When Americans think of Irish music, it's usually U2 or penny whistles, fiddle tunes and traditional Celtic jigs that come to mind. But while traditional folk music still wafts from pub windows onto the streets of County Sligo and County Cork on any given night, the country's fabled folk songs are no more present in mainstream media than bluegrass, jazz, old time or blues are on commercial radio and television in the U.S.
"There are programs dedicated to it, but it's at 10 o'clock on a Saturday night when people are going out. Who listens to the radio at that time?" says Cathy Jordan, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist for Dervish, one of Ireland's most popular traditional musical ambassadors.
"It's often shoved off into the corner, which is the bane of our lives. It's tough now for traditional musicians to have it played on the national airwaves. I would like to see a policy like Canada has where they play home-based music, not just traditional music. France has it too. Something like 60 percent (of what's on radio) would be homegrown."
Homegrown for Dervish, which plays The Great Aunt Stella Center on Wednesday, is County Sligo, an influential area for Irish music that colors its energetic live show.
"Back in the 1920s a couple of musicians from Sligo, Michael Coleman and James Morrison, left and went to New York. They ended up recording with jazz musicians, and when those records came back to Ireland years later it caused a huge revival and everyone wanted to play in the Sligo style," explains Jordan.
"Before travel became much easier, styles were like dialects. Sligo was wild and fast and highly ornamental. Donegal would've had more of a Scottish influence. People would play slides and polkas in County Kerry. When the records came back from the Sligo people, that diluted the styles."
Dervish may not be a pop chart staple at home, but with 21 years under its belt, Sligo's hometown heroes have become a renowned international act performing for audiences in China, Israel, Europe and North and South America. It met its largest crowd during Brazil's Rock in Rio festival.
"It was the first time in Rock in Rio that they had a world music element to it," says Jordan, who performed twice with Dervish in between headliners on a stage to the left of the main stage. "Everyone would turn their heads to the left. You had up to 300,000 people in front of you. We played between Sepultura and Iron Maiden one day and between Sheryl Crow and Neil Young the next."
The experience reiterated Jordan's belief that traditional music can appeal to a larger pop and rock audience.
"There is a much bigger audience for tribe and folk music than people give it credit for. You really see the potential of how popular it could be given the same airtime and space at these big festivals," says Jordan, whose audience ranges from a more subdued older crowd in the U.S. to energetic 20-somethings in Europe.
"We were amazed at the reaction that it got. Brazilians are so rhythmical. They get all the changes from the jigs to the marches to the polkas. Whatever you play, they have no problem, they just dance around."