Alright, so you’re sick of my obsessive love affair with Sligo. But most of what I’ve written about has been the surf and SUP scene, and my happy little community of friends.
But the other HUGE and highly underrated highlight of Sligo is its epic music scene.
Obviously I can’t compare Sligo to giant cities like Dublin. But I’ve spent time chasing around trad circles in Waterford, Galway, Lismore, etc, and while the music is never disappointing, Sligo has been my favourite by far. (Hey, they gave us Westlife. Yes, the boy band.)
This teeny town of 20,000 people literally never stops churning out exceptional musicians. I mean, other than the fact that every Irish person on the planet is apparently blessed with the ability to pick up a fiddle and rock the hell out of it, Sligo has a ridiculous amount of musical diversity.
Spend a week here and you’ll be high on melody and drunk on happiness. And Guinness.
I went back to Sligo in August for the Fleadh Cheoil – a crazy Irish music festival that’s kind of like the equivalent to St. John’s George Street Festival on crack. I had mistakenly thought that the festival is held in Sligo each year, but no, it changes up. Either way, the music plays year round.
If you’e wandering into town and you’re not really sure where to go, these venues are usually a sure bet.
I’ve gotta put Tricky’s first. It’s where I was initiated into the Sligo club, and introduced to Rack House Pilfer and Sunday M.A.S.S. Despite its small size, some amazing stuff goes on in this intimate pub. It’s impossible to leave here without making a few friends. Ask for the Baby Guinness.
5th On Teeling
I basically ended up here every single bloody night at this year’s Fleadh Cheoil. By the end of the week, I was ready to pull my hair out. But all the best shows were at 5th on Teeling, and despite the crowds and the shitty drunk people, it really was a great venue.
Oddly, I had never ventured into here on my first trip, although this place is legendary. Most weekends they’ll have shows. Sometimes they do a silent disco, which is surprisingly a lot of fun. As long as you keep your headphones on. People at clubs are really bad singers, FYI.
Thirsty Swagman’s got a little more of a hip, edgy, punk rock vibe to it…with Irish thrown in, of course. There’s a great outdoor area with a bar as well.
Lillies, Fureys, Shoot the Crows
These are the kind of Irish pubs you walk into not really knowing what to expect. There’s a small space where a musician will set up, and there are giant Guinness posters on the wall. People will often just gather around the table and jam it out for hours. And it might be a quiet night, or it might be the kind of night where a local legend strolls into the pub and starts up a song session on a Tuesday night and brings the whole house down.
Lillies is usually a sure bet.
T + C
I’m not actually supposed to write about this place. It’s top secret, and only the truly worthy are allowed inside. To enter, you have to befriend a Sligo person (genuinely, mind you) and ask them for the secret code.
Also my friend Kenny (aka The Gingerbread Man) DJs there every week, so you know it’s a good time.
The Dunes, and The Strand
I adore these little pubs/restaurants in Strandhill. Cozy, and all the surfers hang out here. The Dunes also hosts open mic every Monday.
If you’re looking to see something in particular, I have LOOOOADS of bands to recommend.
The Craic Addicts
These guys are dubbed “phunked-up trad” which is about as accurate as it gets. I seriously love how much fun these guys have onstage. This was my first year seeing them, because one of the band members (Peter) was one of my Sligo hosts this year. He drives something called a Bongo Bus, which is exactly what you think it is.
I own like, four CDs. Three of them are Fiona Apple albums, and the other is a Rackhouse Pilfer album.
I saw these guys on my first visit, and then Julia and I chased them everywhere all over town. Irish Americana Folk Rock goodness, and I LOVE that I can go to their shows and sing along with all their tunes. Heaven.
They’re also some of the most down to earth guys you’ll ever meet. I was floored this year when they remembered Julia and me from 2013 and came to chat with us afte their show one evening.
This guy is legendary, and is often found playing at various pubs around Sligo, sometimes with his son. He’s insanely versatile and plays pretty much every instrument on the planet. And he has a great voice to boot.
Sweet baby jesus these boys can’t be any older than 18 and they are KILLING IT. I saw them briefly at the Fleadh but they’ve developed such a crazy fan base that I just couldn’t handle the rambunctiousness of it all. What I did see, I liked.
These young guys are absolutely rocking the Irish trad. But in an insanely beautiful way that’s accessible to everyone. Everyone.
One of the best things I’ve ever done in Sligo is attend Sunday MASS at Tricky McGarrigles. Yes, Sunday night, and the place is off the wall. Can’t you tell why I love this place?!
MASS is all about funky, soul-filled happy music and having lots of fun.
Sometimes they also do midnight MASS.
Aindrias de Stack
This guy is one of the quirkiest, most upbeat people you’ll meet in Ireland. His performances are one part comedy, and one part musical bliss. Dude’s seriously talented and although he’s usually a one-man band, he manages to keep the whole place entirely captivated. You can usually find him every Thursday night at Tricky’s.
Cathy Jordan & Dervish
I missed Cathy Jordan this year, because I was naïve enough to think that her show wouldn’t sell out. Nope. Cathy and her band, Dervish, are insanely popular all over Ireland. She’s also the musician who serenaded me during my best travel day of all time.
If you’re lucky, you might even catch a SUP musical performance on Lake Gill with SUP for all.