Top of Mind: Ken Casey, Extended Version
Dropkick Murphys Frontman, Publican, Philanthropist, Lucky Bastard, 41, Hingham
MRB: Now, amongst all this history, when was the time you guys stood back and thought, “Wow, we’ve just stepped into another level?”
KC: I never had that moment, because we’ve been shocked and surprised and happy at every level along the way. But I’d say the first time I noticed that feeling was literally our second show. Our first show was at this club in Somerville – total shithole – it’s not there anymore. That show was just like a practice with your friends there. And our second show, we opened for the Freeze, an old legendary hardcore band. You know, Bill Close from the Freeze taught me how to play, and we opened for them at a reunion show. That was our first time ever playing to a punk-rock audience. Honestly, we sucked, but people reacted to what we were trying to do, our combination of styles. Our third show was at the Punk Rock Olympics. It was a three-day punk-rock festival at the Rat, and we already had a little group of 20 kids following us and spreading the word. And I said, “Holy shit.” I didn’t even want to leave playing in the basement at the barber shop. I had the notes taped on the back of my bass for two or three years, because everything happened so fast I never really got a chance to learn what I was doing. I remember we were on the stage one night, we were opening for the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, in ’97 or ’98. We’re playing somewhere, I can’t remember where in the country – it was a 10,000-seater, and as we were just about to take the stage, I told the guy who was running the stage, “Turn the lights on.” And he was like, “Why? Don’t you want to make a big intro in the dark?” And I said, “No, I need the lights on, ’cause I can’t see the notes on the back of my bass.” And this guy’s calling everyone over, like, “Holy shit, come see this. This guy’s playing to 10,000 people, and he doesn’t even know how to fucking play!”
But that was the beauty of the whole thing. Every time we would go to a town along the way, it was just a step-up kind of process. Play the first time to 100 people, the second time to 200 people, the third time to 400, and just really work up and build up the fan base on a word-of-mouth, underground level. I mean, people think back and say, “Oh yeah, in ’04 they did the Red Sox thing and whatnot,” but in ’03, we headlined the River Rave for ‘BCN, playing over a lot of bands that were huge, but we had the niche following. It’s the same with festivals in Europe to this day: We’ll play after some massive band, and you’ll see that band being like, “Who the fuck is this and why are they playing after us?” But it’s the fans who are very supportive, and very loud, so sometimes they make us seem more popular than we are. Maybe the other 20,000 in the back are also saying, “Who the fuck is this?” But the thousand in the front are really loud.
MRB: I was just listening to the Live on Saint Patrick’s Day record from 2002 that you recorded at Avalon, and once again I was reminded that just a whole bunch of weird things happen during your shows, like the guy who proposed to his girlfriend onstage and the speech you gave about getting yourself ordained online to marry a different couple onstage. That let me to wonder: What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened at a show of yours? And did you really try to get yourself ordained?