I have been attending the various music events during the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival for many years. Panarts, who run the event have the ability to draw top artists from around the globe and present them as equals to the audience.

Belnash events are always tremendously relaxed nights that you leave on a high. The programme is always jammed packed with something for every musical taste and this year, the tenth festival is no different.

Saturday saw something extra special. Belfast’s Empire was to become the set of a live radio and webcast (and eventually a television broadcast).

This might not sound like anything special but the radio station (Music Roots City) broadcasting then event was in Nashville to hundreds of listeners (it was mid afternoon in Tennessee).

Belfast Empire

I was at the event with my good friends Avalon guitars who have offered one of their £3000 acoustic guitars as a price during the festival (see the festival site). It was a relaxed night presented by Belfast’s own Ralph McClean and despite an array of television cameras I was still afforded a fair bit of freedom for stills.

As this wasn’t just a gig in the traditional sense but a live radio show there were some interviews and discussion between artists. It was actually a really interesting way to present the night.

Jim Lauderdale, the American host of the radio show (a music legend in his own right) team presented with Ralph and although it worked really well the “word from our sponsors” did feel a little unusual.

I am not going to claim I had heard Jim’s music before but I can say he was certainly an impressive character, his manner, approach and performance had the audience relaxed and attentive throughout.

Belfast Nashville

The Empire was packed, so I ended up shooting halfway down the hall so as not to annoy both the seated audience and the array of camera operators. I had hoped to get closer so I could use the X-T1 and 35mm (first two images) but I had to resort to the reach of a 200mm lens at f/2.8 which turned a few heads when I changed from the X-T1!

Gareth Dunlop, Empire

Gareth Dunlop

My draw to the event was the brilliant Gareth Dunlop. Gareth is a local artist who has quietly amassed a catalogue of success. His songs have been featured in numerous television series including “Cougar Town,” “One Tree Hill,” “Private Practice,” “Army Wives”,”Life Unexpected,” and the movie “Safe Haven”.

Belfast Nashville, Gareth Dunlop

Gareth is regular performer in the Belfast Nashville Festival and was also presented with the Young Songwriter of the Year award in 2011.

Gareth Dunlop, Avalon Guitar

Gareth’s style is loved by all generations and he is skilled of equally wowing a country music audience as an alternative rock crowd. Check out Gareth performing with Rams’ Pocket Radio at the launch of Beton.

Gareth Dunlop

Gareth has a remarkable voice that, alongside his Avalon acoustic was able to fill the Empire music hall and draw in every single member of the audience.

Like most Northern Ireland artists Dunlop is candid about his success and presents the fact “Wrap your arms around me” was used in hollywood film in traditional Belfast style. If you haven’t heard Gareth perform check out the official music video.

Gareth Dunlop is testament to the broad creative talent that is at the heart of Northern Ireland’s foundation. Some of the biggest television and films are now made in Northern Ireland, remarkably even television programmes set in English cities are still made in Belfast!

In terms of music, Gareth Dunlop Rams’ Pocket Radio, Mojo Fury, and Duke Special are just some of the names performing in Belfast this month alone and the list of musical success stories from Northern is almost exhaustive.

Belfast Music

Gareth Dunlop is headlining the Empire again this Thursday but in usual form the gig has been sold out for weeks. If you are gutted to have missed this event, fear not, the Belfast Nashville Festival runs until the 9th of March with fifty events featuring over one hundred songwriters.

The full programme of events is on their website. Also note, the festival is about songwriting and doesn’t focus on any particular genre!

Gareth Dunlop

There are some additional Belfast Nashville, Jim Lauderdale and Gareth Dunlop photos in the flickr set here and also I would encourage you to visit the Belfast Nashville site for upcoming events.


Additional Images
Gareth Dunlop
Belfast Nashville
Jim Lauderdale