Saturday, March 19, 2011

Breaking the Rules on St. Patrick's Day

For those of you that know me, I'm sometimes a bit hard-headed, but if you know me at all, you understand why I'm an asshole on certain occasions. I hate hypocrisy, but on St. Patrick's Day, it was necessary for me to violate two personal principles: I paid a cover charge on St. Patrick's Day and I listened to a bagpiper who sucked balls.

My buddy Allen kidnapped me from work early on St. Patrick's Day and we started a little before our wives were ready to go. We went to O'Dowd's, which claims Irish pub status; it serves the right libations and the right food, but that's pretty much where it stops. Granted, I have a bias, having owned an Irish bar for six years and drank my way through Scotland and Ireland when I visited.

As we walked in, the band playing outside was butchering Dave Matthew's Band. At an Irish bar. On St. Patrick's Day. "I'm not really sure I want to be here." I told Ashley as we got in line to pay cover.

I normally don't mind paying cover. If the band is good.
And it's not St. Patrick's Day. And the bar doesn't overcharge.
And the service can keep up with the crowd. And the band is good.
That bears repeating.

They were charging cover. At an Irish bar. On St. Patrick's Day. As if making money hand over fish was simply not enough. I looked at Ash and said, "What a bunch of greedy assholes." (I didn't say "assholes," but sometimes my mother-in-law reads this and I can get away with "assholes." What I really said rhymed with "brother pluckers." Nuff said.)

To me, it is bad form that an Irish bar would charge a cover on their biggest day of the year, then upcharge for beer. But we found a place to stand next to a table. That's right. They'd removed the stools. And we proceeded to drink Harp and Guinness from plastic cups. I forgave them that; I did the same thing when I was in the business.

A really skinny guy that I recognized as either the lead singer of Black 47 or the guy who plays bagpipes outside City Market on the weekends was setting up on stage. The Black 47 guy probably has a gig on St. Patrick's Day, so I had my answer when he pulled out his pipes with the easily recognizable faux cowhide bag cover and started yammering away on the pipes.

We were 15 feet from a very large speaker and the sound in O'Dowd's sucks anyway, and I thought this joker was really going to mess it up. I was wrong

He really outdid himself. I'm fairly certain O'Dowd's hired them without benefit of an audition. He played bagpipes, an out of tune guitar and occasionally, tinwhistle very loudly. The lady played squeaky fiddle and worse keyboards.

I love bagpipe music, but Allen and I had to stop ourselves from griping about the level of play and concentrate more on the slow service and the steroid-riddled ape who kept bumping into his wife.

By the way, here's a great version of 'Cullen Anderson' by the Vancouver Police Department Pipe Corps. Ashley and I had it played as the wedding party walked into the reception. There are probably two dozen pipers playing a four minute song, and I identified two sour notes. The guy we listened to hit two dozen sour notes in one minute of 'The Clumsy Lover.'

Here's one more bagpipe tune for my Scottish buddies, Allen and Doug, who both wore kilts on St. Patrick's Day. It's also for anyone who reads this and who thinks bagpipes are Irish. (I'm looking at you, Bob Reeder.) Anyway, this is 'Scream' from Seven Nations, and if it's possible for a bagpiper to "shred," their bagpiper shreds.

Allen slipped the waitress a pre-order twenty and asked me to switch places with Sarah, sans-twenty but I was happy to do it. The waitress started coming by more often and the 'roid head was bumping backwards less often. He did slip his business card in my back pocket before he realized it was guy standing behind him, though.

Ash and I met three great people through Doug, Felicia, Sam and (I know I'm going to butcher the spelling) Jong, who claims to be able to eat the hottest anything you put in front of him. I can't wait for that outing.

We decided to cut out early as The Kelihans started to set up. It's not that we dislike the band, we just felt it would be rude to leave right as they start playing, especially since we know them. We just needed to relieve Grandma of babysitting duties.

On the plus side, I've got an in next time you need to rent office furniture or a mobile DJ. That's right... "Roid Boy.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day, Please Enjoy the Music

For me, St. Paddy's Day is about the Irish culture in America, not necessarily about St. Patrick himself, although he was a great man. I've alread discussed some of the St. Patrick's Day contradictions, and I'll continue that a little bit here, while focusing on the music, which aside from beer is the best thing about the day.

My first exposure to Celtic rock came from Slade when I was in high school. The song was called "Run Run Away." Later on, Great Big Sea covered the song and the band from Newfoundland quickly became my favorite. I've seen them play in O'Dowd's in front of 200 people and I've seen concert footage of them playing in front of tens of thousands.

Great Big Sea is a great band; one that rocks when it wants to, makes the songs they cover their own and are still very capable of playing traditional Celtic music.

"Run Run Away" as I said, was first exposure to Celtic rock when I was a kid. Great Big Sea covered the Slade tune in the mid 90s. The video is hilarious.

The band has influences from traditional as well as rock, and is not afraid to take a rock standard and Celt it up a bit. Like everyone in the late 80s, the guys in Great Big Sea loved R.E.M. and even covered one of that band's most well-known tunes, "End of the World." I like the GBS version because it has a fiddle and a cittern, and it may be even faster than the original version, if that's possible.
"Lukey" is probably my favorite Great Big Sea tune. This is a traditional tune that many Irish musicians have done, but in this video, you can see just how big the band has become. They're performing this little traditional tune in front of 30,000 enthusiastic Canadians.
Great Big Sea, although not Irish, play great versions of Irish tunes and are a solid addition to your music library, whether you're just getting into Celtic music or have been listening to it for years.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

More on Irish Music - The Waterboys

The Waterboys came out of Galway in the early 90s and I started listening to them soon after. Some of their songs, honestly, aren't exactly my cup of Jameson, but here are a couple that really pay homage to the ballads of Irish songwriters.

"When Ye Go Away" is one of the saddest songs I've ever heard. Bob Reeder once told me he tried to learn how to play it but knew he wouldn't be able to make it through the song without losing it. It's haunting lyrics and lilting fiddle, along with steel guitar make this song one of my all time favorites.

"Fisherman's Blues" has been used in several films, including 'Good Will Hunting' and 'Waking Ned Devine.' It speaks to the gypsy soul, the thought of roads not traveled and what might have been.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Contradictions of St. Patrick's Day

We owned a bar for six years and I think I will always miss it most at this time of year. Usually, the week before St. Patrick's Day was like herding cats for me. Ordering corned beef and lamb. Coordinating beer and liquor deliveries. Picking up cabbage and potatoes. Scheduling kitchen and bar help. Baking soda bread. And a hundred other things that turned my hair gray or made it fall out.

I always worried that no one would show up and I'd be throwing out $125 worth of Irish stew.

It never happened. People always came. Everyone always had a good time. Even me. Mostly because after a week of stress and making preparations, I was happy to be drinking with the staff while we worked covered up with patrons eager to celebrate the country's Irish heritage

That's right... OUR country's Irish heritage. So much of what we know about St. Patrick's Day is purely an American affectation. The first parade celebrating St. Patrick took place in New York City. Why? Because the Irish immigrants wanted to celebrate their homeland and were not under the influence of the Church. They drank because they missed the families they left.

Ask an Irishman what corned beef and cabbage tastes like and he couldn't tell you. The poor Irish immigrants in the U.S. ate that because they could afford it. It's purely an American tradition. If you order an Irish car bomb in a pub, the bartender will give you the same look an air marshall would if you mentioned the term while boarding a flight.

Besides, St. Patrick's Day in Ireland is a deeply religious day that included fasting. And no drinking. Not something you would typically associate with the stereotypical St. Paddy's Day celebration. Dublin didn't even have a parade until very recently. It's odd to me that bagpipes, which is arguably a Scottish instrument, play the same tune while the pipers march. "Scotland the Brave" is the tune most often played.

Those first revelers wore green as a reminder of the green that dominates the Irish countryside, but St. Patrick's representative color was blue. Here are a couple of other things: St. Patrick is a saint in name only. He was never canonized by the Pope, but has been anointed by the love the Irish people hold for him, which in itself is odd because the Irish typically do not hold Englishmen in such high regard.

So in honor of that contradiction, I'd like to share what I miss most about the bar... the music. When I went to Ireland 10 years ago, my favorite town was Galway, a town known to produce the best in Irish music. So in honor of the contradictions surrounding this day, the first song I'll share is one written by an American who was as devastated by a local girl as I was with the people and landscape of Galway.