Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Little Bit of Ireland in Milwaukee

The Peasant has returned from his annual Irish holiday
(at the Milwaukee Irish Fest) and boy the fun I had!
Four days of Irish music, cuisine (liquid and solid!),
currach races (currachs are Irish rowboats, commonly
sailed in by Irish fishermen and women), irish dog
shows (Irish Steeters, Irish Wolfhounds, Irish Terriers,
etc.), getting together with old friends and making new
friends, including making friends with internationally
renown singers Ronan Tynan and Tom Paxton, and
helping out again in the Aer Lingus music booth
selling CDs and DVDs ... man, life doesn't get better
than this for a part-Irish Peasant!

When I arrived at my work station, the aforementioned
Are Lingus booth, I received my 5-year volunteer service
pin from my booth coordinator. I worked in that booth
five years straight; now I've gathered some moss, so to
speak. On Friday I met American folk singing legend
Tom Paxton, and got his autograph. Tom and I have a
mutual friend who himself is in show business, actor
Mike Farrell (M*A*S*H*; he played Captain B.J.
Honeycutt in the TV series), and we are allies in the
quest to abolish capital punishment in the United States.
We're two liberals and a conservative, so I have little in
common politically with them, but these men are of great
integrity and are not at all the usual showbiz liberals
who affect a pose with their politics, spouting slogans
mindlessly just to appear "cool". What you see with
these gentlemen is what you get. Mike told me to
tell Tom that Mike "is a big fan"; this I dutifully did,
giving Tom a chuckle. The next day, our booth sold out
of the quantity of Tom's CDs and an illustrated book
with the words to a great child's song that he wrote
over forty years ago about a unique and unusual toy
that a little boy received as a gift from his dad, and the
joy and wonder it gave them. I told Tom that in the five
years of working in the Aer Lingus booth I never saw
anyone's merchandise sell out so fast; people began lining
up at our booth to buy Tom Paxton's CDs and copies of
his book before his concert at our stage concluded, and
next got in line at the autograph counter to get them signed,
and everything Paxton went in twenty minutes flat! The
veteran folkie was delightfully surprised, and told me when
I asked if he had any other merchandise with him he said
that he did not. Count on Tom Paxton to bring a truckload
of goodies with him should he return to our Irish Fest!

Meeting Ronan Tynan of The Irish Tenors fame was a treat.
I told Ronan that I heard him in concert in Saint Paul over
a decade ago when I lived up there, and I remembered his
accompanyist on pianp, an Australian gentleman who also
sang beautifully himself. Ronan was impressed and over-
joyed that I was that big of a fan! We talked about my friend
Chuck Ward, who was a co-founder of out Irish Fest with
his brother Ed and was in the local Irish music band Blarney.
I was wearing my badge with his picture, and told Ronan
that I wear the badge and have founded a song circle that
I named for him upon his passing in 2010. Ronan said that
he wished that hecould have met him. This great tenor is
a huge fellow, well over six feet tall, and broadly built,
but is a very gentle and joyful gentleman. He told some
wonderful anecdotes from his earlier career years and
spoke of his parents and the encouragement that he had
gotten from them to go after his dreams between songs.
What a joy and a privilege to have Ronan Tynan at our
Irish Fest! I still pinch myself to see if it really happened.

On Sunday after the Irish Fest Peace and Justice Mass I
was joined at my table in the Tipperary Tea Room, a
great place for bakery treats, tea and coffee (Irish coffee
too of course!) with a stage featuring great performers
all throughout the fest by Jeff Ward and his lovely wife
Dorothy, Jeff is an Irish native while Dorothy is a native
of Newcastle in Great Britain. Jeff has been singing at our
Irish Fest now for twenty consecutive years and I have met
him for the first time three years ago, but this time your
overjoyed Peasant got to send more time with him and his
wife as well. We talked of Irish music and my Irish and
English roots. What a warm and engaging couple. And
I got to hear Jeff in concert to boot!

I met up with a couple of my friends in our Chuck Ward
Celtic Song Circle and we caught some singers and bands
in concert, and attended the closing ceremonies called
"The Scattering" at nine in the evening. Nearly all of the
artists who came to perform throughout the concert were
onstage singing, dancing, and playing instruments for us,
closing with the traditional closing song of the Milwaukee
Irish Fest, "Will You Go Lassie Go", a song I know well
and dearly love. Then, we were treated to a grand fireworks
display to close out the fest. Well, not quite. One of my
Chuck Ward pals thought it would be fun to begin a song
session after the fireworks, and I said "Great! Let's do it!"
So we started singing some Irish songs and some of our
fellow fest attendees joined us! We kept singing as we
made our way to the gates to exit the grounds, and I led us
at the end singing "Galway Bay", getting loud cheers and
applause as we strolled out through the gates!
So we were the act to close out the 2013 Milwaukee Irish
Fest, as an impromptu and unexpected feature we were,
so to speak.

And this, my friends, is my annual vacation, my personal
Irish holiday. An Irish holiday without even leaving town!
One day, when my finances are stronger, I shall visit the
Emerald Isle itself, and I shall stay for a good long stay
too! But I love my hometown's Irish Fest with all my heart,
and I shall attend, volunteer at, and sing at the fest with all
my friends until I leave this world.

We'll get together again, my dear readers, next week. May the
wind be at your back, may the road rise to meet you, and may
you get to heaven an hour before the devil knows you're dead.
That's an old Irish blessing which I now pass along to you,
with my love and appreciation.


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