Documentary On Ambitious Local Band Centers Around Immigration
“This is My Home” isn't just the name of a song by Las Vegas duo The Black Donnellys -- it's also the name of a documentary film about the band, its ambitious 50-state tour, and what it means to be an immigrant in the U.S.
On its surface, the film documents The Black Donnellys’ attempt at a world record: to play more than 60 shows in all 50 states in 40 days. Their tour began at RiRa inside Mandalay Bay, where the band often performs.
But the movie is more than that. "This is My Home," which was directed by local filmmaker Karl Nickoley, also celebrates immigrants and diversity in the United States.
“I instantly saw the opportunity to talk more than just about the record and the journey," Nickoley said, "We saw an opportunity to explore from a very apolitical sense where immigration is at in this country but where the American Dream is at in this country.”
Band members Dave Rooney and Dave Browne originally hail from Ireland, and they both applied for permanent residence during the filming of the movie.
“We thought it would be cool because we were living in America that if we were to try and do this it would be monumental," Rooney said, "Number one, we would get to see America. We would get to meet all the people and the different diversities that are out there that we are aware of and that we would try to set another world record.”
The band already set a world record in 2014 for the longest concert. They along with musician friends played for 372 hours.
Rooney said the logistics of setting up that many gigs along the fastest route were a nightmare. They came close several times to not actually completing the goal.
“One of the biggest things that happened to us was we ran out of money after ten days and that was tough because at this stage of the game nobody was getting paid,” he said.
At one point, only four hours from getting on a flight to Alaska for a gig, the woman who booked them pulled out of the deal and then wouldn't return phone calls.
They ended up booking a gig at a local nursing home.
The filming process was almost as chaotic Nickoley said. He noted this wasn't like following Aerosmith on tour, but just two guys "bootstrapping" their way around America.
When money trouble became very apparent, Nickoley said the focus of the film changed.
“We were looking at it from more of these guys are now changing from trying to pursue this goal into this is their dream and you’re either going to stop at an obstacle or you’re going to figure out a way. And I think that’s the American way,” he said.
While there were a lot hiccups along the way, Rooney said the trip was absolutely worth the headaches.
“Such a great experience, along with all the bad things happening, a lot of good things were happening as well," he said, "We got out and got to meet the American people. We got to see an in-depth view of what American people are really like.”
Rooney and Browne are currently waiting for verification from the Guinness World Records people that their accomplishment actually broke a record.
But the trip wasn't just about setting a world record, it was about exploring the ideas of home and immigration.
“It’s a funny thing. It’s kind of serendipitous because while we were doing this… it seemed that everyone was talking about immigration," Rooney said.
He said that every gig they played people would come up to them and talk about their Irish heritage. Rooney saw it as a sign of the resiliency of the Irish people, who came here to escape famine and to find a better life.
Those who survived the dangerous journey often weren't welcome, but Irish immigrants took the low-paying and physically demanding jobs that others wouldn't take, Rooney said.
Besides playing music, the duo checked out some of the monuments to American history and Irish immigrants who helped build that history.
“It’s great to come here and see how much influence the Irish people have had in America,” Rooney said.
Not long after the last gig, on the very last day, Rooney found out he had received his green card, allowing him to permanently stay in the United States.
“That made me feel, ‘okay, now I’m a part of America,’’ he said.
Dave Rooney, singer/guitarist/songwriter, The Black Donnellys; Karl Nickoley, director/producer, "This is Our Home"