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The Young Dubliners

On tour, The Young Dubliners are apt to pull their coach into a campground between shows — especially in Montana, said lead singer Keith Roberts, back left. The high-energy Celtic rockers are set to perform Friday as part of the Yellowstone Highland Games weekend.

Keith Roberts knows people aren’t thrilled when he and his bandmates pull in next to them at a campsite.

It’s odd to even think of Roberts at a Montana campground, but the Irish-born lead singer of the Young Dubliners said they camp every chance they get, especially here.

Their Friday night show at ZooMontana is part of the Highland Games weekend, and their schedule was too tight for a camp-out because they are playing in Minneapolis two days later. Still, Roberts said he’s happy to be returning to one of his favorite places.

“When I first saw Montana, I was blown away,” Roberts said in a phone interview. “Even though I was born in Dublin in the city, there’s some weird part of me that thinks I was born in the country. I think of myself as growing up on a farm.”

When their bus pulls into a campground, Roberts said the other campers cringe to see a crew of “pasty white rock musicians” pile out of the bus.

“Then we bring out of the guitars and start singing and we’re the hit of the campground,” Roberts said.

They’ve played Billings a half dozen times at the former Bones Brewing Co. and the Railyard Ale House, packing both venues with young, rowdy fans who like to sing and stomp along to the frenzied Irish jams.

Friday night’s show is a rare chance to hear music outdoors at ZooMontana, and Roberts maintains that music usually sounds better outside.

In the style of fellow Celtic rockers Flogging Molly, the Young Dubliners keep that Irish flavor, ala Roberts’ thick accent and powerful vocals. They mix blistering beats and fast fiddle into mournful Irish folk tunes, transforming them into rock anthems with bouncy melodies.

In Billings, the Young Dubs will introduce six or seven songs off their ninth album, aptly titled “Nine,” which was released in March. Roberts said they took their time with the writing and recording and took a risk in making an independent record.

“It has a very personal aspect to it because it’s self-funded. It’s scary, a brand new thing. We’re excited that we pulled it off,” Roberts said.

The new tunes are getting positive reviews from loyal fans, even though Roberts said he steered away from the Irish formula he used on previous albums like “The Irish Sessions” and “Saints and Sinners.” He sweated over the lyrics and the melodies, writing and rewriting many of the songs three times.

“We decided to mix it up, get out of our comfort zone,” Roberts said. “One of the biggest criticisms of the fans is they’ve ‘seen the show five times and it’s always the same show.’ The set we have is the best yet, with lots of new stuff — plenty of the Irish stuff, too.”

One subject is off limits, though — his son. Roberts said he tries to keep songs about his 11-year-old son to a minimum, partially because he doesn’t want to overwhelm fans with too much personal stuff and partially because singing about family can get emotional.

His sentimental “Evermore,” off the 2005 “Real World” album, is considered one of his best, even though fans had to wait several months to hear it live.

“I couldn’t play that song for about six months because of all the bawling eyes,” Roberts said.

“Evermore” just came off rotation in their set, but they may bring it out for an encore during Friday’s show.

Roberts plans his touring around his son’s school schedule, often taking him out on the road. The Young Dubliners will hit music festivals in Boston and Alaska this summer, but as for the Fourth of July, Roberts said he prefers to stay home.

“I always thought it was unusual that we’d get asked to play the Fourth because it’s more fit for cover bands. The only comment I’d ever have was, “We can both celebrate kicking British a**.”



Entertainment Reporter

Jaci Webb covers entertainment for The Billings Gazette.