By Nathan Czochara
Vicksburg resident Rudy Callen is a board member of Vicksburg Community Schools, Vicksburg Community Foundation, and the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation, yet others know him as “Rudeman,” electric guitarist of the Irish rock band Belfast Gin.
A guitar player all his life, Callen focused mainly on classic and heavy rock. Then, he was called to Belfast Gin to help the band “rock it up a bit,” he said.
Even though Callen wasn’t familiar with playing traditional Irish music, he has enjoyed the transition from classic rock to this genre.
“I was surprised at the complexity of the music, and how deep it runs for some people,” he said.
Belfast Gin has been playing traditional Irish/Celtic music around the state for almost a decade. Besides Callen, the band consists of vocalist Lori Laing; flutist Richard Koontz; bagpipe player Jenni Koontz; drummer Aaron Miller; bassist Patrick Solomon; and Natalie Beversluis. The band specializes in blending American genres such as rock, blues and jazz into traditional Irish and Celtic music.
“We are like a 200 to 300 year-old cover band,” said Laing. “The music we play is like a layered onion of traditional and modern, blues. All these different backgrounds come together to really make a unique sound.”
The band recorded its first album at Calllen’s Vicksburg home and at times when the weather is good, the band takes a ride on Callen’s pontoon boat for a practice session.
“We call it pontoon practice,” said Callen.
Belfast Gin has made a mark in the last couple of years on the festival circuit and playing huge shows for St. Patty’s day. Playing in Southwest Michigan and as far as Grand Marias, MI, the band has garnered a major following. Callen and Laing say the music has a lot to do with their success, but also the energy and chemistry at shows makes an impact.
“We have fun up there; we are little bit silly. We are your everyman band,” said Laing.
The band is amazed and grateful for the passion their fans give back to them, said Laing, who is amazed at how loyal and dedicated their fans are.
Callen recalls a fan from Plainwell who drove seven hours to Lake Superior just to hear Belfast Gin play.
Callen says the crowd really helps the band make shows enjoyable and rewarding.
“It’s nice to see some of the people you know,” said Callen. “It helps you be more relaxed.”
Even though Callen enjoys seeing familiar faces in the crowd, he also relishes gaining new recruits to the Belfast Gin Nation.
“Even if you are not into Irish music or an Irish music lover, it’s fun,” he said. “So come listen, enjoy, and dance.”