Father Son & Friends celebrates 35 years of Celtic music

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

March is a busy time for Celtic acts, but Father Son and Friends has ramped up its activity even more in celebration of the local group’s 35th anniversary.

There are five shows this weekend with performances at the Antioch Shrine Fish Fry at the Antioch Shrine in Dayton at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Peach’s Bar & Grill in Yellow Springs from 3 to 5 p.m. and Wandering Griffin in Fairborn from 8 to 11 p.m. Saturday and Flanagan’s Pub in Dayton from 9:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Dublin Pub in Dayton from 2:30 to 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

“This is a busy weekend, but it’s all been such a whirlwind,” Shawn Hall said. “It’s hard to believe it’s been 35 years. My dad is 73 now and I’m 53. I look back and there are pictures of us on stage when he was my age. We live and die by the thought that it’s all about adventures. There are some blank spots in there because we’ve done 25 to 30 gigs a year while working fulltime jobs.”

Strange encounters

Hall and his father, Joey Hall, formed Father Son and Friends in 1989, inspired by a comment from a stranger.

“We have been historical reenactors since I was four years old,” Hall said. “The band literally started on Memorial Day weekend around a campfire in George Rogers Clark National Park in Vincennes, Ind. My dad, myself and some of our friends were playing music one night when this guy stepped out of the shadows and said, ‘You guys sound really good, have you ever thought about recording this stuff?’ I looked at dad and he looked at me and he said, ‘Yeah, why don’t we do that.’ There it was.

“My dad called it Father Son and Friends,” Hall continued. “It’s a great name, don’t get me wrong, but we didn’t get overly creative with it. I believe our first official gig was New Years of that year. This was born on that spot and that’s when we decided to start playing professionally at that point.”

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Hometown supporters

The fledgling group hastily decided to make an album, but Hall admits they weren’t sure how to proceed. There weren’t many Celtic acts in Dayton in the late 1980s, but they were able to seek advice from Rick Fannin and Tom Scheidt of Fannagin’s Isle, the pioneers of the Miami Valley Celtic scene.

“Tom was a dear family friend of ours,” Hall said. “He and Rick, who were the two principal parts of Fannigan’s Isle, had been all over the music scene doing different things. When I first saw them, they were playing the same music we were playing at the reenactments, all these great traditional Irish pub songs. I was like, ‘Somebody else is doing it too.’ In my world, it was just the people I knew. I didn’t realize it stretched far beyond that.

“That’s when we first got introduced and became friends with Tom and Rick,” Hall continued. “They helped us start our band and got us together with Gary King over at Refraze Recording Studio. That’s when things really got started. They were great people to learn from. We were listening to all these great Irish and Scottish groups but when you can learn from local icons like that, it’s amazing.”

Room to grow

Celtic music has always had pockets of fans in the United States, but it has grown in popularity during the time of Father Sons and Friends.

“There has been a big resurgence of Celtic music, bluegrass and old time music with the hipsters,” Hall said. “It has been heavy the last 10 years and really heavy the last five years. It’s so funny because we totally gauge the genre by the most recent movie. There was a big resurgence after ‘Rob Roy’ with Liam Neeson came out. Then ‘Braveheart’ followed. Oh my gosh, everybody and their brother was Scottish.

“Even if you were 100 percent German, you were Scottish,” Hall continued. “' Of course, ‘Titanic, was a massive movie that also spurred that Irish flare. Recently it has been ‘Peaky Blinders.’ As you look across the landscape, you see these ebbs and flows. It’s trendy then it’s not trendy then it’s trendy again.”

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Special moments

Father Son and Friends has come a long way from its early shows at the Trolley Stop. This year alone, the group has already played shows in Ohio, Florida, West Virginia and Indiana.

“Here we are in year 35 of traveling the United States every year,” Hall said. “We’ve done everything from Oklahoma to New York and Minnesota to Florida. We don’t really cross the Rockies much. It takes a lot of effort and an extended period of time. That’s tough to do when you still have day jobs. We’ve been fortunate to do a couple of different tours of Ireland and Scotland. We did a tour of Scotland in 2022 and one of Ireland in 2018. That has been a blessing.

“It’s just crazy,” Hall added. “Some of those shooting star moments seem like they were yesterday, and they were really 15 years ago. It truly has been a blur but that’s when you know those moments that stick out are special.”


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