Thursday, April 17th, 2014

On Shamrock Fest 2013

1

To get to Shamrock Fest, I had to navigate a phalanx of Bible-thumpers.

Shamrock Fest is an Irish and Celtic music festival held annually at RFK Stadium, and the organizers recommend that people take the DC Metro to reach the music festival.  You take the Blue or Orange line, disembark at the Stadium-Armory stop, climb the steps, and walk about two blocks to reach Shamrock Fest.  The past years, as you stepped off the Metro stairs and onto the street, you would be assaulted by street vendors hocking t-shirts, hats, sunglasses, all sorts of stuff St. Patrick’s Day related.  My first year I bought a Dropkick Murphys t-shirt from the street vendors for about ten dollars.

This year, the street vendors were joined by a church.

There were people reading from the Bible.  There were people handing out tracts.  There were people preaching the evils of drinking and fornication.  Every few feet, you would be assailed on one side by a street vendor and his St. Patrick’s Day wares, and on the other side by “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

The dichotomy was amazing.  And amusing.  My probability of drinking was 100% (even at the brutal alcohol prices of Shamrock Fest), my probability of fornication, like my probability of buying anything from the street vendors, was 0%.

Of course, to reach the point of running the gauntlet I had to get to RFK.  And the trick there was in deciding what to wear.

It was snowing in Pennsylvania when I woke.  I checked the weather forecast for DC, and they were calling for mid-50s and a 70% chance of rain.  I would want something rainproof, then.  I opted for something heavier, a ski jacket I had picked up on clearance at Wal-Mart last month, because my other rainproof jacket isn’t at all warm.

And, of course, I went as the Batman of Ireland.

Well, no, not really.  There isn’t a Batman of Ireland in the Batmen of Many Nations and Batman, Inc.

Graphitti Designs sold a “Celtic Batman Symbol” t-shirt a few years ago.  And for inexplicable reasons (because I really don’t need more t-shirts), I bought it.  The shirt seemed appropriate; I don’t own anything green, and my only St. Patrick’s Day-specific apparel are my St. Patrick’s Day Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals baseball caps.

Thus, I was outfitted.

I made better time than I thought I would, and I was through the gate at 1:30.

There were four bands I wanted to see.  In order, they were:

  1. Carbon Leaf
  2. Murder the Stout
  3. Barleyjuice
  4. The Mahones

Plus, I wanted to catch several other acts, like Baltimore’s Gaelic Mishap.  But those were the main four.  However, Murder the Stout and Barleyjuice overlapped by half an hour, and The Mahones were closing out the festival and whether or not I saw them was going to depend on the weather and how I was feeling.

The band schedule didn’t seem as packed as previous years, with several local-ish bands not on the schedule.

I caught bits of most of the Irish music sets, even though that meant a lot of walking from the Guinness Irish Village stage to the Miller Lite/Angry Orchard stages.  I saw none of the alt rock sets on the GoCity and Marathon stages.

The sun came out about two o’clock, and I’d say it reached the low 60s.  I took the jacket off and tied the arms around my waist.  It wasn’t the prettiest looking way of wearing it, but it was easier than carrying it.  And when it started raining later and the temperature dropped, I put the jacket back on and didn’t take it off.

The two sets I saw all of were Murder the Stout and Carbon Leaf.

I’m not sure when or how I heard of Murder the Stout, but I bought their self-titled 2006 CD (physical) and their new EP (digital) last year, and I was looking forward to seeing them.  I decided to skip most of the Barleyjuice set (since I’ve seen them several times now) to catch all of the Murder the Stout set, and I was glad I did.  At their merchandise table, they were selling a set of the new EP and frontman Hugh Morrison’s CD, Robbie Burns Rocks, for ten dollars, so I picked up both.  The thing was, I wasn’t sure if the EP I bought yesterday was the same thing as the EP I bought digitally last year.  I didn’t know until I got home last night and was able to compare.  A little while later, after the Carbon Leaf set, Murder the Stout was hanging out at their merchandise table, and the entire band autographed the CD slipcase for me.

Silly me should have asked Hugh to autograph Robbie Burns Rocks.  Ah, hindsight.

After Murder the Stout, I went down to the Miller Lite/Angry Orchard stages and caught the end of the Barleyjuice set and found a good place for the Carbon Leaf set.  (These two stages were adjacent so that while one back was performing, another band could set up for their set on the other stage.  And one didn’t really need to move to see both stages.)

Carbon Leaf is a band that I’ve followed since I was a student at the University of Richmond; they played a Kappa Alpha party in the autumn of 1997 (where I bought their first album, Meander), and they played the Cellar, the Richmond campus bar, about once a month (where their lead singer, Barry, gave me a copy of their second album, Shadows in the Banquet Hall, because I enthusiastically applauded their cover of John Denver’s “Country Roads”).  After I left Richmond, I didn’t see them live again I moved to Raleigh and they played a free concert downtown after the release of their fifth studio album, Indian Summer.

Carbon Leaf’s set was weighted toward their new album, Ghost Dragon Attacks Castle, plus they played old favorites like “Life Less Ordinary” from Indian Summer, “Shine,” “The Boxer,” and “Desperation song” from Echo Echo and “Home” and “American Tale” from Ether-Electrified Porch Music.  It was a tight and energetic set, and the audience was enthusiastic.  The sky clouded over during the set and it started to rain during “Desperation Song” (which was ironic, because there’s a line in the song about “will you stay through the pouring rain”).  There was crowd surfing and there was slam dancing in the crowd, two things that until I saw them last year I never, ever would have expected at a Carbon Leaf gig.

As I did last year, I bought a soundboard recording of the set on a USB stick from the band’s merchandise table.  The sound mix could have been better balanced (the vocals are mixed down, while the drums and bass are mixed up), but it’s a nice artifact to have. :)

After a beer, I wandered back down to the Miller Lite/Angry Orchard area, and I saw that the band was signing autographs.  While I didn’t need any Carbon Leaf CDs, not even Ghost Dragon (I have one of the autographed limited editions the band sold through their website), I did ask them if they would autograph Celtic Pink Ribbon II, a compilation of Celtic-inspired music and bands that raises money for breast cancer awareness and cure.  And they did.  I high-fived guitarist Terry Clark.  I shook singer Barry Privett’s hand.  It was a fun little moment.

And then I had my third and final beer of Shamrock Fest.  As I’ve mentioned in years past, at Shamrock Fest you buy beer tickets.  The first year I attended, beer tickets for four for twenty.  Last year and this year, they were three for twenty.  Yes, nearly seven dollars for a beer in a plastic cup.  On the plus side, that limits consumption; no one is going to want to spend forty dollars for six beers.  On the minus side, that also limits consumption; maybe I wanted four beers and not three.

Last year there were beer lines.  (That is, lines to get beer.) This year, I didn’t notice any.

Actually, this year I would say that attendence was down significantly from last year and the year before.  The weather didn’t keep people away last year.  I don’t know if the lack of a “name” band like Dropkick Murphys this year was a determining factor.  Or it could be the prices; prices on tickets ratchet up as the festival approaches, so what someone might do at $25 dollars will be out of their price range at $40.  Honestly, though, I don’t know why attendence was down.  It just felt like a noticeably smaller crowd this year.

I watched a little of the next few acts — the Screaming Orphans (an Irish four-piece who remind me of The Corrs), Celkilt (a French band), and the Fighting Jamesons (a Virginia-based Celtic rock band).

The sun went down during the Celkilt set.

I did not, however, stay for the Mahones.

The rain stopped shortly after the Carbon Leaf set.  However, after the rain came high winds and plunging temperatures.  Even in the heavier ski jacket, I was cold and my feet and lower back hurt.  The sun had gone down, and I left at 7:30.

Like last year, I snagged the commemorative cup as I left.  People who buy the higher-priced VIP ticket receive a special plastic commemorative cup.  As the crowd thinned out, people left them behind.  Maybe they dropped them on the ground and didn’t bother picking them up.  Maybe they tossed them in the garbage.  Maybe they got stomped on by the crowd in front of the stages.  In any case, they were there for the picking.  I only intended to pick up one.  I ended up taking home three.  And yes, I washed them thoroughly when I got home; total strangers had used two of them to drink.  (The second one I picked up, frankly, appeared not to have been used at all.)

I had a fun time.  I felt a little sunburned.

I’ll go again next year. :)

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