This weekend's fun thing was the Irish Fair in St. Paul. Held on Harriet Island, it featured all the things you'd expect from a cultural fair: merchants, food, kid's activities and great music. The only thing it lacked was a price. The fair was free, all the music on open stages. I was attracted to the fair first because a band with friends of mine as members was scheduled to play. The Saturday of the fair, however, I didn't arrive until later in the day after they'd played. So I wandered around a bit, expecting to run into one group or another of friends of mine. I didn't see anyone I knew so grabbed a couple of beers and sat down in front of the main stage.
I'd arrived in time to catch the last number and encore of the Eileen Ivers band. Some rollicking traditional music with a full sound. After that, I'd wandered and gathered beverages while the St. Paul Irish Dancers took the stage. Fun to watch and quite an energy boost for the crowd. I'd settled in as local band the Sweet Colleens set up. I took them for roadies at first, as the name would indicate at least two female band members. Rather, they are what the announcer described as four hairy guys from Nova Scotia. They were fun though they struggled with the sound set-up a bit. By the end of their set, I'd spotted a group of folks that looked to be having more fun than anyone else around.
While the next band set up, I went over and introduced myself. I think the (by then) three beers worth of courage helped but there's also something about listening to live music alone in a crowd that just isn't as fun. I was accepted in to the fun group easily and learned more about the upcoming act as they were fans and friendly with the band. Said act was Gaelic Storm. They are most widely known as the band in steerage in the film Titanic. As you might expect from that performance, they are a very upbeat and fun band. From the first song, the crowd in front of the stage was on its feet and dancing along. They ripped through traditional and original numbers with verve and gusto taking the occasional dip into slower numbers with lovely vocal harmonies.
At the end of their set, I tooled over to Kieran's pub in Minneapolis in time to catch the last set of The Tim Malloys. The members of Gaelic Storm mentioned they'd be stopping by after they'd closed up things at the fair and indeed, arrived in time for a pint or two before last call. I had the chance to meet a couple of members of the band and they seemed quite gregarious guys. Given their performance earlier, I'd already decided that I'd have to return to the fair on Sunday and pick up one of their albums.
So Sunday I took my dog with me and set off to the fair. There were fewer people around and they were divided into two distinct groups in the area by the main stage. The first sat nearer the stage in the bright sunlight and the other gathered in the shade of a large tree in the middle of the park a bit further back. Close enough to hear the stage music but not close enough to be caught up in it. I wandered with my dog, who got a lot of attention. (She is, after all, a beautiful dog.) I sat in close to the stage as I had the night before, catching just a bit of shade from the structure sheltering the stage. A group of Irish dancers were setting up and having a bit of trouble with the sound. Uncharacteristically, it sounded like someone plugged a live line into the circuits, resulting in the characteristic loud pop through the speakers. Well, my poor pup, who does not like loud noises freaked a bit at this and I knew that this location wouldn't work for the duration. I settled in the sunny spot between groups and listened for a while longer. Local groups with people I know in them ran one after the other and were fun to listen to. (Peter Yeates and Ken Larson, billed as Craic Horse, also had trouble with the sound and Ken a hoarse voice after a long day and night of work. Lojo Russo and Funks Grove were their funky selves and met with some appreciation, though back in the shady group, there were some grumbles about traditional Irish music.) While Gaelic Storm set up for their set that day, I wandered a bit with the pup (who is about six now, and not really a pup) and purchased their latest CD, Tree. It took a bit of coaxing by the band to get people up and dancing on the lazy Sunday afternoon, but they hit their numbers with tremendous energy until they could not be denied. Unfortunately, half way through their set, the rhythmic clapping started getting to my dog. (That loud noise thing again, poor thing.) So I departed earlier than planned, but still satisfied with my music purchase and day in the park.