Chris Allen has learned from hard experience to leave the whiskey shots alone.
For him and his Irish octet, The Boys from the County Hell, St. Patrick’s Day is a musical marathon. By 9 a.m. the band is on stage at the House of Blues Cambridge Room for a three-hour show, where a family-friendly crowd dances and shouts to the band’s rocking version of Irish folk music. After a quick lunch, the men head over to nearby Flannery’s Pub, where they play from 1 to 7 p.m. Two hours later, they’re entertaining a packed house of hardcore fans at The Harp in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood.
“Two years ago, we actually started at 6 a.m. and did a show,” Allen says in the same tone one might use to recount a drinking spree that added up to a memorable hangover. “It sounds crazy, but yeah, we play all day long. It’s just [become] this big tradition.”
For Allen, The Boys from the County Hell is just one facet of the 39-year-old singer-songwriter and guitarist’s diverse music career. On any other night, you might find him playing original rock with Chris Allen and The Guilty Hearts or bluegrass with The Lonesome Stars. He’s also a founding member of The Ohio City Singers, a 12-piece ensemble that performs original Christmas music during the holidays. But it’s “the boys,” as Allen affectionately calls the group, that has endured and grown in popularity over the past decade. The band is headlining the House of Blues Music Hall March 6 for the first time in its history.
Ironically, Allen considered The Boys from the County Hell nothing more than a side project when he joined in early 2000, shortly before his breakout rock group Rosavelt disbanded. When he learned through a mutual acquaintance that vocalist Doug McKean and his drummer brother, Dave, both of the defunct punk-rock band GC5, were looking for someone to play mandolin on Pogues covers, he was intrigued enough to dust off his rarely used one. He discovered at his first practice that he wasn’t alone in his ignorance of the traditional instruments needed to play The Pogues’ Sex Pistols-meets-Chieftains style of music.
“We thought it would be a fun break from our original rock bands,” Allen says. He then brought in bassist Tom Prebish, accordionist Nick Stipanovich, Ryan Foltz on tin whistle and Chris Yohn on banjo. (Yohn took up the fiddle after banjoist Aaron Pacitti joined the lineup later that year.) “We just practiced like crazy. It took a lot of work to get that band to sound like something legitimate.”
Allen credits the group’s longevity to the strong friendships that have developed between the band members and says his passion for the music they play is rooted in his Irish heritage.
“There’s a certain element of Irish folk music that’s just ingrained in me,” he says. “I remember my first trip to Ireland, getting out of the car on Achill Isle and standing by the sea. I just smelled the water, and I knew where I was from.”
For more information on The Boys from the County Hell, visit thebfch.com.