The survival of ethnic traditions can face its fair share of struggles, resistance and intermittent stumbles. In the case of South Buffalo quintet Crikwater, adherence to its role as Nickel City saviors of traditional Irish music has encountered these and other inconveniences.
Including surgical staples. To the head.
Before the band's March 5 show at the Buffalo Irish Center to celebrate the release of its second album—the self-titled “Crikwater”—banjoist Peter Zalocha suffered a gash to his scalp while setting up for soundcheck. Four hours and one trip to a nearby medical center later, Zalocha was back on stage, bloodied, stapled and ready to convey the ancestral stories that have become the currency of his rising Celtic collective.
Emblematic of the working-class culture the musicians champion and Irish-American neighborhood they call home, Crikwater has a job to do—and a mere flesh wound isn’t going to stop them from doing it.
“We want to carry on the tradition of Irish music,” said Crickwater bassist Matt Sperber, standing beside bandmates Liam Caulfield, Charlie Coughlin and Billy Lewis before that Irish Center show. “There are so many guys our age playing rock and other genres. Our inspiration comes from [Irish folk] bands like Planxty, the Dubliners and the Clancy Brothers. We want to keep that inspiration going, and we hope this album influences people to listen to more of that music.”
Since its inception in 2010, the five-piece of Caulfield (vocals, multi-instrumental), Coughlin (fiddle), Lewis (guitar, vocals), Sperber and Zalocha has been influencing local crowds via its tireless delivery of pub songs, rebel ballads and folk classics. But with its new album now circulating amid St. Patrick’s Day season—and March 17 shows planned for Potter’s Field (5 p.m.) and Talty’s Tavern (9 p.m.)—the band can illuminate its embrace of traditional Irish music under brighter lights.
Over its latest release’s 14 songs of instrumental reels, traditional favorites (“Long Black Veil” and “The Old Triangle”) and bluegrass-flavored originals (“Angels’ Share”), Crikwater remains loyal to its genre forebears in both style and substance. Songs about whiskey, women and whaling are constructed to mimic a three-set show, with arcs and dips consistent with the ebb and flow of the band’s historically rollicking performances. It’s a certain step forward, and one loyal to the same ancestral path they’re intent on following.
“I just hope [listeners] enjoy it like we do,” said Caulfield. “It’s really the only reason we do this. We want to have fun with the Irish tradition, and impart that tradition onto other people.”
And for a band whose material pairs well with boiled cabbage and pints of stout, there’s no better time of year to find a receptive audience than March. But after the month is over, the musicians of Crickwater carry on—bandaged or otherwise. Their songs aren’t confined to a season, and their diligence doesn’t fade after the emerald parades. It’s a year-round mission, with this time of year merely the best for relaying its Irish creations and their connection to the burgeoning folk spirit of Buffalo.
“If we’re going to make someone’s St. Patrick’s Day happier, if this time of year is going to be more fulfilled because they’re purchasing our CD or attending our show, then I feel like we’ve done our job,” said Caulfield. “But if this is something they feel they love enough to follow us on a regular basis, even better.”
When: 5 p.m. March 17 at Potter's Field (425 Potters Road) and 9 p.m. March 17 at Talty’s Tavern (2056 South Park Ave.)