Heart of Boston
Dropkick Murphys give more than music to its hometown
The Dropkick Murphys are about as Boston as a band could get. Whether personifying New England’s deeply rooted Irish community in its Celtic-punk sound, performing at Fenway Park during the MLB playoffs, or soundtracking Martin Scorsese’s Boston crime drama The Departed with the anthemic “I’m Shipping Up to Boston,” for much of its 20-year history, the band has been iconic in its home city.
It isn’t just music that’s made the Dropkick Murphys synonymous with Boston, but also its philanthropic outreach in helping raise awareness and funds for causes ranging from the victims of the marathon bombings to labor and union rights.
And earlier this spring, the band was honored with the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps’ Embracing the Legacy Award for the Claddagh Fund, a charity founded by bassist Ken Casey and hockey great, and former Boston Bruin, Bobby Orr. In its seven short years, the Claddagh Fund has raised and donated millions of dollars for children and veterans’ organizations, along with drug-rehabilitation programs.
“We’ve never considered ourselves a ‘political band’ like world politics, but we’ve always been more about the neighborhood politics, if you will,” said lead singer Al Barr during a recent phone interview.
“Kenny had the vision to realize that as we get bigger, there’s gonna be a perception out there of us, and we’ve always been about giving back, so why not have a vehicle like the Claddagh Fund where we can directly affect communities with raising money for charities?” Barr said. “That was a direct way for us to show that we aren’t just talking the talk, that we are willing to walk the walk.”
In contrast to its current prestige, the Dropick Murphys had simple and happenstance beginnings. The band was started as somewhat of a joke when Casey was asked to form a group on a bet. A year later, the band was opening for fellow Bostonians and ska-punk luminaries The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and after adding Barr the following year, started putting rubber to the road and building its reputation as a tireless touring act. Dropkick Murphys was no longer a joke.
“We were only just a band,” said Barr. “We were four guys getting in a van with another guy selling merch for us, with a little trailer and opening up for other bands. In the first eleven months I played over 300 … shows with the Dropkicks. It was basically right out of the gate we were gangbusters.”
The band’s “Celtic punk” description gives a fairly clear indication of its sound, a fusion of the often lively nature of traditional Celtic music with the raucous delivery of punk rock. The key common element between the styles is high, surging energy, which has attracted an eclectic and devoted fanbase.
“We still have a very rabid loyal following of people that are entrenched in punk rock, but also we’ve managed to attain a following of music lovers from all walks of life,” Barr said.
As the Boston band kicks off its third decade with a 20th anniversary tour (stopping at the Senator Theatre, Saturday, Oct. 1), a new record to be released in winter, and another to follow shortly after, it would seem the members aren’t slowing down … for the most part.
“I’ve been in bands for the last 32 years of my life, my chicken sprung a long time ago,” Barr said. “I go to bed early after the set; I don’t go out. I’m on the slippers-and-robes bus. We try to take care of ourselves so we can do what we do up there.”