It's hard to believe but Blackthorn is celebrating more than 20 years at the forefront of the Philadelphia music scene this year. They continue to draw record crowds in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Delaware. "It's been an amazing journey, I had no idea when all this started that we would still be doing this today", says John McGroary, button accordion player and one of the founding members of Blackthorn. He adds, "I think we have a special connection with our audience. On any given night you can find several different generations at our gigs. They like the music but I think they also like being part of the Blackthorn family". Keyboardist Johnny Boyce agrees with McGroary saying, I always feel I'm part of something special when I get on stage. How many people get to do something they really love night after night for almost twenty years? The best part about it is the thousands of people we meet each year and the sense of community that has built up around Blackthorn."
Blackthorn has over five albums to their credit. The first album, "It's An Irish Thing" was an instant hit with their fans with songs like "Celtic Symphony" becoming and anthem of sorts in the Philadelphia Area. Within a few years, the band was back in the studio recording "Here We Go Again," the CD that cemented Blackthorn as the premiere Irish Band in PA. Drummer, Mike O Callaghan says, "Those first two albums were really important in establishing us as a different kind of Irish Band. We still paid homage to the influences of the past like the Clancy Brothers and the Dubliners but we did our own version of the songs using a more contemporary approach."
In March of 1995, the band continued their evolution by adding Seamus Kelleher on lead guitar. Kelleher was an established 'Rocker' in the New York music scene. In a short time Kelleher put his own stamp on the band by adding a more rock influence to the band. "I started with Blackthorn on St Patrick's night in '95. It was in North East Philly. There were three thousand people singing Celtic Symphony in unison. It was deafening but there was pure magic in the air. I knew right then and there I had found a new home."
Seamus left the band in January 2011 in pursuit of his solo career as a singer-songwriter. Seamus will appearing with the band from time to time in between his solo tours. Seamus was replaced by Rob Dunleavy, also a Delaware County native. Rob has an extensive musical resume and is refocusing on his guitar style back to his Irish roots so that he can deliver a stellar performance with the boys. Rob practiced with Seamus several times, and wouldn't you know, Seamus taught Rob everything in the wrong key so that it would cause a scene on stage and make Seamus look good.
The vocal piece of the Blackthorn puzzle came by way of Michael Boyce back in 2002. Michael, like his brother John, is a multi-instrumentalist. "He sat in on a gig one Sunday afternoon and that was it. We never really discussed him joining the band. It was clear to everyone that he was the missing piece in the band", says McGroary. Today Michael fronts the band, does most of the singing and plays bass.
Over the past six years, Blackthorn has recorded three additional CDs: The Other Side, Ratty Shoes and Push and Pull each of which has gotten extensive airplay in the North East. The original CDs have opened many doors to the band. They have extended their reach beyond the traditional Irish venues and have gained a huge following with the college crowd. Just go to one of their show in the Jersey shore and you will find hundred of Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y singing along to their songs.
Of the very few bands that make it to the level of Blackthorn, even fewer last more than a few years. But Blackthorn is Bigger today than they have ever been. Their music continues to evolve and the community that they started in small bars around the Philly area in the 90s continues to go. Blackthorn is not just a band, it's an institution. There are always five super talented musicians on the stage but they speak with one voice. Maybe that's the magic.