Sligo Rags have mastered the ability to take songs from a time gone by and make them fresh and relevant for a modern audience. Their passion for the music and their willingness to take risks combine for an outstanding live show.  
––Lisa Elaine Scott, Music Connection    READ THE FULL REVIEW BELOW


With “Sligo Rags” we were treated to an extremely talented band of pure musicians and glorious singers who had fun mixing elements of great music. Along with traditional Irish tunes and bluegrass, we heard traces of classical and pop, Peer Gynt followed by Pink Floyd, a fun reference to the appreciation of music of any era. “No great shakes at all”, was a delight, along with the merry soulful “Raggle Taggle Gypsy” song.
     --eyespyLA, on Sligo Rags at the Ford Theatre


"This Group is Grand"
-- Celtic Beat

"Sligo Rags' sound is based on fiddle, guitar or mandolin and bass backing up comfortably smooth singing, and it's the melodic and unpretentious arrangements that are this trio's strength."

"Sligo Rags has absolutely captured the sound of a traditional Irish pub band."

"This band can lighten up an atmosphere as dim as the Guinness stout you
just ordered at the bar.  Sligo Rags really know their Celtic music"

--San Diego Troubador.

"As Irish-trad bands go, you’d pretty much have to
journey to Sligo to find anything better"--

--Orange County Weekly

"Sligo Rags has been named Best Folk Band
in Orange County for the last two years,
and there's no reason to believe the streak will be broken soon."

--Long Beach Press-Telegram

Material: An Irish pub band extraordinaire, L.A.-based Sligo Rags deliver a rich and satisfying mix of traditional jigs and reels, put ballads and Celtic-influenced originals. Classics like "Star of the County Down" and Ewan McColl's "Go, Move, Shift" are presented along with originals like the poignant "The Whiskey Never Lies." While the Rags don't stray far from the original intent of these time-honored tunes, they are not afraid to be innovative. By adding bluegrass-style flat-picking and world-beat rhythms to these traditional arrangements, they keep things interesting form the first note to the last.

Musicianship: All veteran musicians playing at pro level, these players are well rehearsed and confident. Kelly's vocals are steady and well-suited to this genre. Burns' flat-picking is inspired, while Kelly's fiddle playing -- lightning fast and always accurate -- is nothing short of phenomenal. Hartwell's unique percussion combination of cajon, djembe, chimes and cymbals, all slapped or tapped with open hands, along with Rustvold's steady bass, provide an intriguing array of rhythms that keeps this traditional fare vibrant.

Performance: These bandmates are clearly committed to this project, and it showed in the level of intensity they maintained throughout the evening. With only an occasional ballad to slow the pace, these guys never lost their stamina. The Rags thrive on audience participation, and they were determined to make true believers out of anyone within earshot. More than once, Kelly invigorated the crowd by leaving the stage and going from table to table as he played. At one point, he was joined on the dance floor by an enthusiastic waitress who treated the audience to an impromptu Irish dance performance.

Summary: The Sligo Rags have mastered the ability to take songs from a time gone by and make them fresh and relevant for a modern audience. Their passion for the music and their willingness to take risks combine for an outstanding live show.
--Lisa Elaine Scott

The Irish Herald, November 2007 vol. 5 no. 2

By Lisa Elaine Scott

From neighborhood pubs to outdoor festivals, house parties to concert halls, Michael Kelly, David Burns, Gordon Rustvold and Jonathan Baer, aka Sligo Rags, have been performing regularly throughout the Southland for the past ten years. While the Rags stay true to the original intent of the traditional tunes they play, they are not afraid to be innovative. The addition of bluegrass-style flat-picking and world music rhythms to these time-honored songs creates a unique brand of Irish music that these bandmates are eager to share with . . . well, anyone who will listen.

“We draw from many musical influences, and it works,” says Burns, a multi-instrumentalist who started playing the five-string banjo at age fourteen. “Each of us is rooted in a different musical style, so we just combine them and see where it takes us.”

“And it’s nice because we’re not in competition with other Irish bands,” adds bass player Rustvold, who decided on a career in music at the age of nine after hearing a Beatles tune on the radio. “A lot of the bands out there are either Irish-rock or Irish-punk and they actually like playing gigs with us because we’re doing something totally different.”

It is fiddle player Kelly who can be credited with bringing this versatile group together. In 2002, after learning several Irish songs with another group, Kelly fell in love with the music and decided to put together his own band. After seeing Burns and Rustvold performing at separate shows, Kelly convinced them that a combined effort was worth a shot.

“I just said, hey, I want to work with these guys, and I kept pushing until it happened,” explains Kelly, who started playing the violin in elementary school.

While the initial inspiration for the band belongs to Kelly, the idea for the band name came from Burns. As he recalls, the name was just sitting there in the third verse of the classic song “The Irish Rover.” According to the lyrics, there were one million bags of the best Sligo rags, and the band agreed that it would be a fitting tribute to take their name from such a venerable tune.

Kelly, Burns and Rustvold remained a trio for the first three years. They had considered adding a drummer several times and had even auditioned a few, but the fit was never right. They relied on Rustvold’s thumping bass lines to provide the rhythm and had no plans to add a fourth player until they received an ultimatum from a club owner – get a drummer or play somewhere else!

Since the birth of their signature sound, the Sligo Rags have been building their fan base by playing shows as often as possible. They have recorded three full-length CDs, “The Night Before the Morning After,”
“The Whiskey Never Lies”and the recently released "roll Me Down the Mountain,"  and are the two-time winners of the Orange County Music Award for Best Folk Band. But as each band member will attest, it takes a lot of work to be a successful indie band. From booking gigs to selling CDs, the Rags run an entirely independent operation.

“It’s hard sometimes. You can put in a whole lot of energy and see very little return,” admits Kelly. “We send out a lot of demos and do a lot of follow up just to maybe get one gig.”

Burns agrees. “You can’t relax. We have a good deal of momentum right now. People will come up to us after a show and say, ‘we saw you here, or we saw you there,’ but if we let up, it could all go away.”

“Yeah, when you start seeing the same faces from one show to the next, that’s really gratifying,” adds Kelly. “And people bring their friends with them, and that’s a great way to build an audience.”

But all four bandmates agree that despite the hard work, the long days and even longer nights, there’s nothing else they’d rather be doing or any other music they’d rather be playing.

“I have the performing bug,” confesses Burns. “And for me, it’s all about the audience. I don’t care how big or small the venue is. If the audience is with us, then it’s a good night.”

“I didn’t know any Irish music until I joined this band,” admits Rustvold. “My grandparents were from Ireland, but it really wasn’t until I learned these songs that I started to understand the culture. Then it occurred to me that this culture is part of my heritage.”

“But I don’t think you have to be Irish to feel Irish,” adds Kelly. “I think the music and the culture really speaks to everybody. This is music that touches your soul.”



"The Whiskey Never Lies" by Sligo Rags 

by Catherine L. Tully

Sligo Rags
Album: The Whiskey Never Lies
Year produced: 2007

Starting off with a "barbershop quartet-like" intro to their title track, "The Whiskey Never Lies," Sligo Rags then launches in to an energetic (and fantastic) song; the perfect attention grabber for this CD. I wasn't sure what to expect next. And this album is like that...by track 3 I was intrigued and looking forward to each new sound/song to see what fresh offering was coming down the pipe...
There is an ease to the musicianship here that is refreshing. It takes expert players to make things sound so fluid. Blending Celtic, folk, bluegrass and a tiny bit of rock/funk stylings, this band has a unique sound to contribute to listeners. The mixture of humour and traditional sounds with fresh arrangements and musical virtuosity means a feast for the ears. The folk/bluegrass influence assures that the tunes are never too jarring, but the Celtic pull means that they are also energetic or infused with feeling.

The dedication to their craft shines through, and you can tell that they put a lot of effort into this CD. They have truly put their best out there for all to see; and it is pretty dang great. Have a listen and enjoy...

Catherine L. Tully is a freelance writer and photographer who specializes in the arts. She has written for American Style and Classical Singer, among other magazines, and reviews music for Marc Gunn's Celtic MP3s Music Magazine. You can reach her through her website at CatherineLTully.com.


Orange Pop

Special to the Register

Talk about being all over the map. The latest crop of new releases includes a singer-songwriter-piano virtuoso, an outstanding Irish music trio, and one of Orange County's most genre-defying ensembles.

Sligo Rags, "The Night Before the Morning After" (CeltHick Music) - For those who enjoy the Celtic rock of the Fenians and American Wake, but wonder how those local artists might sound in an unplugged setting, get Sligo Rags' "The Night Before the Morning After."

Listening to the 16 tracks on the disc, it's easy to see how the trio was named Best Folk Band at the Orange County Music Awards in 2004 and again this year. Whether performing the melodic "Dirty Old Town" or the traditional "The Irish Rover," singer-fiddler Michael Kelly, singer-guitarist-mandolin-banjo player David Burns and bassist Gordon Rustvold blend the acoustic instrumentation of old recordings with the contemporary approach taken by ensembles such as Solas and the Chieftains in bringing unbridled energy to their arrangements.

Although there are countless recordings of the traditional "The Star of the County Down," few are as emotive as Sligo Rags' version.

You might like if you enjoy: the Chieftains, Solas, Fairport Convention

Celtic Beat
Sligo Rags: The Night Before the Morning After

For a "local" band, from California, this group is grand. The instrumentals are strong and upbeat-trad Irish with a touch of Bluegrass-just a touch. They take tunes which have become rather cliché(even those that have a "respectable" folkie origin such as "Here to Clare")and make them new and exhilarating. Still relevant-particularly to today's mess-referencing this country not less Ireland is a rather different instrumental treatment of "Arthur MacBride" which should be a song on the lips of anyone who wants freedom(and then peace) in our time from the pious frauds and mullahs of both organized religion crime families and their government hirelings. This is inspiring. What was relevant in '98 is relevant now. Also relevant is "Johnny McGrory" which today should be a reminder to so called 'statesmen" to finish with victory what they start. This finishes with a feverish terrific "Gari Owen"-the theme song of one bad bunch that got their just desserts at the hands of the First Americans. Here is great fiddling by Michael Kelly. "Minstrel Boy" is another excellent cut addressing these eternal themes. Indeed the purpose of art is to tell universal truths and the beauty of this CD is that it does just that.
Purely instrumental here are thoroughly enjoyable cuts such as "Jackie Tar"/"Harvest Home"/"Banish Misfortune," and "Flowers of Edinburgh." But throughout a high standard is more than adhered to on instrumentals by the aforementioned Burns, Kelly, along with Gordon Rustvold on bass guitar.
This is one of the best CDs by a stateside band I've heard so far.

CD Review: Sligo Rags,: The Night Before the Morning After.



Some of the finest Irish music is being performed by emigrants and American-born or based Irish-Americans. Apparent case in point: Orange County, California's Sligo rags, a trio with a repertoire that expertly crosses Irish vocal and instrumental music in twinkling fashion, leads traded off between the leader, Michael Kelly (fiddle and vocals), and multi-instrumentalist David Burns (guitar, banjo, mandolin, vocals), with Gordon Rustvold's solid bass guitar providing spot-on rhythm throughout.

I say "apparent," because the vocals of both Michael Kelly and David Burns sound like pure Irish, but I'm told that in point of fact none of the band is from Ireland at all, tho there is Mother Ireland in the background of two members (not Gordon Rustvold, whose name does provide a bit of a giveaway - but he doesn't sing on the CD). However, in song after song, rich regional - if adopted for the occasion - accents ring clear throughout this very appealing CD, from the opening uptempo version of "From Clare to Here - it still manages to retain the wistfulness of this lovely song - to the jaunty closer, "Red is the Rose."

Favorites here: The "Jackie Tar/Harvest Home/Banish Misfortune" medley (cut 3); the machine-gun delivery of "Little Beggarman," which opens cut 6; "Arthur McBride," cut 8 - sounding very close to Paul Brady's setting of the song; and the near-swaggering "Minstrel Boy," cut 14, with its emphasis more on the defiance of the bold young harper rather than his untimely death, an interesting re-emphasis. But the music is of high quality throughout, and the CD comes with the fullest recommendation for purchase and repeat listening.
(John McLaughlin, April 4, 2005)

An Introduction to Sligo Rags? new CD

 We've all seen a movie, or heard a CD that had been so over-hyped that it could never have lived up to the overstatement. Reviewers continually overuse superlatives until they lose their meaning, altogether. If the writer had simply left well enough alone, you might have actually enjoyed the artist's offering. I hope not to commit this sin with the latest CD from Sligo Rags, "The Night Before the Morning After," while giving you a glimpse of what is bound to be a satisfying experience.
At first listen, one hears the true sounds of acoustic instruments, save for electric bass, expertly recorded by Martin Beal. The CD has a definite traditional flavor, but also offers some more contemporary titles, and fans of both worlds will be pleased with the songs from the other's genre. The arrangements are interestingly different, and yet sensible. Musical choices are made in favor of artistry, not gimmick or happenstance - sometimes unexpected, but not unwelcome. And the intros, the intros are lush, woven as expertly as an Aran sweater.
Immediately evident is the wonderful interplay of Dave Burns (guitars, banjo, mandolin, vocals), and Michael Kelly (fiddle, vocals); although, each player holds his own while soloing. Burns is accomplished on all of the instruments he plays, comfortable with fingerstyle or the pick. His guitar work, my favorite, is clean, blending Irish greens with blues, jazz, and bluegrass. Michael Kelly's fiddle intonation is impeccable, and his tone sweet - no listener's fatigue here. Both Burns and Kelly are able vocalists, choosing songs suited to their respective voices - Burns' the deeper of the two, Kelly approaching an Irish tenor. Gordon Rustvold, anchoring the trio with his steady, crisp style of playing, does electric bass work. While not bombastic, you would notice if he were not there, or if he were too there.
The Star of the County Down will have you going for the repeat button. Go ahead, once, but don't fail to go on to the other tracks. The Foggy Dew, Little Beggarman, and John Riley are standout selections of mine. You will have your own. Enjoy.

Rob Williams
The Fenians




If you talk of Irish music and Orange County, that talk will inevitably turn to the band that's been doing the Eire thing for years: the Fenians. So omnipresent are the Fenians that their name pops up in casual conversation in weird, unexpected ways: The Fenians ran over my cat. The Fenians cured my rheumatism. The Fenians were almost elected pope.  The Fenians stole my identity.  The Fenians got my sister knocked up.  How would the Fenians get rid of the body? Would you like some fresh, hot Fenians for just 59 cents extra with your order, sir? Is that the Fenians in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?

Woe, then, to poor Sligo Rags, a trio of mostly acoustic Irish music players, who can't escape the Fenians' gaping maw. (Who wrote the liner notes for this album? A Fenian!) Yet Sligo Rags are really only similar to the Fenians in that both share the same sonic geography. They're a much mellower outfit: while Fenians gigs can make you want to get tanked on Guinness till it spews back out your mouth, we sense Sligo Rags music works best over a plate of salmon and a simple pint whilst sitting in a quaint seaside Irish pub  Mandolins, banjos, fiddles and accordions dominate the mostly traditional tunes, and for the sake of familiarity, they throw in Dirty Old Town and Star of the County Down, which most novices would probably remember from old Pogues and Van Morrison albums. As Irish-trad bands go, you'd pretty much have to journey to Sligo to find anything better. We've actually been to Sligo, too, five years ago on a drive from Limerick to Belfast; the town wasn't all that, but for road tunes, we sure would have preferred to have this record along instead of the sleepy Enya tape we picked up at the Waterford crystal factory gift shop.


Quick—name an Irish band from OrangeCounty. OK, if you’re at all into the local Celtic scene, that was probably pretty easy. Now name one that isn’t called The Fenians. If you found the second task a bit more difficult, it’s no surprise. TheFenians and their signature brand  of Irish trad-rock are certainly the dominant presence in O.C. Irish music. But they’re far from alone; there’s a short but sterling list of other, more acoustic Celtic bands who are based in the county to the south. One of the finest of these is a trio called Sligo Rags,
who were named Best Folk Band at the Orange County Music Awards for the past two years. I have to admit that I’d never heard Sligo Rags before this CD was given to me for review, but I’m definitely a fan now. The Night Before the Morning After is a collection of familiar and mostly-traditional Irish songs and tunes. My first take when I read the track list was dismay at the thought of having to listen to yet another version of The Star of the County Down or Dirty Old Town. But you can’t, or shouldn’t, judge a CD by its cover, and
the old standards on this album are anything but boring. Sligo Rags has absolutely captured the sound of a traditional Irish pub
band; so much so, that you could book them to play in Dublin’s Temple Bar and no one would be the wiser. Instrumentals are their strong point, particularly the fiddling of Michael Kelly and the guitar styling of David Burns supported by Gordon Rustvold on bass. Their songs have unusually long and complex instrumental intros, making the vocals seem almost incidental.Having admitted to cringing at the thought of hearing The Star of the County Down, I must now confess that it’s one of my favorite tracks on the album thanks to a brilliant intro and unorthodox tempo. I’m also partial to Red is the Rose for the same reasons, and to The Irish Rover, which features
Burns on the banjo, Kelly on fiddle, and a great blend of voices. The only thing I didn’t love about The Night Before the Morning After
was the insert. While it may not be necessary to include lyrics with an album of such well-known songs, I’d still like to see a bit of a message from the band members; maybe a blurb about each song or something witty about their music. The main feature of the insert is a full-page reprint of a review written by Rob Williams of The Fenians. Williams’ praise is definitely a
point of pride, but these guys don’t need an endorsement to validate their album…the music speaks for itself.