For 20 years, the Dallas-based Killdares have been playing Celtic rock 'n' roll at every pub, club and Irish festival across America that will have them. But the last bagpipe will finally wail Friday, Nov. 18 at the Kessler Theater, where the band is performing a sold-out farewell concert.
"We want to go out on a high note, on our own terms, before we get to the point of burning out or fading away," says Tim Smith, the Killdares' Irving-born founder, drummer and lead singer. "It's going to be an emotional night, but a positive one, too.
"Twenty [years] is a good number: It's a testament to our legacy that we were able to sustain a career that long."
Plenty of bands don't last two years, let alone two decades. But Smith and company have been the war horse of the regional Irish music scene, releasing seven albums and playing multiple shows a day for 17 years at the State Fair of Texas.
They've persevered in part through versatility. Rejecting staunch traditionalism, the Killdares mixed fiddle-fueled standards like "Whiskey in the Jar" with Gaelic-rock remakes of the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" and their own wide-ranging original tunes.
"We could play an Irish pub one night, a rock club the next, and a general music festival the next," Smith says. "We had a great crossover."
Granted, they never quite crossed over into the mainstream. But Smith says the Killdares also never sacrificed their ideals on the altar of success.
"We were approached by record labels but turned them down because they weren't right for us at the time," he says. "We were fiercely independent, and I think that's something to be admired. We were perfecting the do-it-yourself model long before 'DIY' became a catchy term."
Like any long-running band, the Killdares experienced the full gamut of magical shows, bad gigs and strange nights. Highlights for Smith include playing to a rabid crowd of 10,000 at a festival in Albany, N.Y. on the banks of the Hudson River.
The odd moments include some Spinal Tap-ish equipment malfunctions. "When bagpipe tassels get caught in the headstocks of guitars, there's nothing you can do but stop the song and have a good laugh," he says.
Smith says he doesn't have firm plans after the farewell concert, but he suspects he and the other band members will continue careers in music. The rest of the Killdares are bagpiper and flute player Matt Willis, Dublin-born bassist Gary Thorne, guitarist Mike Urness and fiddler Roberta Rast, an Idaho native who joined the band in 2002.
Wherever Smith ends up performing in the future, you can bet there will always be a bit of the Irish in his music.
"The Irish music scene has ebbed and flowed since we started in the mid-'90s, but I'm proud that we've always stayed at the forefront of bringing that culture to people," he says. "Given the style of music we play, we've never followed music-industry conventions. We've been flying our own flag and creating a style of our own that appeals to all ages and all races, with no boundaries. And that's something all of us can be proud of."
Thor Christensen is a Dallas writer and critic. Email him at Thorchris2@yahoo.com.