin Gulch will play the festival as well. This gives the band a dual role as organizers and performers. When asked what it was like to play from the Original mine yard stage, Powers related telling a festival organizer, “Well, here’s what I see. I see a garbage can over there about to overflow. I see a kid that’s going to trip over that sandbox over there. I see a woman over there who looks like she’s going to pass out from the heat, and that’s in the middle of singing a song.”

Always a festival favorite, The Trinity Irish Dance Academy will perform at An Ri Ra as well as The Tiernan Irish Dancers.

Powers mentioned at the beginning of the interview that the event began as an adjunct to Irish language lessons by the Montana Gaelic Society in Missoula. The bands played in the street in front of what is now the Thomas Meagher Bar. “We were always involved. Dublin Gulch is the only band that has played at every Montana Irish festival.”