I promised myself that I wasn’t going to spend much money on CDs at Shamrock Fest. After last year, when I bought five CDs (two from the Charm City Saints, two from Barleyjuice, and one from The Gobshites), what more was there to buy?
Shamrock Fest is a Celtic rock/punk festival held in DC each year around St. Patrick’s Day. I attended last year, and I was looking forward to attending again, even though it meant missing out on the Reason Rally, a gathering of atheists on the National Mall. Headliners for Shamrock Fest 2012 included Carbon Leaf, Gaelic Storm, and the Dropkick Murphys, and how could I miss getting my Irish on? As I said to my mom, compared to the Reason Rally there was more beer, more bands, and less culture war at Shamrock Fest.
Last year Shamrock Fest was held on the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day, and it was a very lovely almost spring day. Windy, not too chilly, and very sunny. Yesterday at Shamrock Fest, it was overcast, it was rainy, and despite temperatures in the mid-60s there was a cold wind that chilled a body to the bone. The weather probably kept people away (the crowd was definitely smaller than last year), but that just meant that the people who did brave the elements were hardcore Irish music fans.
There were only two sets that I caught in their entirety — Charm City Saints (who opened Shamrock Fest) and Carbon Leaf. Otherwise, I flitted from stage to stage, checked out vendors, bought overpriced Guinness in plastic cups, and walked a lot.
Yes, there was a lot of walking at Shamrock Fest. Last year I described it as something “like a state fair, but with Celtic Rock and Punk music,” and that’s still valid. There were entertainment stages, there were vendors of Irish merchandise, there were food vendors selling fair-like food, there were rides and arcades, there were portapotties (though nowhere near as many as were needed). The set-up last year didn’t require quite the amount of walking — the portapotties were near the main stage, and the food and merchandise vendors weren’t that far. This year, the main stage was at the far end of the set-up, the portapotties were back at the entrance, and the vendors were in-between. So if you wanted food, if you wanted to get out of the rain under one of the tents, if you simply needed to pee, you had to walk a long freakin’ way.
Plus, the main stage had an odd set-up. There wasn’t much open audience space in front of it, maybe only twenty feet, because there were merch tents set up right there, so you had to either get really close to the stage (in which case your ears got blasted, such as during the Charm City Saints set), or you had to stand off to the side. (Ironically, the secondary stage set up right next to it had no such problem.) I did crowd in for the Carbon Leaf set, only to nearly get taken out by moshers. Yes, for the first time since I first saw Carbon Leaf fifteen years ago at a Kappa Alpha frat party at the University of Richmond, I attended a Carbon Leaf gig with moshing and crowd surfing.
The Carbon Leaf set, by the way, was very good. They sold a soundboard recording of it on USB sticks after the set, and naturally I bought one. The setlist was geared toward their older material (the most recent song was “Life Less Ordinary” from Indian Summer, and somehow it had always gone over my head what a romantic song that is), and they also did two Irish-tinged instrumentals and a cover of “Rocky Road to Dublin.” Then they were joined on stage by the O’Neill-James School of Irish Dance for an instrumental version of “The Boxer.”
There were several bands I saw that I did not stay for their whole set.
First up was Gaelic Mishap. I caught a little of their set after Charm City Saints finished. I’d gone to redeem my first beer ticket (and I’ll explain later how beer works at Shamrock Fest), and then I decided to wander up to see what was happening on the other stages (which also happened to be closer to the merchandise vendors and the portapotties). Gaelic Mishap was playing on one of those stages. A local Baltimore band, they were very good. I don’t think they’ve released a CD, but there are some sound samples on their website. They don’t play the Irish pub I frequent, so I’ll have to consider visiting some of Baltimore’s pubs that they do play.
The Kilmaine Saints are from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and the part of their set that I caught was very enjoyable. I picked up their CD, The Good, the Plaid, and the Ugly which, let’s be honest, is worth it just for the title. Seriously, though, I’m listening to the CD now as I write this, and it’s very good. The band is crowdfunding their second album, and I made a contribution to the campaign this morning.
Another band I saw was Glasgow Kiss. They’re from the Virginia Beach area, and what I saw of their set was very nice.
I also saw Los Angeles’ The Mighty Regis, and while I liked them I didn’t buy any of their CDs (they had three) because I couldn’t decide which one I wanted! They were at Shamrock Fest last year as well.
Another band who was playing at the same time as The Mighty Regis was The Rovers, a Celtic rock/punk band out of Annapolis. I didn’t hear much of their set (I’d wandered down that way because I needed to visit the portapotties), but what I heard was sensational. I bought their album Buy Us a Drink.
I also caught pieces of Icewagon Flu and Scythian, I visited the DJ tent, and I checked out the non-Celtic music stages. Like last year, I only bought the regular admission to Shamrock Fest. They have a VIP admission that was quite a bit pricier, but you get more beer choices, a commemorative plastic mug, and there are three additional stages filled with people I’ve never heard of. But I ended up with a commemorative plastic mug anyway; I saw one in a trashcan as I was leaving the stadium and said to myself, “Oh, why the heck not.”
The final CD I bought from Australia’s The Ramshackle Army, but I didn’t catch their set. By that point I was damp, my socks were soaked, the wind was cold, my ankle was starting to twinge, and while I wanted to stick around for the Dropkick Murphys, I knew I could expect deafness and moshing — and a bloody huge mess at the Metro station in trying to get out of DC. Leaving early seemed prudent. Plus I managed to snag that exclusive commemorative mug by leaving early.
Now, about the beer at Shamrock Fest. Here’s how it works. You get stamped on your hand, and this year, because of the weather, they stamped you on the wrist, too. Then, with your hand stamped, you buy beer tickets. Twenty dollars got you three beer tickets. (I think last year they were twenty for four.) So each beer basically costs you seven dollars. Then you go to gates where someone checks your hand stamp, takes your ticket, sends you through to the tables beyond, and you’re handed a beer in a plastic cup. Now, the awesome thing about the Guinness tables is that there were guys who gave you fist bumps for getting “the good stuff.” The other beer choice for “regular” admittees was Miller Lite, and VIP admittees would get, I think, Bass. There were always lines for Miller Lite. The only time I saw a line for Guinness was at 6:40, which was basically “last call” since beer service stopped at 7. I also saw John deLancie at that point — and if it wasn’t him, it was certainly a reasonable facsimile.
Some other random notes…
Circa six o’clock, I waited in line for a portapotty. I was at the front of the line, a door opened, and out stepped one young woman. I stepped forward to enter, and then another woman stepped out of that portapotty. “Whatever,” I thought, only it turned out that what I thought had happened in that portapotty was not what actually happened. When I stepped into the portapotty and closed the door, I got such a contact high that I’m pretty sure I’ll test positive for THC.
I think I heard “South Australia” enough yesterday to last me the rest of my life. Thankfully Carbon Leaf didn’t play it.
All told, I spent sixty dollars on music (three CDs and the Carbon Leaf flash drive), forty on beer, and *grumble* on something that I would be charitable in calling lunch. A little bit more than I planned, but it was all in a good cause — a fun day of Irish music.
There you have it. The Shamrock Fest 2012 post-mortem.
Will I go again next year? Hell yeah. There’s beer and there’s bands and there’s fun, and I got my Irish on.