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The Willoughby Brothers top act at North Country Goes Green festival


Desmond Willoughby said he was once told by someone that it was unusual to have six brothers who are on speaking terms with each other.

But for the six singing Willoughby brothers, who grew up in Coolboy, County Wicklow, Ireland, success at such tasks is relative.

“We obviously have our disagreements, but we sort them out,” Mr. Willoughby said last month in a phone interview from his home in Carlow, Ireland. “We’re kind of country guys who go on to do what we do. It’s as simple as that.”

The North Country Goes Green Irish Festival and the Disabled Persons Action Organization will present the Willoughby Brothers on Saturday night at the Dulles State Office Building.

Mr. Willoughby was the catalyst for the creation of the Willoughby Brothers, which formed two years ago. The brothers’ ages range from 25 to 37. Their Watertown concert will be the group’s first stage act in this country, he said. The group has performed at Irish-themed cruises out of Florida the past couple of years.

“It’s kind of our first venture over to the U.S. for us,” said Mr. Willoughby, who at 34 is the second-oldest brother. “We’re interested to see what kind of reaction we’re going to get.”

Mr. Willoughby is a former member of the Three Irish Tenors, which did extensive tours of Ireland, England and the U.S.

“About three years ago I left the group,” he said. “I was singing solo.”

He and his brothers always sang at social events and family gatherings, Mr. Willoughby said.

“We tried it on a more professional basis about two years ago,” he said. “Then we went into the studio and recorded our first album, (“The Promise”), which we released 18 months ago.”

Mr. Willoughby and his brothers, Richie, Sammy, Robbie, Johnny and Jerome, were brought up in a musical family. Their parents, Richard and Breda, were members the popular Irish “country” band the Moonsiders, which performed across Ireland. Their mother died 22 years ago at the age of 38.

“We’re actually very close as a family,” Mr. Willoughby said. “Because we’re involved in this music project, it’s brought us even closer together. There’s not a week that goes by that we don’t see each other.”

Each brother, he said, has his own musical inspiration.

“Each has their favorite who they like in the musical business, which adds to the mix.”

That variety is reflected in their concerts, Mr. Willoughby said. He described their concerts as “Celtic-Irish and crossing over into more contemporary stuff.”

“We do classics like ‘The Fields of Athan Rye’ and ‘Ireland’s Call,’” Mr. Willoughby said. “Then we cross over into more contemporary stuff like Rod Stewart’s ‘Sailing’ and Labi Siffre’s ‘Something Inside So Strong.’ There’s a broad range; a little bit of folk, country and opera.”

The concert is all vocal harmony, with prerecorded instrumental music.

“All vocals are live,” Mr. Willoughby said.

He added that the brothers like to interact with audience members.

“It’s a pretty relaxed atmosphere and entertaining,” he said. “That’s the key to the show.”

The brothers, Mr. Willoughby said, will spend about nine days in the U.S. In addition to their Watertown concert, they will perform at some corporate and dinner party events.

Off the stage, the athletic brothers share a love for Gaelic football, sort of a blend of soccer, rugby and basketball, and also handball, a game similar to squash in which a ball is hit with a hand in a walled court. Richie and Johnny are world handball champions.

“We’re really looking forward to Watertown and being part of the North Country Irish Fest,” Mr. Willoughby said. “It sounds exciting what goes on over there.”

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The opening act for the Willoughby Brothers will be Watertown native and Adams resident Mike Tyo.

In 1983, he received a bachelor’s degree in organ performance from SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music. From 1990 to 2000, he traveled as a concert artist and product specialist for Technics Musical Instruments, a former division of Panasonic Company.

Mr. Tyo has been church organist at the Adams United Methodist Church since 1984. He also serves as co-chairman on the Community Council on Vision Impairment Issues and the board of directors of the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired of Jefferson County.

Saturday’s concert is a partnership between the North Country Goes Green festival and the DPAO, with both groups sharing its proceeds.

It is made possible in part through the support of Car-Freshner Corp., Toyota, Judy and Steven McAllaster-Gunn, Jreck Subs, Watertown Savings Bank, the town of Watertown, KeyBank, Waste Management and Pepsi Beverages Co.

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The first North Country Goes Green festival was held in 1986 to raise funds for Project Children North, a program that brings children from Northern Ireland to the north country for six-week summer visits. The festival’s mission has expanded to include student scholarships, donations to community and Fort Drum organizations and food pantries.

William K. Archer, North Country Goes Green co-chairman, said festival organizers were able to give away $50,000 the past two years for scholarships, donations to community organizations and to support Project Children North. That $50,000 figure, he said, also is the amount festival organizers pump into the local economy each year for “purchasing” to put on the festival.

Since its inception, the festival has given more than $500,000 back to the community, Mr. Archer said.

He said other nonprofit organizations also benefit from the festival, such as the Watertown Family YMCA, which hosts the annual Shamrock Run (on Saturday) and the Watertown Rotary Club. He noted the Rotary Club’s Purple Heart Scholarship Fund sells more raffle tickets at the festival than at any other venue.

The details
WHAT: 28th annual North Country Goes Green Irish Festival
WHEN: Friday through next Sunday at the Dulles State Office Building, 317 Arsenal St., Watertown
COST: Admission costs $6 on Friday and Saturday, with children under the age of 12 admitted free. Sunday is family day, with $6 admission for a family and $2 for individuals.
Tickets to the 6:30 p.m. Saturday concert of the Willoughby Brothers are $15. Advance tickets are on sale at Watertown Kinney Drug stores or by calling the Disabled Persons Action Organization at 782-0044. Concert tickets also can be used for admission all day on Saturday at the festival.
ENTERTAINMENT: A variety of musical and dancing acts are scheduled for the three days on the first floor, in the auditorium and on the 11th floor. The festival kicks off at 5:30 p.m. Friday with Tartan Special on the first floor and Jim Bigness on the 11th floor.
The Miss Ireland Pageant is at 7 p.m. Friday in the auditorium. Other Friday night highlights include Celtic rock band the Prodigals at 9 p.m. on the 11th floor. Judging of the Donegal Beard Growing Contest is at 7 p.m. Friday on the 11th floor.
Sunday’s highlight is a “Celtic Kids Zone” on the 11th floor featuring stories, crafts and a magic show.
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