The Dropkick Murphys will be easy to recognize among the dozens of punk acts performing Saturday at Randalls Island and Sunday at the Asbury Park Festival Area as part of the Vans Warped Tour.
They're the band with the bagpipe and accordion players.
The Murphys mix their Clash-influenced punk outbursts with traditional Irish instrumentation, a style dubbed Celtic punk. For bassist-singer Ken Casey, who grew up just south of Boston in heavily Irish Quincy, Mass., the old sod's influence was unavoidable.
"I couldn't help but listen to old Irish music, through my own family or the people next door," said Casey, 33. "I'd heard hundreds [of traditional Irish songs] by the time I was 10."
The Murphys aren't the first to fuse Irish folk with punk; that distinction goes to the Pogues, whom Casey cites as a big influence. But while the Pogues only dabbled in punk, the Murphys consider themselves a punk band at heart. Most of the band's songs are raucous, three-chord, hard-core numbers set against a backdrop of beautifully played pipes, tin whistles, and accordion. The Murphys lineup also includes singer Al Barr, mandolin and tin whistle player Ryan Foltz, drummer Matt Kelly, guitarist James Lynch, guitar and accordion player Marc Orrell, and bagpipe player Scruffy Wallace.
In pure punk tradition, Casey had never played bass or been in a band before he formed the Murphys in 1996.
"We started the band as a joke," Casey said by phone from a tour stop in Jacksonville, Fla. "We thought, 'This sounds like [Irish folk band] the Dubliners meets the Ramones.'"
To Casey's surprise, the Murphys began attracting a loyal following with their mix of original songs and punked-up versions of traditional Irish folk numbers. The band's fourth album, "Blackout," was released in June and debuted at No. 83 on the Billboard Top 200 chart.
"I've never had time to reflect on it," Casey said of the band's success. "I just want to keep making music that we can be proud of ... and go play to the people who buy [the albums]."
The Murphys' lyrics and those of the folk songs they cover focus on the poor and working class, with the action mainly taking place in factories, fields, or bars. Just as Casey's musical tastes were shaped by his upbringing, so are his lyrics. His grandfather, John Kelly, was a union organizer for Boston longshoremen.
"Blackout" includes reworkings of Ed Pickford's "Worker's Song," the traditional "Black Velvet Band," and Pete St. John's "Fields of Athenry." The album's title track features unpublished lyrics by folk legend Woody Guthrie. The late singer's daughter, whose son is a Murphys fan, gave the band access to the Guthrie library in New York.
While the Murphys' catalog includes more than a few rowdy ale house anthems, Casey said the band isn't out to glorify spending time in bars and making trouble.
In fact, "This Is Your Life," off "Blackout," is a rebuke to those who would live by the pint and the fight: "It's another busted knuckle/It's a fight you'll never win/And now you bow your head in shame for a sin no one forgives."
"I don't think we've ever written a song that's pro hanging out in the bar and getting in fights all day," Casey said. "That [subject] is a unique trait of Irish music. The songs are written for the people at the shows, and they can take it any way they want."