This was the 35th Irish Fest, and the organizers had decided to recognize it as a significant anniversary, with the year’s theme being “Living Tradition.” This suited us just fine, as we tend to prefer the more traditional styles of music.
The first group we went to see was Myserk, which draws inspiration from Brittany as well as Ireland. With the somewhat unusual instrumentation of two wooden flutes and guitar, they played a very mellow set with interesting music, which we found very enjoyable. Like a lot of the groups, they had dancers join for some numbers, in this case from a school in St. Paul. I particularly appreciated the dancer’s traditional steps, relatively simple but becoming costumes, and natural hair, which was a nice reversion from the typical overdone dresses and “Irish Dance Hair” many schools use.
Next, we chose Athas, at the relocated Celtic Roots stage. Athas gave us a very nice program of old and new pieces. We picked up some snacks from “The Gaelic Baker,” which were excellent.
At 2:30, we went to take in Blackthorn Folly at the Milwaukee Pub Garden. Appropriately enough, they are a “pub band,” and played a set full of boisterous and amusing pieces, such as “Johnny Jump Up,” which Georgie hadn’t heard before and found particularly fun.
Next, we went to the Tipperary stage to hear Full Set, a band from Ireland making their first appearance at Irish Fest, and I’m sure I am not alone in hoping it will not be their last. With six players (bohdran, fiddle, uleiann pipes, concertina, flute, and guitar), their arrangements have the depth and intricacy that I associate with the great Chieftains, and which I particularly enjoy. We bought one of their CDs.
Lunasa at the Miller Lite Stage was next, and very popular. This is one of the largest performance areas, and we found all the regular seats filled buy the time we got there. Fortunately, there was plenty of seating at the adjacent picnic tables, and we could hear the performance perfectly well, although not see much--.
Shopping was good—there was lots to look at, and Georgie found a nice skirt. We took a break from our usual bridie and sausage roll dinner upon observing (and smelling) that American European Foods had real spit-roasted spanferkel, which we hadn’t had in years. I got a dinner, and Georgie ordered the roasted lamb sandwich. Both were delicious and really hit the spot.
Our last major set of the day was Cherish the Ladies at the Aer Lingus stage. Cherish the Ladies always puts on a splendid show, and this was no exception. It was unfortunate that there was a bit of fuzz in the sound system for this set, but that didn’t keep us from enjoying it, although the experience could have been better.
After that, we wended our way out, sampling enough of the Billy Mitchell Pipes and Drums to be satisfied, and picking up an obligatory box of “Mother Machree’s Irish Strudel” to take home.
This was one of the best Irish Fests musically that we can recall.
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