Irish Fest 2009
Sunday the 16th we went to the Summerfest Grounds (really, no one calls
it the "Henry W. Maier Festival Park"--) for a day of Irish Fest 2009,
still the largest Irish music festival in the nation, if not the world.
We showed up for the 11:00 am opening, planning to make a good day of
We had been aware that the weather forecast for the day was mixed, and
the fact that we were met with a desultory drizzle at opening caused us
to choose our first sets to be somewhat sheltered, and we started with
local band "Leahy's Luck" the High Life Stage, where a lot of the
seating is under the Hoan Bridge. "Leahy's" is a good band, but does
tend to lard their set with country and rock tunes that weren't what we
came to hear, so we switched over to "The Snug," one of the venues that
is under canvas. There, we listened to "Athas" another Milwaukee group
that gave us a good lively set that we enjoyed very much.
After Athas, we went to the Harp Tent for Kim Robertson, a perennial
favorite. Not only is she a true virtuoso on the harp, we always enjoy
her low-keyed but witty commentary on the performance.
Next, precipitation having stopped during the Athas show, we dropped in
on the Pub Garden Stage to see "Rising Gael," a new young band from
Madison, WI. They had a very high-energy set with modern arrangements of
traditional tunes that were very nice. It was fun to see Peter Tissot
(on Guitar) and Jeff Olson (Bodhran, Scottish bagpipes) striking 'rock
god" poses while playing the Irish music--. We dropped in on the
Celtic Nations Pipe Band, but were driven off by "Amazing Grace," which,
frankly, we are sick of, especially when (as here) it is played as a
We took a look at the Trinity Irish Dancers, who were doing some
interesting things, from a distance at the crowded Aer Lingus stage, and
watched most of the set of the Glencastle Irish Dancers at the Tipperary
Stage where we could get closer. (A reflection: I wonder what is the
origin of the typical girl's Irish dance outfit? I think that, if you
brought back a 19th or earlier century Irishman, and told him that these
bespangled, day-glo colored stiff tabards were considered costume for
classical Irish dance, he would wonder whose potcheen you had been
drinking, and where he could get some for himself--.)
We took a break from music, and ambled through the dealers areas, before
settling down to watch the parade form up, which gave us a sampling of
all the pipe bands, plus the "Irish Brigade" fifes and drums. We
followed that by hiking back to the Harp tent for "Border Lord," a harp,
fiddle and bohdran group we had liked before, and enjoyed their set.
Then we stopped by the Crossroads area. Hoping to see the Cashel-Dennehy
dancers, we caught the end of a set by the Gillian School of Highland
Dance, which had some interesting aspects. The dancers were all strong,
athletic, and precise, and had pretty good expression. The dances we saw
were new choreographies which combined modern elements with classical
Highland steps. Unfortunately, the "modern elements" tended to run to
"basic pompon team" so the results were mildly entertaining rather than
really interesting. When Cashel-Dennehy came on, their music was set at
such an ear-blasting level that we beat an immediate dismayed retreat.
(One of the perennial downsides of the Festival Grounds is the lack of
any kind of sonic barriers, which causes performers and sound crews to
"pump up the volume" in order to achieve local superiority. The
Crossroads, in particular, was never designed as a music venue, and is
squarely "downrange" of the powerfully amplified Harley-Davidson
We broke for dinner, getting bridey, sausage roll and fries from
Winston's as we usually do, and found them good as ever.
The last set we went to was Frogwater, back at the Snug. We have a
sentimental fondness for this group, and they always put on a good show.
Susan Jeske-Dermody is as fine a fiddler as you will find, even though
the night's set was hindered somewhat by sound system issues. Fatigue
overcame us and we left near the end of the set and headed home, having
put in a good eight-hour day of looking and listening.