Few artists, if any, represent Irish-American culture better than the Quincy, Massachusetts-native punk rockers Dropkick Murphys.
In the last 22 years, the band has created the most iconic Celtic-punk anthems ever made. “I’m Shipping Up To Boston” and “The State Of Massachusetts” can be heard everywhere from kickoff at Notre Dame Fighting Irish football games to the soundtrack of Academy Award-winning film “The Departed.”
More than anything else, though, the Dropkick Murphys have become synonymous with the celebration of Irish heritage — in particular, St. Patrick’s Day.
“I love the history and the traditions associated with St. Paddy’s Day, but a lot of people just use it as an excuse to get drunk,” Dropkick Murphys drummer Matt Kelly wrote in an email to the Emerald. “The band is Irish-American, so the association is welcomed.”
St. Patrick’s Day isn’t until March, but on Friday, Sept. 21, the Dropkick Murphys hosted its own Irish-American heritage celebration in the form of a punk concert at Eugene’s Cuthbert Amphitheater.
The concert was the first time the Celtic rockers performed in Eugene in over five years. Even though the band took a long break from performing in Eugene, Kelly has fond memories of the city.
“The venue was awesome, the crowd was great, and we went to Voodoo Donuts,” Kelly said of the band’s last Eugene performance. “All-in-all, Eugene has a funky vibe and lots of great eateries and package stores.”
He also mentioned that he picked up copies of a couple of Alice Cooper and Slade vinyls at Eugene’s House of Records.
With that said, touring isn’t always shopping for records and trying new food, especially for a band that’s been together for 22 years. Kelly said that one of the biggest drawbacks of being in the band for him personally is missing a lot of family events due to touring.
The Dropkick Murphys were joined by fellow Irish-American punk-rock band Flogging Molly at the Cuthbert. The two bands have toured together many times in the past, including on a European tour last winter.
“It’s a blast touring with those guys,” Kelly said. “We’ve been friends for almost 20 years and they’re a pleasure to be around and to play with every night. The crowds seem to like the combination, too!
Kelly joined the Dropkick Murphys in the spring of 1997, a year after the band formed. He has since completed multiple worldwide tours and contributed to all seven of the band’s studio records.
Despite growing in popularity, the Dropkick Murphys haven’t forgotten where they came from or what they represent, Kelly said.
“Twenty years into playing in a band, we’re not really ‘working class’ by tax bracket or because we don’t swing a hammer nine to five these days,” Kelly said. “But when you’re born into the working class, raised by working-class parents, it’s just part of you.”
The music the Dropkick Murphys produces represents that commitment to the community in which they were raised. The band’s latest record, “11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory,” explores themes that aren’t usually associated with rockstars.
The record, still anchored in up-tempo Celtic punk, discusses opioid addiction and the U.S. drug overdose epidemic. The band’s members have been personally affected by those topics, and Kelly said they wanted to share those painful experiences, hoping that it would resonate with fans.
“We have spoken to a lot of [fans] who have told us they’ve used our songs as a source of strength and support,” Kelly said. “That means a lot.”
Along with raising awareness for those causes through music, the band also runs a charity called the Claddagh Fund. According to its website, the charity aims to raise money and awareness for nonprofits the Dropkick Murphys considers to have a significant impact on local communities.
The Dropkick Murphys are “throwing ideas around” for material on the next album, but Kelly said the band won’t dive into an intense writing process until early next year. He expects the band to have new music for fans by late 2019, pending any unexpected delays.
Not everyone who attends a Dropkick Murphys concert is excited to hear the band’s new material, though. As with any band that experiences a certain level of popularity, there are new fans who only want to hear the hits.
“Yeah, that’s a bum-out,” Kelly said. “My dream would be for the barricade-huggers to get the hell to the back and let the die-hards to the front. I hope that these newbies get into the rest of the stuff — but of course, it takes time. But man, get in the back!”
Between constant touring, individual interactions with fans and the demand to produce new material, there are many ups and downs to being in a successful band. But Kelly views those challenges as minor hiccups that come with the job.
“I’m honored to have not been kicked out!” Kelly said jokingly. “But seriously, it’s been the fulfilment of a childhood dream to be in a touring band. I’m travelling around the world with a bunch of great people, doing what we love to do every night.”
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