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Young Dubliners bring fresh sound to Celtic traditions

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For most of its career, if you wanted to catch the Young Dubliners live, you had to head for a club.
That suited the group just fine. From the start, founder and Dublin native Keith Roberts envisioned the band incorporating Celtic influences into a hard-rock sound. The group played its earliest shows at a pub he owned in Los Angeles.
That, however, has changed, the singer-guitarist told me in an interview a few years back from his San Fernando Valley home. Yes, the Young Dubliners play 200 dates a year, but more festivals are showing up on its tour itinerary as promoters recognize there’s more to Celtic music than its centuries-old acoustic traditions.
“There was sort of a turning point,” Roberts said. “They started to kind of split it up a little bit. You’re going to get an idea of how Celtic music can be in all these sounds and forms.”
Young Dubliners come to Northern California this week for dates January 8 at Yoshi’s in San Francisco and January 9 at the Mystic Theatre in Petaluma. In addition to Roberts, the band features Bob Boulding (guitar), Chas Waltz (keyboards), Brendan Holmes (bass) and Dave Ingraham (drums).
Roberts came to California 15 years ago to be a journalist. Armed with a degree from University College, Dublin, he had received an internship at a Southern California public television station only to find that the work didn’t suit him. He later opened a pub, and it was there that he met Paul O’Toole, another expatriate musician, and founded the Young Dubliners.
That O’Toole is no longer with the band is hardly exceptional – the Young Dubliners have seen much coming and going since the release of the group’s first recording, “Rocky Road” (1994). Waltz himself departed in 1995 before returning in 2002.
Roberts, however, has persevered. Influenced by such Irish rock giants as U2 and the Pogues, he has forged a sound that blends anthemic rock with traditional Celtic instrumentation. It’s a muscular, hook-filled sound.
“There is no lack of support in the country,” Roberts said of the crowds that greet the Young Dubliners in clubs and festivals alike. “The radio stations are just a complete write-off. It’s just been the way it’s been.”

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