August 23rd, 2011

Irish Fest, 2011

Having gotten the Irish Fest schedule in advance from their website, we decided that Sunday the 21st gave us the best schedule of groups we wanted to see, and gambled that the weather would remain good. The gamble paid off, and, except for a few minutes where a rather threatening-looking cloud passed over, the weather was lovely.

So was the Fest. Essentially, everything we heard or looked at was good.

We were there when the grounds opened, and went to hear the Greater Milwaukee Fire and Police Pipes and Drums, reasoning that, since it was early, we might be able to see a pipe band without having it be standing-room only (a usual thing--). We got good seats and enjoyed the performance. Greater Milwaukee is not the best pipe band in the area, but they are quite good. One thing that we particularly appreciated was that their rendition of "Amazing Grace" was up to tempo but nevertheless played with great feeling. Ironically, this may in part be due to the fact that they play a lot of funerals--for police, firefighters, and armed service personnel--and have figured out that the song is supposed to be a joyous one instead of a dirge. After that, we walked over and checked out the beginning of the tug-of-war.

For lunch, we got our traditional fare from Winstons--a bridey for Georgie, a sausage roll for me, and fries. Yes, it's bad for you, but it's awfully good, especially the pastry made with real lard--.

At 1:00PM, we went to hear Baal Tinne, a band we've liked in the past, and found that they were in particularly good form this year.

After checking out some of the merchants, we went back to the Crossroads for the Celtic Nations Pipes and Drums, and caught the end of the Children's Red Hair contest--some beautiful heads of hair were there to be seen and everyone seemed to be having a good time. Celtic Nations is also a local pipe band, which we thought musically a bit better than the Police and Fire group, and having a repertoire including some less usual music. (Someone could probably keep a pipe band going for years on a dozen or so pieces--"Amazing Grace," "Scotland the Brave," "Highland Laddie," etc.) We then checked out the merchants at the north end of the grounds, and bought a nice cloisonne pin for Georgie, and then the cultural exhibits at the south end.

At 4:45PM, we were in place for Kintra, whom we had liked very much last year. Again, they put on a very impressive show, with their six-piece band, piper, three "second pipers" who also dance, and two singers. A lot of their music is very fast and exciting, and you tend to get a lot of it, since they don't tend to talk an awful lot (sometimes not at all) between numbers. One thing we didn't so much care for was the "Americanization" meaning that they put in a couple of numbers at the end of their set that they had allegedly worked up around the piano at the hotel the previous nights. One would think that some of the local musicians would have let them know that "Proud Mary" is a standard for every cheesy wedding band in the USA--but I do have to say that Kintra's version was next best to the original I have heard, although I would rather they had continued with their native music. Fiddler Matt McGranaghan also played one of the classic bluegrass fiddle pieces and demonstrated that he is the equal of any fiddler I've heard.

After the set, we got a potato with Irish stew from The Irish Baker for dinner, and settled in for Altan. This group hadn't been back to Irish fest for ten years or so, but they have only gotten better in the interim time. Lead singer and fiddler Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh has a beautiful voice and sings in Gaelic wonderfully, and she's supported equally well by the group on fiddle, guitar, bouzuki, and button accordion. Altan gave a great set, and was called back for three encores.

(Pet peeve: People who come to an outdoor concert and act as though it's their own living room. After the set started, a couple came and sat down near us, a couple seats away. The man proceeded to talk to his lady friend through piece after piece. Come on, people! Would you do that in a concert hall? I hope not! Finally, I told him to tone it down. I got a really evil look back from the boor who continued to chatter on through the concert but at a low enough level I didn't have to hear it. As we were departing, he said some doubtless stupid thing to my back, as well, but I ignored that also.)

By this time it was 8:30PM, we were getting tired, and Gaelic Storm was playing, so we decided to leave. Not that Gaelic Storm isn't a good band mind you, but they are also the loudest band at the festival, rock stage groups notwithstanding, and it's kind of futile to try to listen to anything else within a quarter mile of them. We stopped and bought some "Mother Machree's Irish Strudel" on the way out--another tradition of ours--and headed home having had an excellent time.

The fact that we were able to get good seats for the Celtic Nations pipe band, and that there were unused good seats for Kintra and especially Altan, made me suspect that attendance might be down this year. (Of course, Gaelic Storm packs them in wherever they are, but there are usually people enough left over to fill audiences for other popular groups.) That's unfortunate, if true, since it was a really good festival this time. It was Sunday, but the weather was fine, and one would have thought it would be more crowded. Georgie did note that the grounds layout was a bit more dispersed this year so people were more spread out. I hope that's so, since it would be a great loss if this wonderful festival became a casualty of the economy.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.