Reeling in the Years

Two steadfast Syracuse bands of sharply different styles are coming together for a common cause: to party.

Two steadfast Syracuse bands of sharply different styles are coming together for a common cause: to party. The Causeway Giants, a Celtic rock outfit, is celebrating a 10-year anniversary, while The Action!, a ska group, notches 15 years. Their big bash takes place Saturday, Oct. 19, at Armory Square’s Museum of Science and Techonology (MOST).

The unusual combo came together in an ordinary way: as friends.

Causeway Giants

Causeway Giants

“I ran a mailroom at a law firm and met Chris Centore {who was in the Giants},” recalls Mike Gibson, lead singer and guitarist of The Action! “We found out we were both in bands, and there’s not a lot of people to talk to about music with at a law firm, so we became friends.”

Later, Gibson’s elementary school friend, Nate Kishman, also connected the groups by becoming the Giants’ fiddle player. “We were at Coleman’s watching {the Causeway Giants}, and Nate was coming to meet us to see them,” Gibson explains. “Nate had been in a Celtic rock band in Rochester that had just broken up, and the Causeway Giants had just lost a fiddle player. They said it as a joke during the set, like, ‘Anyone know a fiddle player?’ And while they were playing, Nate came and I said to Chris, ‘Meet your new fiddle player.’” The bands have been fans of each other over the years, often attending each other’s shows but never playing a bill together—another reason this unusual pairing is so exciting. And even though The Action! might not play Celtic rock, Gibson has proven he’s got an able hand to write the music. One of his songs, “It’s Alright (I’m Drinking),” appeared on the Giants’ album One More. . . Then I Gotta Go.

Giants drummer Sean Johnston is as fond of Gibson and his band as he is his own, apparent in his constant praise of both groups. He’s also happy to be spreading his love of Celtic rock through both performance and his Irish Power Hour radio program on WTKW-FM 99.5 (TK99) and WOUR-FM 96.9, broadcast Sundays at 9 p.m.

“Most people don’t know Celtic rock bands outside of Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly,” he explains. “And after St. Patrick’s Day, you usually don’t hear them on the radio, either.”

But that doesn’t mean great music in the genre doesn’t exist, especially here in Syracuse.

The Causeway Giants came together in 2003, and over the years has grown to as many as eight people at one point, “and we all fit on the Kitty Hoynes stage,” Johnston brags. The group is six members strong: Matt Centore on vocals, keys, accordion, bodhran, whistles and harmonica; Mike Centore on vocals and acoustic guitar; Johnston on drums, bodhran and vocals; Dan Medici on bass; Erik Jacob on mandolin, banjo and electric guitar; and Kishman on fiddle.


The Action!

Although the band tends to pack most of its shows around the greenest season (before St. Patrick’s Day), they can be seen throughout the year at venues including Coleman’s, the Irish Festival at Clinton Square, the Tipp Hill Music Festival and the Westcott Street Cultural Fair. They’ve also performed at gigs including Manhattan’s Knitting Factory and Herkimer’s Great American Irish Festival.

“I can’t believe how many times I hear it,” Johnston says. “People are like, ‘That really doesn’t suck.’ People are expecting ‘Danny Boy,’ and then they hear {the Causeway Giants}.”

Matt Centore also takes traditional pieces, although usually more obscure than “Danny Boy,” and flips them on their heads by making them rock. “It’s fun to put the arrangements together,” Johnston says. “They’re traditional Irish songs that we put our own arrangements to. It’s fun to take the music that I grew up on and twist it.”

Pair the rowdy drinking songs of the Giants with the popping ska tunes of The Action!, and the result on Saturday night is bound to be big.

“There’s not many obvious similarities in our music, but we have similar attitudes to what we do and how we do it,” Gibson says of the bands. “We have fun. We have a good working relationship. We’re a good match.”

For The Action!, the 15-year mark also signals a major turning point for the members: Gibson, Chris Nolan (trumpet, vocals), Craig Chamberlain (drums), Adam Carkey (bass) and Dan King (trombone).

“I thought of this when we put out our last album,” Gibson begins. “How many guys in the band were 15 when we started? As we progress, we’re getting into a situation that we’ve been in the band longer than we haven’t. It’s weird to think about!” The band started as Skapos when the members were students at West Genesee High School and continued even as the group went away to college. Today, they’re prepared to keep going as long as they can keep playing.

“I think it’s shocking we’ve been around for 15 years,” Gibson says. “I wouldn’t want to play with any other group of guys. They’re great musicians and great friends. I think it’s rare for a band to be around for 15 years, especially if it’s not your job to be a professional musician—to be paid to be together all the time. But we’re best friends still. We enjoy each other as musicians and people.”

Johnston feels the same about his bandmates. “For 10 years, we’ve stuck together with the same group and it’s still fun,” he says. “To say there’s no bullshit is unrealistic, but when we go out playing, it’s still a great feeling. The best feeling.”

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