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2007-08-04./05 Dublin, OH Irish Festival

reviewed by Mary

 

Anja asked me to write a concert report, and particularly asked me to talk about the behind-the-scenes stuff, like at the after party. The following account is very much from my perspective. As such, it contains a lot of my own reminiscences, associations, opinions, and stories that *I* think are funny. Being me, it also goes on at some length. If this doesn't bother you, read on.

My weekend started with picking up a friend from the airport early, dashing around with her (including showing her the 3/4 scale replica of the Santa Maria that's in the river by the Broad St. bridge), getting my banjo looked at, and generally running around like a chicken with my head cut off. I finally grabbed a nap at home, then groggily carted my bags to the hotel. On the way, I stopped and got one of those high-caffeine drinks. Here's the part that actually pertains to the Tenor's fan club: In the 5-10 minutes between the gas station and hotel, I chugged about half of it (what they list on the can as one serving).

So I walked in the door of the hotel just as the caffeine was hitting to see Matthew and Daryl on their way out. "Hey!" I dropped my bags in a fine display of gracelessness - think of a puppy tumbling over it's own feet, and you'll get a reasonable picture - and did the hellos and started chatting. As we did, I noticed two things. One was that my hands were shaking pretty furiously with the combination of caffeine + festival energy. The other was that I was waving them around wildly to disguise this fact. (Later Matthew said he didn't notice a thing. HAH!) Anyway, it was a lovely way to kick off the festival for me.

Only saw Matthew and Daryl that night, though I saw them once again after Beth Patterson's set.


Sadly, my set overlapped the boys' Saturday set, though I was walking by with my gear just in time to hear them start their last song....Oh, Danny Boy. Oh, god save us all from one of the most insidious guilt trips ever set to music. I went on to drop my things at the Rec Center, then stopped by and chatted with Deirdre briefly as the boys signed CDs. I was entertained when I got her to admit that, like me, she was very much not a fan of the song.

I didn't see any of the guys again until Saturday night when I stopped to talk to Daryl in the hotel bar. Just after I started talking to him, Steve M, whom I know from my first session when I lived in Cincinnati, came up and started asking me loudly about my new boyfriend. Daryl pretty much slammed into the table away from me; I stared for a moment, then realized that Steve was talking about my friend Fabien; the three of us had been talking together earlier. What an amazingly embarrassing few moments. Steve's often good for that....

Sunday morning I headed to breakfast alone - my roommate only came to bed a few hours before I woke up. While I was standing at the buffet, James wandered in looking a bit dazed, so I invited him to join me. We ended up texting a bit with Anja, which was fun, and discussing the fact that one can be both a fellow musician and a fan.


I got to hear a bit about the party that had been hosted by Deirdre's fan club. Imagine walking into the room and seeing your face everywhere. The most incongruous image, to me, was the Deirdre Shannon mouse pad. I think I'd be a bit disconcerted, myself.

After a bit, both Matthew and David ended up wandering in and joining us, just about the time James and I were finishing up, so we stayed to talk. James introduced me to David as "Mary from last year". David quickly turned it into Mary From Last Year. It wasn't until after the finale that he relented and decided I could now be Mary From This Year.

I mentioned that I'd started a juggling club at work, and it turns out that Matthew both juggles (poorly, he said) and rides a unicycle. This in turn is funny because last winter I had my sister loan me her old unicycle which I haven't tried to ride since I was a kid - maybe 10/11 years old, while she was home from college. I haven't made time to try to learn yet, for fear of breaking an arm before a gig. He encouraged to try again. I may have to round up some of the folks who said they'd also be interested in learning and make an expedition of it this weekend. (That way, at least there'll be someone to drive me to the hospital...)

I kept forcing myself not to start singing. See, I know this song called "Bluegrass Sucks," one verse of which starts, "Yes, I've heard of Bill Monroe, heard his music, didn't like it though." It kept trying to turn into, "Yes, I've heard of Dave Munro..." and the rest just isn't accurate.

I never did get around to asking James about his stint in Africa, which I'd meant to do. I did, however, notice that Matthew has some obsessive-compulsive traits. I noticed him straightening something on the table with exactly the same sorts of hand movements I've seen myself use. I know it's prevalent amongst tech writers. I wonder if it's also a common trait in musicians? Must pay more attention.

We ended up staying at breakfast quite long - well into the time I'd meant to use to warm up. As it happened, this didn't matter a great deal as the entire festival was evacuated partway into my band's set. James had talked about coming to see us, and later when I saw him I got to say, "You missed our set! ... don't worry, we missed most of it, too." ;-)

They were delightful breakfast companions, the lot of them. I hope to have the chance to have a meal again with them someday.

Since I met the guys backstage at the festival finale last year, Sunday was the first chance I got actually to see the boys live on stage. Some of the things I noticed at the concert were things I'd noticed while listening to the two CDs I got during the year.

For example, All Out Of Love still takes me right back to summer vacation when I was 14 or 15 years old. There I was with Allen, whom I had a desperate crush on, at the back of the dance hall...playing game after video game of Gauntlet. *In a sonorous tone* "Elf has shot the food." If you've played the game, you know what I'm talking about. So - that made me want to giggle.

Another thing that made me want to giggle was the disco beat for So Strong. I came to musical consciousness right at the end of the disco era, in that pinhead of time in which disco still looked kinda cool but was also laughable. I remember watching Saturday Night Fever on TV. So - my synapses were firing rapidly with the incongruity of really liking the song, and the memories of the amazing cheesiness that was disco.

You've by now all heard about the new stratospheric harmony for Fields of Athenry, and it is. I actually exclaimed out loud when the high bit started. It's....pretty bloody impressive to hear someone hit those notes clearly.

There were one or two points where they worked the schmaltz factor a little too hard during the song introductions, but the songs themselves were solid. I kept finding myself distracted figuring out the rules for when each person would change which hand was holding his microphone, because they very clearly have that coordinated. (In brief, always keep the body open to the audience; this means the hand away from the audience has the mic, with the exception that there may be a cross-over if they're going to be turning in a moment.)

I was very happy with the difference in James' voice compared to the CDs. On the CDs, he tended to give even the love songs a somewhat marshal sound; he's eased up and attacks the notes with a bit less vigor, and it suits the gentler songs better. I also had it really brought home to me (again) that I'm a bit synesthetic. I often get senses of sight and texture (like, actual touch-feeling-type sense) from sound. With this in mind, I must admit - Matthew's voice is my favorite of the three. James' voice presents me with the image of bright uniforms, shiny buttons and old-fashioned muskets. Daryl's voice is sleek and shiny, with hard, reflective surfaces. Matthew's voice is a warm fire on a brisk autumn day. (For the record, Niall's voice as heard on the albums is a stiletto or some other long, narrow-bladed dagger. Pretty, fascinating, and pointy.)

To my horror, I found myself clicking back into the same feeling I got when watching the Miami Men's Glee Club concerts in college. That's right, giggling fan girl. I know that was the unanimous feeling in the concerts in college. Looking around, I could tell I wasn't the only one being hit by it now. This would seem to indicate that there is some kind of genetic hard-wiring that attracts women to men singing, particularly to singing in harmony. Is it a demonstration that they can work in tandem, thereby increasing the likelihood of survival of their tribe? Or is it just an effective means of drawing attention to themselves? Birds have their mating songs, so do humans?

A pity it doesn't seem to work as well the other way around.

Overall, a really fun concert. They were entertaining enough to watch that after awhile I had to put down my spinning and just *watch*. Usually I have trouble sitting still through a concert, and use hand crafts to make it look like I'm able to sit still. I was actually able to do without. The accompaniment was just a shade too loud compared to the voices, but that seemed to be a problem with almost every concert I heard this weekend, and this was much less egregious than most. So, kudos to da boys. Much fun, and delightfully cheesy. (Hey, it's musical theater. What do you expect?)

Right after the Tenor's second set was the finale, for which the boys opted to sing Shenandoah. YEAY! It's a lovely song, with a lot of happy memories associated with it. (Remember me mentioning Miami Men's Glee Club? Yeah, that's part of it, too. ;-)

When everybody went up at the end, one of the boys pulled my hair (but they neither broke nor stole my comb - I supposed that's reserved for girls from Belfast) - I think it was James, but can't swear to it. The closing song was Four Green fields, and we came to the awkward realization that hardly anyone on stage actually *knew* it. Enough to stand in front of the mics and sing it, anyway. I know the first verse, and if I have someone singing directly in my ear, I can fake the rest of it. (Larry Dulin was kind enough to provide this service for me). The boys disclaimed all knowledge of the song, which was written by Tommy Makem, whom the performers made a point of remembering at the festival.

After the finale ended, Donna (volunteer extraordinaire, whom I know and like from previous years) mentioned that she thought it was my gear that had been left in the green room, and things were supposed to have been removed from there by 7. It was now about 9. ACK! I went dashing back, found it missing, and there ensued much running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

James, bless him, waited through three shuttles back to the hotel to make sure I got my gear back, and Matthew ran into him and ended up waiting with him. My things eventually obtained from festival ops, we headed back to the hotel as one merry party (because any party with me in it has to be a Mary party). James is a dreadful mother hen, but it was incredibly sweet of him to have waited. It made me feel much better about having not realized there was a pick-up deadline.

I was particularly pleased to have had the chance to trade my band's brand new CD for the Tenors' DVD. *bounce* I did my first CD for CD trade with my friend Charlene Adzima, and my first CD for DVD trade with the Tenors. Yeay for finally having a CD of my own! (Next: the solo CD of my own original material!)

The shuttle back was filled with increasingly dirty jokes, mostly at the instigation of J from the Doon Ceili Band. I saw another lingering sign of fanboyism - Matthew & co. were doing the Beavis and Butthead laugh at some of the jokes - Beth had been using the laugh during her set. *grin* Yup. One can both have fans and be a fan.

On getting back to the hotel, I pulled out the first of some mead I brewed, and shared it around with the friends I was at a table with. There was one glass worth (well, the same sized portion everyone else had had, anyway - it was a small jar (....Jar? Don't ask. Long story.), and I decided that one would go to James for having waited for me, and for being the one who wanted my band's CD.

Matthew was jealous! That was pretty funny.

On the buffet table was a tiny, sparkly leprechaun hat that various people put on their heads. I wish I'd gotten a picture of Deirdre with it on. Of everyone I saw who tried it, she actually made it look *stylish*. I was impressed.

A bit later, I was coming back from the lobby, singing to myself and realizing that I should either have started the song in a lower key or maybe, just maybe, warmed up a bit, when Deirdre rounded the corner coming the other direction. "Hello, singing lady!" she said to me. I considered attempting a witty reply like, "You're one to talk," or "Takes one to know one," but wisely went with a tipsy "hello!" instead. ;-)

At some point, I wandered over to chat with the Tenors at their stand-up style table. While I wasn't looking, Patrick of Gaelic Storm came up to Matthew asking about breath support and voice stuff. I turned around to find Matthew having Patrick put his hands on Matthew's chest to feel the way it inflated. A few minutes later, still on topic, Daryl grabbed Patrick's hands and put them on his (Daryl's) chest for a similar but slightly different demonstration (this one showing that the chest wasn't rising much while the abdomen was). I've had voice lessons with four different teachers, and I've had this demonstration with all of them. However, it brought to mind an incident in the Rec Center green room last year.

*wavy lines indicating a flashback*

I was going to put my banjo away and heard Beth saying to Fraser of Old Blind Dogs, "Obviously, they didn't get to hear much Irish music around there, because she seemed to think that me playing Irish music made us long lost cousins or something..." as I passed. I continued on, put my banjo away, then came back to say in an ultra-hyper voice, "Oh my gosh, did I just hear you say you like Irish music?!?" We did the girly squeal and gave each other a big hug, whereupon Beth put her hand, palm out, over her lips in the way that the popular girls did in high school to look shocking. I'd never been popular enough to be part of that ritual, but I completed it with a very noisy smooch.

The silence in the room was deafening. I looked around, my eyes widening slightly with the feel of a hare that has just realized she is surrounded by hounds, and noticed two things: one, we were the only females in the room. Two, all eyes were on us. "Please, don't let me stop you," said Fraser, smiling with a merry glint in his eye. I stared for a moment, thinking, "I now know more about what type of porn you boys watch than I ever needed to know."

*flash back to modern day*

So, there I was, watching several healthy, fit, young men grabbing each others' hands and putting them on various places of their torsos, then swelling their chests hugely, and I thought, "Maybe I shouldn't knock it..." Thus deciding to expand my cultural horizons, I leaned back and enjoyed the show. Rather a lot, actually.

Shortly thereafter, James said he had to get to bed - they were getting up early for their flight the next morning. Matthew realized he should go as well, and the two left Daryl and I standing at the table together.

Keep in mind, now, that about a month before the festival I'd finally made the connection between the choir who sang on an Eileen Ivers' CD and the choir Daryl started. I'd also realized that he must have started the choir when he was 21 or 22. When I was 21, I had no idea what to do with my life. (Well, that's not exactly true - at 21, I won a grant from my university to study Irish music for a year, including 6 months in Ireland, and got to tell the board of directors exactly what I thought was good and bad about my university - but upon starting the term of the grant, felt so overwhelmed by the sense of expectation for me to accomplish Great Things that I ended up figuratively hiding under a rock for the next 10 years.)

Hence, I was really impressed by Daryl's ability to start something so worthwhile, that impacted so many people positively, at such a very young age. A few days before, I'd read that the British army had left Northern Ireland, and had wondered if Daryl felt a bit of personal pride. (They've done studies that indicate that if a group gets to watch another group interact from a "safe" vantage point for a time before being introduced to them, the first group is much less likely to be prejudiced towards the second group; Daryl's choir provided a "safe" vantage point). I'd meant to mention these things to him.

So, there we were at the table alone. I stared at him blankly. "Right, I think I'm going to get more chicken wings," says he. "Well, it's been nice talking to you," I replied, and bolted back to my friends.

*shakes head at self*

Someday, someday I may actually learn the art of conversation, or at least acquire the capacity for maintaining thoughts for more than a few minutes at a time....

The sessions that night were lovely. I got to sing one of my own songs before heading home, but no more interaction with the Tenors, so that's a set of stories for another audience. Hope they have a great tour, marathon-like though it seems.


 

DublinOH
The guys with Mary and Patrick (Gaelic Storm)

If you would like to learn more about Mary's band Aisling visit their website or their myspace profile.