Dropkick Murphys have just come off some sold-out club dates to open the Celtic punk band’s St. Patrick’s Day tour, which will stop at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre next week. Bringing that pub vibe to the big room could be a challenge, but for Tim Brennan and his mates, it’s just another night at the bar.

“It never really mattered to us how many people are in the room, we’re still going to play the show like it’s an imitate, gross, sweaty bar,” Brennan, who plays guitar and a bunch of traditional Irish instruments, tells Highway 81 Revisited. “The fact that it’s grown over the years is so incredible. I can honestly say the only thing that would change is the scale of our production — lights and video walls and stuff like that. As far as the guys on stage playing the songs, we treat it as if we were playing to 60 guys in a bar.” 

It’s an approach that has served the group well since it formed in the mid ’90s and grew exponentially when its song “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” was featured prominently in “The Departed,” the 2006 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg. The current foray for the band is a set of albums of new music set to previously unused Woody Guthrie lyrics: On May 12, they’ll release “Okemah Rising,” following up last fall’s “This Machine Still Kills Fascists.”

“At first I think we all felt that having the lyrics all done took some of the pressure off the songwriting, but that was not the case, because as soon as we got the lyrics, we knew we had to do these justice with the music,” Brennan says.

The band worked with Woody’s daughter, Nora Guthrie, and had known the family since the early 2000s, when they paired his lyrics to create “Shipping.”

“This time, we were working a bit more closely because we were doing two albums worth of his material. We wanted to make sure that they were on board with everything. We would send them music and if a word got changed we ran it past them at first, and never did they say, ‘No, you can’t do that.’ They were so supportive and so cool throughout the entire process. They were so sweet.”

Nora’s son, Cole Quest, played dobro on some tracks and has joined Dropkick Murphys on stage at a few shows.

After “Okemah Rising,” the next album will be all original material, Brennan says.

As for “Shipping,” it’s no stretch to say there was Dropkick Murphys’ career before that song and Dropkick Murphys’ career after it.

“Before that … we were just bashing it all out and there’s wasn’t lot to it,” Brennan says. “And then I remember so clearly we were over in Europe on a tour, and our manager at the time was like, there’s a new Scorsese movie coming out and they were talking about using ‘Shipping Up To Boston.’ I think we were in the UK when the trailer came out and the song was in the trailer and we saw the cast, and we could not believe it.

“We thought we’d just have our own personal high-five party and that would be it, but it took on a life of it’s own, and it’s definitely been a source of pride.”

The song is also played before kickoff at Notre Dame Stadium. It’s a warm moment when Brennan, who says he comes from “a big Notre Dame family,” is able to share with his dad when they watch the football games on Saturdays.

The band has given Brennan another big opportunity to earn his bona fides from his family.

“I think the greatest achievement in my life as a son was being able to introduce my parents to Bruce Springsteen backstage at the House of Blues in Boston,” says Brennan.

Dropkick Murphys and The Boss have been collaborating for some time, including at the band’s pandemic-era “Streaming Outta Fenway” show in 2020 at the famed baseball park.

“Talk about a guy who’s so down to earth, so great to deal with, so genuine,” Brennan says. “The first time we met him we were playing at Roseland Ballroom in New York. Earlier in the day someone said he was coming. His son Evan was a fan.

“Dude drove himself and his son, came in, said hi to everyone. He watched the show from the side and his son was in the pit the whole time. It was unbelievable. And then to continue doing things with him after that, we are just so grateful to the guy.”

Dropkick Murphys with with The Rumjacks and Jesse Ahern, Tuesday, March 14, 7 p.m. Mohegan Sun Arena (255 Highland Park Blvd., Wilkes-Barre Twp., Pa).   

Photo by Dave Stauble

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