All photos © Kristen Mankowski, except Shamrockfest logo.
There wasn’t much of a breeze, but there was still a bit of a draft for quite a few kilt-wearers celebrating their Celtic pride at Shamrockfest D.C. last weekend. Plaid man-skirts in an array of colors danced back and forth as their owners whisked their way to a variety of small artisan shops, food stands and concert stages. What remained when the plaid was said and done was nothing short of a sea of green: shirts, pants and even facial hair adorned in that grassy hue! Some came to celebrate their heritage. Others came to drink. I came to hear some great music.
The Angry Orchard and GoCity stages sat right next to each other and would house the main artists of the day. By the time my girlfriend and I began approaching the area, having scoured the local market, the Angry Orchard crowd was being commanded by a tongue-twistingly fast sea shanty from the Kilmaine Saints. My girlfriend commented that it was surprisingly well sang considering how fast the lead singer was carrying on.
Next up, on the GoCity stage, were a band toted as the originators of the Celtic-Rock movement: Black 47. These elder statesmen, in support of their final album, Last Call, lit up the stage with their presence and green suede shoes! It was hard not to chuckle at their humorous banter, not to mention songs like “I Got Laid On James Joyce’s Grave.” But others tunes, like “Fire Of Freedom” and “James Connelly,” about the Irishman who was executed for his participation in the Easter Rising movement of 1916, were much more intense and thoughtful. As frontman, Larry Kirwan, said in response to being asked why a lot of Irish music was political in nature, “If you’re Irish, you ARE political!”
Everyone’s attention shifted back to the Angry Orchard stage as Black 47 finished up their set to enjoy the sounds of the Dublin 5. Unfortunately, I missed a good portion of their set when I went to get some dinner. It’s unfortunate because what I managed to catch was quite great. This five piece, named after a region of Ireland where the lead singer grew up, was full of energy. Particularly remarkable was fiddler Jenn Garmen’s back and forth with singer and guitarist Ray Murphy on Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down To Georgia,” on which Garmen completely stole the show with her bow-work. But it really got serious when Murphy asked that we all raise our glasses to those that have put their lives on the line, and for those who have lost their lives, so that we could all be there to celebrate. Garmen and bagpiper Eddie McGowan came to the front of the stage playing “Amazing Grace” in one of the more touching moments of the day.
Many people showed up to Shamrockfest to see Dropkick Murphys play, but I was there for Carbon Leaf. Always splendid performers, it’s hard for me to say more than what I have already said the last time I saw them, or even the time before that. For this evening, a more Celtic-themed set was chosen, pulling out an oldie like “Shine” from Echo Echo and, of course, playing extensively from their 2013 Celtic-Rock release, Ghost Dragon Attacks Castle. There was even a side-step into “Sweet Home Alabama” during “Life Less Ordinary,” which, while not Celtic by any means, certainly lit up the faces of all those in attendance and received a huge cheer. As the light died down, one fan managed to get a note up to vocalist, Barry Privett, informing him that the fan had lost their virginity to Carbon Leaf’s music. “That means a lot to us. I still haven’t lost my virginity to our music,” Privett responded candidly. They closed out their set with the Scottish traditional song, “Mary Mac,” which became so fast towards the end that Barry let his lips tangle into a mumbling mass, much to the audiences’ amusement.
Video courtesy of Elmo Thamm.
While more wonderful music was on its way, I sadly cannot be very helpful. I know that The Fighting Jamesons brought a fiery passion and caused a great deal of commotion on the Angry Orchard stage, and when the Dropkick Murphys came on, even the merchandise table became overtly crowded as the audience tightened into something resembling a singularity at the front of the stage. My girlfriend and myself had relinquished our front row view in favor of our safety* and for the honor of chatting with Carbon Leaf. We had to leave early, but had a pretty good time, all in all. It was definitely worth visiting, so be sure to check out Shamrockfest next year!
*As the day went on, crowd surfing, which is fine in its own right, increased steadily. However, when moshers began using the crowd surfers as a way of getting up to the front guardrail and began trying to mosh there, it became quite a problem. Several men were next to me, throwing their elbows around in the front two rows, and one of them tried to rip my girlfriend’s necklace off. Then a friend of mine told me of one woman who was kicking about randomly, and later tried to steal his girlfriend’s spot by forceably bending back her fingers, which were clutched to the railing where she stood. We are all at these shows to have a good time. Don’t be one of these people who is violent, and if you see someone else who is, report them to the guards.