For an increasing number of Dublin-bound travelers, a sojourn in Ireland's capital means not only a literary pilgrimage to the shrines, homes, haunts and former tippling places of such Irish literary figures as James Joyce, Jonathan Swift, William Butler Yeats, Oscar Wilde and Brendan Behan. It also will mean exploring Dublin's teeming, exotic, stylistically hydra-headed local music scene.
Over the past few years, this ancient metropolis has been transformed into a major world music center, largely because of the international breakthrough of such Irish musicians as U2, Sinead O'Connor, the Hothouse Flowers, the Waterboys, Clannad and Bob Geldof, not to mention internationally acclaimed veterans Van Morrison and the Chieftains.
Thus, you'll find a new generation of Dublin-bound travelers who perhaps have never pondered the resonant metaphysical implications of Yeats' "The Second Coming," and have maybe never even heard of Stephen Daedalus or Molly Bloom. Yet ask them, and they can quickly rattle off the names of all four members of U2, or rhapsodize at great lengths over the musical genius of the Hothouse Flowers.
So it follows that for these folks (and I'm surely one of them), a tour of "Dublin's fair city" not only means a stop at the Guinness Brewery and a visit to James Joyce's tower out at Sandycover, but may also include a wander past the now-famous Windmill Lane Studios (which, in rock legend, has become somewhat like Dublin's answer to Abbey Road) where tracks for U2 albums like "Joshua Tree" and "The Incredible Fire" were recorded.
"Dublin is set to become one of the world's major centers for pop and rock music -- thanks to the success of artists like U2, Chris De Burgh, and Sinead O'Connor," observed Dublin's daily Irish Independent in a May 1990 article about the Irish music $l explosion. "The Irish capital is rapidly transforming itself in the same way as New Orleans is seen as the home of the blues and country & western belongs to Nashville, Tennessee."
It's also worth noting that Dublin recently received the European Economic Community's coveted "European City of Culture" award for 1991.
Strolling through Dublin's narrow, atmosphere, pedestrian-choked midtown streets, one can feel -- and hear -- strains of this transformation everywhere. Along Ormond Quay, on the north bank of the Liffy River, the fences and storefronts are plastered with dozens of colorful posters advertising concerts and musical happenings.
A few blocks over, near O'Connell Bridge, street vendors do a brisk trade in souvenir rock and roll pins, buttons and T-shirts and U2 concert posters. Just across the bridge, rock music blares out of the trendy record shops and boutiques along D'Olier Street.
Across town at Trinity College, a free outdoor rock concert is under way on the green; the raucous, insistent guitar and drum riffs are loud enough to give a bounce to the shoppers' steps on nearby Nassau Street, and sometimes they even faintly penetrate the Trinity College Library, where dozens of tourists peruse the centuries-old Book of Kells and other ancient Irish artifacts and heirlooms.
Down on busy Grafton Street on a Saturday afternoon you'll find dozens of buskers (street musicians) plying their music talents -- everyone from callow but passable Dylan imitators to exquisite Celtic fiddle-players -- in exchange for meager tips from shoppers.
In the shadow of such staid, somber midcity landmarks as Dublin Castle, St. Peter's Cathedral and Christ Church Cathedral you'll find dozens of hole-in-the-wall musical pubs and clubs, like the Baggot Inn, McGonagle's and the Waterfront. Some of these are the very same small venues where the now world-famous Dublin rock band U2 got its inauspicious start more than a decade ago.
Not surprisingly, today you'll find dozens of up-and-coming rock and pop bands (many of them fresh out of the garage) playing these haunts, which needless to say, have come to be rather closely watched by music-industry talent scouts.
No doubt these aspiring young musicians have read all the rags-to-riches stories of U2's and Sinead O'Connor's international success in local music magazines, like the lively and irreverent Hot Press. Now they play their hearts out, night after night (often to the same sort of indifferent audiences that U2 encountered in its early days as an inchoate and unextraordinary high school rock band), hoping that their big break is only an audition away.
Even though I'd read quite a bit about Dublin's musical smorgasbord, I still was a bit overwhelmed by the daunting multiplicity of musical happenings that the city played host to on a continuing basis.
Indeed, the array of musical styles and genres that can be heard in Dublin -- rock, Celtic rock, Irish traditional, Irish-style Nashville country, jazz, big band, blues, cabaret and classical -- is so varied and colorful that it's expanded and enlarged upon the term "Irish music" to the point where the phrase is so all-inclusive as to be non-functional.
The situation is made even more delightfully complicated by the fact that Dublin is also a requisite stop-over for dozens of international superstars (English, American and Irish) on global tour.
In the several-month period before, during and after my stay in Dublin last year everyone from the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Phil Collins, Billy Joel, Sinead O'Connor and Deborah Harry to James Galway and the Chieftains, Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, k.d. lang, Rosanne Cash, Rodney Crowell, Kenny Rogers, Don McLean and Glen Campbell performed there.
But the real spirit, passion and bravado of the Dublin music scene are found not in the big concert halls and theaters. They abide in the many small pubs, clubs and listening rooms scattered around the city; and -- more often than not -- the stars are the countless talented local bands and ensembles whose names you've never heard before, and in most cases, may never hear again.
The hip, anti-establishment and humorously cynical nature of Dublin's rock music scene, as well as the scene's robust diversity of style and attitude, is manifested in the bizarre poetry of the groups' names.
There are, for starters:
Fatima Mansions, the Gorehounds, 7 Kevins, God's Little Monkeys, the Drowning Fish, Doctor Miller & the Cute Hoors, Gil Scott-Heron & the Amnesia Express, Rock n' roll Box Club, Swinging Swine, A-House, Hinterland, Power of Dreams, the Elite.
Though rock music may be the crust of Dublin music, it is certainly not, so to speak, the whole pie. If it's traditional music (what we think of stateside as acoustic Irish folk music) you're after, you'll find it in no less abundance. Outfits like the Snug Band, Seamus Mehan & Mary Corcoran, Bread & Roses, Con & Friends, Steve Fearing, Hada to Hada and many more usually are playing around town in any given week. On most Friday or Saturday nights it's hard to find a neighborhood that doesn't have at least one local pub featuring live Irish music.
For Irish-style country music (that is, music by the dozens of Irish bands that have become so uncannily adept at capturing the sound and spirit of American/Nashville country sound that they could possibly even come stateside and have a hit country record), the headquarters is a rowdy Irish-style honky-tonk called Bad Bob's. Here, and at other night spots like Slattery's, Angler's Rest, the Brazen Head, the Olympia Theatre and elsewhere, you can hear Irish C&W; practitioners like Hank Wangford ("the singing gynecologist"), Country Wildlife, One Eyed Rattlers, American Pie, Chris Meehan & His Redneck Friends, Hank Halfhead & the Rambling Turkeys, the Fleadh Cowboys, and the Little Oak String Band rattling the rafters, and making the pints of Guinness bounce on the table tops night after night.
Being the university town and international cultural center that it is, Dublin offers much in jazz as well. The National Jazz Society of Ireland sponsors a series of concerts featuring revered Irish and foreign jazz and blues masters. At local venues like Fitzpatrick's Castle Hotel, Dalkey Wine Bar, the Spa Hotel, Madigan's, and Walter's, you can check out local jazz and blues ensembles such as the Jonnie Londin Band, Swing 42, the Sidewalk Seven, the Blues Brothers Band, the Big Band, Hotfoot, Swing Time and the Legendary Hoods.
If it's Irish-style cabaret music you're itching for, the choices are nearly as varied, and the options no less numerous. Red Hurley & His Band, Noel Porter & Breakout, the Guy Mitchell Show, Chuckles, Vinny Tracy & Spice, the Silvertones, Chris & the Breakaways, Glen Allen & the Regal Sound, the Pat Egan Big Band hold forth on a regular basis at Dolly's Lounge, Braemor Rooms, Lower Deck, Seventh Lock, the Barge, Clontarf Castle and other swanky Dublin watering holes.
Only a pop music subcultural elitist could overlook the formidable presence of classical music in Dublin town. The National Symphony Orchestra, along with various guest artists, plays an extensive schedule at the National Concert Hall. Other ensembles and choral groups like the Irish Chamber Orchestra, the RTE Vanbrugh String Quartet and Prelude Brass perform frequently at the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham and elsewhere.
There are several indispensable publications that feature concert schedules and thorough club listings for the greater Dublin metropolitan area. The Irish Tourist Board -- 757 Third Ave., New York, N.Y. 10017; telephone (212) 418-0800 -- publishes a useful guide called "Dublin 1991, European City of Culture," as well as other helpful material.
In Dublin, you can pick up a copy of the free Dublin Event Guide, or In Dublin (95 pence), both of which have extensive schedules and features. The cheeky and surprisingly literate Hot Press (sort of Dublin's answer to Rolling Stone or the Village Voice) contains club directories and lively features on the Dublin scene.
The Irish Tourist Board also publishes schedules of dozens of annual musical festivals that are held around the country throughout the warmer months. The Dublin Street Carnival, held annually in late June, draws crowds of a half-million or more to the city's downtown streets and offers open-air musical concerts, street theater and puppet shows. Dublin's annual International Rock Music Seminar, sponsored in part by Hot Press, will be held Sept. 20-22.