Irish harpist Dennis Doyle knows that, in the record industry, it's not so much how you play your music but whether you have a pretty album cover.
"You should see my latest album," Doyle said with a laugh. "I'm sitting with my harp on a lonely hillside as the sun is about to set, so I appear as a silhouette. And right at the crook of harp is the sun." He said his music "sells well at New Age crystal shops."
Previously, Doyle's music sold mostly in Irish import and specialty shops, where his covers were simple black-and-white shots. But then he realized that he could sell a lot more albums if he targeted his music to the huge New Age audience with a dreamy, full-color cover.
"A lot of what is considered New Age is really soft, ethnic music," he said.
Other Irish musicians are using similar tactics to gain recognition beyond their traditional audience. The most prominent example is the MTV-famous Irish band, the Pogues. "They started as a folk band that screamed a lot," Doyle said. "Now they're kind of a folk-punk-New Wave band."
According to Doyle, an avid supporter of Irish bands, this is one of the most exciting times to be an Irish musician.
"There's a shift in the whole Irish scene," he said. "Almost no one under 25 is interested in pure folk music." Adapting their images to the culture around them is one way that young bands can keep the form from dying, he said.
That doesn't mean that groups are completely changing the music. Clannad, another group that made the switch from folk to folk pop, has had a record on the charts in England, but hasn't abandoned its roots. "They even sing a few songs in Gaelic," the ancient Celtic language, Doyle said. "It's just that they also use a synthesizer and electric bass."
Doyle has more than a fan's interest in keeping abreast of the latest Irish music trends. After winning the sweepstakes trophy in the harp competition at the 1985 Irish Fair and Music Festival at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center, he was asked to help hire bands for the event.
Along with the Chieftains, the superstars of traditional Irish music who headline the festival this year, more than 36 bands will perform, including world-famous harpists Patrick Ball (reknowned for his 17th Century-style music and mesmerizing storytelling) and Kim Robertson, who have albums distributed by New Age labels; the crowd-rousing local pub group the Mulligans; St. James Gate, winners of last year's all-Ireland championship for best traditional new band; the Young Dubliners, who are part of the new folk-pop movement, and Doyle's group, Innis Free. Doyle will also give a solo performance.
In addition to the music, there will be Scottish, Irish, English and American dance,theater, poetry and games; a Connemara pony show; an Irish dog show with cuddly Irish wolfhounds, terriers and water spaniels; a parade, and booths with Irish imports and traditional Irish food and drink, including plenty of Irish whiskey for all.
The Grand National Irish Fair and Music Festival takes place from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center, 480 Riverside Drive , Burbank . Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for students (18-24 years) with I.D. and seniors, $4 for youths (13-17 years), and free for children under 12 when accompanied by an adult.