James B. McCarthy

 

In this photo I am one of the Sky People. I use the drum to lead the students in saying,Boom Boom Boom.Wonderful show for children!

By Eleu O. on December 10, 2016

I located James thru Gig salad while looking for a performer to come to my son's preschool. He was hired as part of a thank you for the children's participation in a community service project and the show was fantastic!

James performed for an hour and the children's attention was captured from the moment he stepped into the room. He told stories, sang songs with various instruments and involved the children throughout his show. There were giggles and squeals of joy as the children danced and participated in the stories. 

What I appreciated the most was James' expertise with children of all ages and his ability to ensure his material was appropriate for this age group of children ages 3-5.

Photo by George F. Lee / glee@staradvertiser.com

In the nearly 12 years since Doolin Rakes came together, the Celtic rock band has become a mainstay in Honolulu.

With that much experience under the band’s belt, it’s hard to remember a time when Doolin Rakes was not on stage, providing a safe harbor for roots music and good times in Honolulu.

After this month, changes are in store for the band, as founding member James McCarthy prepares to take a hiatus.

McCarthy plans to “take wing,” he said, traveling to the East Coast and likely Ireland. As he prepares for his final sets with Doolin Rakes, including shows at O’Toole’s on Saturday and May 28, he is looking back on the band’s accomplishments.

DOOLIN RAKES

>> 9 p.m. Wednesdays, Kelley O’Neil’s. No cover. 926-1777

>> 9 p.m. Saturdays, O’Toole’s Irish Pub. No cover. 536-4138

McCarthy gets emotional as he thinks of the friends and admirers who have passed in front of the band.

O’Toole’s serves as Honolulu’s downtown headquarters for Oahu’s military, and McCarthy said he commonly hears from recruits as they are returning from a deployment, telling him that they thought of the good times had at O’Toole’s every Saturday.

“There’s a good energy in the shows,” he said, putting it mildly.

A Doolin Rakes night stretches from 9 p.m. until 1:30 a.m. on Saturdays. The music may range from an instrumental reel to an acoustic Irish ballad to a rousing traditional drinking song to a rocking Van Morrison cover to a rendition of “Whiskey in a Jar” that would make Thin Lizzy proud.

It all started when fellow founding member Jamie Winpenny approached McCarthy, seeking to put a band together for a local party, McCarthy said. “We had such a good time that we stayed together,” McCarthy said.

Winpenny, a writer and rocker who was well known for his involvement with the reggae/ska band Red Session in the ’90s, and McCarthy, who has an abiding love for Celtic folk and lyrical rock music a la Richard Thompson and Van Morrison, clicked.

Winpenny was traveling off island at the band’s show on May 24, and current fiddle player Lisa Gomes was also on a break, but that provided an opportunity for longtime Rakes member Lesley Kline to sit in with the band again. Kline, a graduate of the Berklee School of Music, also plays with the Saloon Pilots and brings a high level of expertise to the stage.

Geoff Red plays bass and mandolin with the band and has been an essential member of the Rakes for many years.

Drummer Steve Howell was a longtime part of the lineup, until he too departed on a world tour. Currently James Ganeko is back in the fold; McCarthy notes that Ganeko, who also plays with Honolulu bands Cho Cho and Tiki Taboo, was drummer for the band in its early years.

The musical interplay between band members is part of Doolin Rakes’ attraction. The band has written several original songs, and recorded a Na Hoku Hanohano-nominated rock album, “Irishman in Paradise,” in 2007.

McCarthy says the bonds are strong, calling the band a “family project.”

“It’s been really meaningful to us,” he said, recalling that a few years ago, the band members were asked about Doolin Rakes’ purpose, and four of them simultaneously said, “to lift people up.”

“It’s kinda more than just a good time,” McCarthy said.

As McCarthy wraps up some responsibilities in Honolulu, he will also be taking a break from his work as a master teaching artist with the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts program for schools and as a performing arts teacher at charter school SEEQS.

His focus will be gathering up inspiration and spending more time writing songs. In the future, he may perform more acoustic numbers, melodic rock and “old-style country,” he said.

“There’s all these stories I have,” he said.

Eventually, you may hear his new music as he unveils it in Honolulu.

For another last-chance listen to McCarthy before his journey, check in on him with Red and Howells on June 10 at Downbeat Lounge.

And brace yourself for the finale concert by McCarthy with the Rakes on May 28, when he plans to roll out a best-of set including songs that embody “the soul of Irish wit,” fiery fiddle tunes, classic rock and “as many original compositions as we can fit in.”

 

Audience Loved Him!

James was excellent! He connected with the audience in many ways. Everyone wanted to talk with him after the show. Will book again. Thank you!

 

This show was prepared for an audience of seniors for Fourth of July. The program included songs, singalongs and stories. I was touched by their interest and felt very appreciated by their feedback and questions after the show.

With his parents' blessing, a kid from East Norriton made his way to the Philadelphia Folk Festival in 1968, where he saw a relatively unknown Joni Mitchell debut songs like "Circle Game" and "Both Sides Now."

For the next seven years James McCarthy returned to Old Pool Farm every summer to hear the music of future luminaries like Arlo Guthrie, John Prine, Willie Dixon and Tom Rush, as he set the stage for his own wayfaring ways and multi-faceted talents as a singer, songwriter, guitarist and raconteur.

He even took notes.

"It's true, I took a notebook along and made notes about how they put their sets together -- everything made quite an impression," McCarthy remembered. "Then I started traveling and being other places at the time of the festival and didn't go for a while."

It's fitting that McCarthy has found his way home from Hawaii to mark his first Philadelphia Folk Festival performance this summer, as the event officially becomes eligible for AARP membership in its golden anniversary year -- the big 5-0.

A full decade had passed between McCarthy's last attendance and his return last summer, when he struck up a conversation with a guy who ultimately landed him a spot on the 2011 Folk Festival lineup.

"I hadn't submitted to the festival before, because in years past it was very difficult to make any inroads, but that's changed now, due to what the Philadelphia Music Co-Op is doing for artists," he said.

"They're making it more accessible for artists who aren't already names in the business. I feel that I'm at the top of my game -- not that I can't get better -- but I think the part of the appeal for the festival folks is that I can do storytelling, Irish music, singer-songwriter, family music, or talk about the history of the festival.

"I felt I was ready to play there and had several conversations with Levi Landis, the director. They were hospitable enough to invite me to come for the 50th anniversary."

McCarthy, a certified Master Teaching Artist in Hawaii, is one of 15 artists that have made their way to the Philadelphia Folk Festival stages through the Philadelphia Music Co-op since it was founded two years ago, noted Landis.

"We knew that artists were increasingly frustrated in not being able to connect with our program throughout the years," Landis said. "And we were finding that we were kind of losing connection with the local artists ... even the ones we really loved. We weren't able to do as much for them as we wanted to. We're one of the area's bigger institutions and everybody looks to us for quality music, so we said, why not try a co-op approach to developing local artists?"

The organization (www. phillymusiccoop.org) now has 55 members, Landis said.

"The model is we'll help you help yourself. So someone like James came to us and we helped him connect with the Folk Festival. We also sent other artists to the Spring Gulch Festival and do showcases throughout the year and basically try to latch onto any idea that could help a local artist either decrease some of the costs associated with recording and touring, but also to connect with press contacts to help them be a force in a Philadelphia music scene that I think we're all proud of."

McCarthy's diversity easily won Landis over, he said.

"There were a lot of cool possibilities that came from our initial meeting with him and listening to his music and seeing where he would connect best. We have so many opportunities to present people, it's about connecting them with the right ones.

James has this cool thing," Landis added, "where he does educational things and kids' stuff, so we're going to be doing things with him down in Dulcimer Grove, and also in this campground stage we have that's new this year."

Landis suggested that visitors check the schedule posted in the main lobby to see where McCarthy will be performing.

 "James has been good about being flexible, as a lot of our co-op artists are, because they understand there's so much that goes into placing 60 different musicians at your festival."

McCarthy continues to challenge his own artistic expectations not only as a solo act but with Doolin Rakes, the hugely successful five-piece Celtic rock band he founded in 2003.

Through regular gigs in Honolulu's Irish pubs and albums like the award-winning "Irishman in Paradise," the Rakes have amassed a loyal following in a land perhaps not synonymous with Celtic music.

McCarthy, who earned a degree in education from Harvard University, has penned several one-man shows, including the critical and commercial success, "Stripes and Stars: A Surprising History of the United States," as well as a string of solo CDs.

He currently has a bunch of songs and a working title -- plus cover art, featuring himself, wielding a guitar, alongside a banjo-toting rabbit -- for his next project, "Songs for Us All."

"For me, playing the Philadelphia Folk Festival is really a dream come true because it's something I've wanted to do for years," he said. "It's one of the great festivals in the country and the standard by which I measure any festival or musical event. I think it's great how they're staying in touch with traditions and how they're bringing new people into the tradition.

"One of the great things about folk music," McCarthy added, "is that it reaches people in a very simple but profound way. And I feel I have something to offer to that."

DOWNTOWN — Honolulu singer-songwriter James McCarthy will perform tonight at The Venue in Chinatown, paying homage to John Denver with a night of music and stories, guest players, and McCarthy’s own style of connecting with an audience. Presented by Tim Bostock Productions, the night will also serve as a birthday celebration for Bostock’s wife Mel.

Although the concert will feature the music of John Denver, McCarthy is quick to point out that he will be interpreting Denver’s music, rather than trying to replicate it.

“I won’t be doing a John Denver imitation,” says McCarthy. “I’d look silly in a blond, Prince Valiant wig. Also, I’m six-foot-five.”

Many have made light of Denver’s saccharine sound, of his white-bread image. But McCarthy, a studied musician and performer, is aware of the uncanny nuance of Denver’s work and is eager to present it. “He had an incredible melodic sense,” McCarthy opines. “He did a lot with three chords that no one else at the time was doing.”

John Denver was part of a group of musicians including James Taylor, Paul Simon, and Cat Stevens that helped bring campfire folk music into the American mainstream. McCarthy, who has seen Denver perform many times, marvels at the fact that Denver embodied the DIY spirit that so many fledgling bands today wear as a badge of honor.

“He would show up in a town, find a place to perform, and sell his records out of the back of his vehicle.”

McCarthy is hopeful for a night of audience interaction, and welcomes the audience to sing along. “As long as they’re singing the same songs I am,” he smiles. 

The evening will also feature the work of other songwriters of the time, to provide context and to mix it up some. Guest players joining McCarthy will include Geoffrey Red on bass, and renowned banjo player Paul Sato. The Bostocks’ daughter Leilani will be making her professional stage debut as a singer, as well.

Says Paul Sato, “This is one of the most unique musical events I’ve ever been involved with, because it celebrates the music of just a single artist.”

[Editor’s Note: Jamie Winpenny plays in Doolin Rakes with James McCarthy]

A Bohemian Enclave Thrives in the Heart of Chinatown

Step off Smith Street and into the Mendonca Building and you'd think you're in New Orleans' French Quarter, not in Honolulu's gritty Chinatown. 

In its boho courtyard, bamboo, palms, and orchids line aging brick walls. A lava-rock waterfall trickles into a koi pond, and wrought-iron staircases painted searing red lead up to a wraparound veranda. This is the Chinatown Artists Lofts, a community of creative professionals living and working together. While the courtyard is semiprivate, the residents are anything but. Each first Friday of the month, the artists welcome the public into their living spaces, and the whole building becomes a hub for art, photography, music, yoga, and fashion. 

This First Friday, the courtyard is illuminated by gleaming lanterns. Along the veranda people cluster in groups, drinking wine and wandering in and out of each loft. James McCarthy strums his guitar, and his songs float over the crowd. McCarthy's a fixture in the Honolulu arts scene, an established musician, performance artist and educator. He's a fixture too at the lofts, being the building's longest resident - he's called the Mendonca home since 2007. Walk into his space and you'll see a projection of the man himself: Guitars, banjos, and 'ukulele he uses for songwriting and performing with his Celtic rock band, Doolin Rakes, line the walls. A basket of colorful puppets employed for storytelling and arts programs sits atop a bookshelf. 

As people enter the lofts from the street, McCarthy, at the mic, playfully heralds their arrival. His music - much like the paintings and photographs hanging nearby - reflects the core of what the collective is striving to offer. As McCarthy puts it: "It's live. It's original. It's local. And hopefully it's going to make you feel great." 

photo by James Anshutz.

more at Hana Hou.