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Home sweet home

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"You get so many people coming up to you saying, ‘you don’t know how homesick you just made me,’" he says. "It’s a little bit of home and at the same time it makes you think about home an awful lot. It’s an interesting phenomenon."

It’s no wonder they inspire homesickness, playing the music that has been passed down through generations, holding fast to traditional Celtic style. O’Brien estimates their repertoire to be a 50/50 split of old folk tunes and original material – arranged traditionally of course.

As the only remaining original member of the Irish Descendants O’Brien remembers days the band produced and sold their first CD out of their cars. But after all that time there hasn’t been and still is no need to court radical change when the traditional way is working just fine. Don’t count on ever seeing DJ turntables on stage amidst the mandolins and tin whistles, concertinas and accordions and fiddles. That would be akin to sacrilege.

"These songs we grew up with," says O’Brien, a 12 th generation Newfoundlander. "I’m playing songs that my father taught me."

The music’s timeless and ageless appeal has allowed the band the flexibility to think outside the bar.

"We say its ‘Hasbro-age’ is nine to 90," says O’Brien. "We can go into a senior citizens home this evening and play in a Kindergarten class the next morning.

"It makes it a lot easier when we tour the country to be able to go to a bar show and then sit with a symphony.… We started as a bar band and probably we’ll finish as a bar band. That’s where we learned our craft and we’re very comfortable there. But we’re equally comfortable in a soft seat theatre."

Theatre or raucous pub, fans can be adamant about hearing their favourites, but with over 140 songs to choose from there are a lot of favourites.

Even out of a repertoire as deep as the ocean O’Brien can name a couple tunes that are universal crowd pleasers: the folk ballad Catch the Wind and the old standard The Rocky Road to Dublin. "Gets ’em rising to their feet every time," he says.

When asked to pick a song that best describes his home province, he mulls over the difficulty of such a task. There have been the bad times and the good times and there’s the sense of humour inherent to the folks from the Rock. But he settles on Let Me Fish Off Cape St. Mary’s, a tune written in the 1930s by a transplanted Irishman living in New York City, pining for the Emerald Isle. It’s a sentiment he says Newfoundlanders across the country know all too well.