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Slowly, deliberately, Celtic music has taken over Pat McCullough's life. This situation seems perfectly natural to most of those who chat with McCullough, whose Celtic Events & Entertainment brings more acts with this specialty to Colorado than any other. (The latest is Nomos, which performs Saturday, June 1, at Cameron Church, 1600 S. Pearl.) After all, his voice has a melodious lilt of the kind most Yankees associate with the Emerald Isle. However, his speech patterns weren't established overseas. "I'm from Minnesota," he explains. "I have a Minnesota accent with a speech impediment. Everywhere I go, people laugh at my accent. In Minnesota they laugh, and Irish people laugh, too."
McCullough never set out to become Denver's most prominent Celtic-music evangelist. Raised in St. Paul, he's from a long line of Irish cops, and at first he showed no signs of moving along a different path than the one taken by his elders. After moving to the Denver area in the late Seventies, he worked security for Fey Concerts for three years before joining the police force in Vail. In 1987 he returned to Denver and got into the risk-management field: "I dealt with police, safety and fire issues for festivals and other big operations." A few years later he and a friend, journalist Mike Stone, started what he calls "a little business working for attorneys. We located missing clients, that type of thing."
That's hardly the resume of your typical promoter. But even as he was spending his days involved in law enforcement and private investigation, McCullough was spending his evenings tickling his ears with the traditional sounds of his ancestral homeland. As a kid, he says, "I listened to rock and roll. Nothing unusual about that." But his parents played Irish music around the house, piquing his interest in the genre. A uilleann pipes album by Finbar Furey subsequently turned him into an aficionado of authentic Celtic sounds. "All of us Irish-Americans, we're surrounded by the green-beer-and-shamrocks music. You know, the 'Danny Boy' stuff that's been killed a thousand times in pubs across America. But I came to realize that there was more to Irish music than that."
By 1993, he'd also grown frustrated that so few Celtic artists made it to these parts. So when he heard that Phil Coulter was touring the States but had no Denver date, he called an agent and asked why. She replied that McCullough should promote a Colorado show himself--and he took the challenge. "It was November of '93 at the Paramount, which was a pretty big venue for my first time," he acknowledges. "But I survived it. I didn't lose money, and people loved the show. And I heard that when Coulter played Carnegie Hall, he started talking from the stage about how much he enjoyed playing in Denver."
Inspired, McCullough decided to try promotion on a more regular basis. He now brings between twelve and fifteen Celtic acts a year to Denver--enough to justify a full-time investment of his time. (His investigation business went on hiatus after Stone sold a novel to a major publishing house, Viking. The book, The Low End of Nowhere, features a Denver detective who'll be at the center of subsequent books Stone has contracted with Viking to write.) Still, McCullough doesn't want for things to do. He publishes a monthly newsletter, Celtic Connection, which is available by mail (call 777-0502 for more details) or at the new Tower Records branch in Cherry Creek. "They even built a rack for them there," McCullough enthuses. "And they asked my advice on putting together a Celtic section for their world-music room. We're going to completely redo it--and we're going to have room for local Celtic artists, too."
The upcoming date by Nomos, a fiery young Irish quintet whose new CD--I Won't Be Afraid Any More, on the Green Linnet imprint--is described by McCullough as "the Chieftains on acid," is also intended to help Celtic performers in the area; it's a benefit for the fledgling Rocky Mountain Celtic Musicians Association. The RMCMA (the brainchild of McCullough and Eileen Niehouse, best known for her work with the Mother Folkers) is being formed in part to assist a number of acts that lost money at last fall's Vail International Celtic Festival. "They got stiffed by the promoter," McCullough explains. "He went under, closed up shop and moved to Montana, leaving some of the musicians with bad checks and others with no checks at all." But McCullough also envisions the organization as an opportunity for artists to network and to spread the word about the glories of Celtic music farther and wider than he's been able to do on his own. "Nobody's guaranteeing that this will lead to gigs," he concedes, "but there's no harm in it. Only good things can come from it, I think."
That's been the case with Celtic music in general, at least as far as McCullough is concerned. "I have to tell you--I never sat in front of Red Rocks or any of these other venues when I was working security and thought, 'Someday I'd like to be a promoter,'" he notes in that geographically mysterious voice of his. "It never even crossed my mind. But I'm glad it's worked out this way anyhow."