Guitar maestro, Shane Hennessy, performed on the legendary Grand Ole Opry House stage
By Elizabeth Lee
GUITAR virtuoso Shane Hennessy had a “pinch me” moment when he found himself performing on stage in the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tennessee, the day before St Patrick’s Day.
“I wouldn’t usually get nervous before playing, but I was that day. I could feel the weight of others who had played there before me, like Johnny Cash, Chet Atkins, Taylor Swift or even Elvis … he played there, too. I could feel the importance of the place,” Shane told ***The Nationalist***.
Shane was taking part in a Music City Irish Festival, an annual festival that celebrates Irish music every year around St Patrick’s Day. He played two days in the Grand Old Opry Plaza and one gig in the legendary Opera House itself, where he performed three pieces of music, including one of his own composition, ***Effervescent***, which he wrote as a homage to Chet Atkins.
Not only that, he was also invited on stage to play with Grammy-award winners and country music legends The Gatlin Brothers, while he also got to see Garth Brooks play in the home of country music.
“Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood flew into Nashville to surprise their friends, so I got to see him play in front of 4,500 people. That could really only happen in Nashville,” said Shane. “Playing there is amazing because the crowd is electric. They’re all music fans and they’re there to hear good music and they appreciate it.”
Shane, born and raised in Carlow town, has played Nashville several times before, after he was introduced to the director of the music festival Brenda Willis. She’d been in Ireland and met his dad Walter and uncle Ollie, both of whom are involved in the music industry. This year was the first time he graced the stage of the hallowed Grand Ole Opry itself.
Most of Shane’s family either play music or are involved in music in some way, so he must have melodies flowing through his head and his heart.
Growing up, he was immersed in Irish trad music because he attended both the Gaelscoil and the Gaelcholáiste, so his first musical instrument was the concertina. He practiced his playing, got involved in fleadh cheoil and, by the ripe old age of ten, he was ready!
“Yes, my first paid gig was at the age of ten in Carlow Hurling Club. I was paid a can of Coke, a tenner and a packet of crisps!” laughed Shane.
He then picked up the guitar at the age of 12, after hearing a James Taylor song, and hasn’t put it down since! He has never been formally trained to play guitar and doesn’t particularly like to read music, even though he can.
“I taught myself how to play by listening to James Taylor CDs, that’s how it all started – in my kitchen at home. My ear is very well trained, because in trad music, you play by ear. I knew what sounds I wanted the guitar to make and then I learnt how to do that. I learnt how to make that happen,” he smiled.
In fact, in the words of another music legend, he got his guitar and he learned how to make it talk and it hasn’t stopped talking since!