Shortly after his Woodstock performance, Jimi Hendrix was allegedly asked: “Jimi, what’s it like to be the best guitarist in the world?” Hendrix smiled and replied, “I don’t know, ask Rory Gallagher”
Jimi Hendrix wasn’t the only one who idolised Rory Gallagher. Slash from Guns ’n’ Roses petitioned to get Rory added to the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and Brian May of Queen, blues master Muddy Waters and U2’s The Edge are just some of his many esteemed fans. “Rory had a special relationship with his fans all across the world, on stage he was a passionate and energised artist, with a unique rock blues sound that has never been surpassed”, says Barry O’Neill, chairperson of the Rory Gallagher International Tribute Festival.
Rory Gallagher was to guitar playing what Caravaggio was to painting, what Einstein was to physics and what Steve Jobs was to computers – he was a genius. He took the genres of blues and rock and thrust them together like never before. And he was Irish.
Rock for Rory
The late great Rory Gallagher was born in a little town called Ballyshannon in County Donegal. Every year, the Rory Gallagher International Tribute Festival (link) turns this sleepy town into the rock/blues centre of the universe. “Rory Fest was established in 2002 by a small group of Rory's followers in Ballyashannon, and obviously with Rory being born in Ballyshannon, it was only appropriate to honour Rory with an event”, says Barry O’Neill.
The festival kicks off over the June Bank Holiday weekend and is the biggest rock/blues festival in Ireland. It’s also (according to the festival website) the “biggest gathering of rock ’n’ blues fan anywhere in the world”.
Over 12,000 people descended on Ballyshannon during the 2012 festival. Rory Fest (as it’s known locally) is unique because it’s dedicated completely to the music of Rory Gallagher. Rock legends such as Mick Taylor (Rolling Stones), Horslips and Eric Bell (Whitesnake) have all performed here in the past. This year, the festival headliner is Band of Friends, made up entirely of Rory’s former band mates. A fitting tribute.
Even if you’ve never heard of Rory Gallagher, this festival still has plenty to offer. During the day open-air street gigs get the crowds rockin’, and exhibitions, workshops and theatre performances cater to the hardcore Rory fans, as well as those who just love the festival atmosphere. Come evening time, the crowds head for the Big Top Concert, where Irish and international tribute acts blast out Rory’s songs.
Goin’ to my Hometown
This year Rory Fest is set to be bigger and better than ever before, as 2013 is the year of The Gathering Ireland. Ireland has put out the call to each of the 70 million people worldwide that make up the Irish diaspora, welcoming them home to Ireland. Rory Fest is just one of literally thousands of festivals big and small popping up all over the island.
Final word: if you’re a fan of Rory Gallagher or a music-lover, Rory Fest in Ballyshannon is an absolute must.
This year the Rory Gallagher International Tribute Festival takes place from 30 May to 2 June.