Godspeed 2012, Joyful Welcome 2013

As many of my faithful readers know, 2012 was a turbulent year for me. This was a rock bottom year in which I had to make the choice of wallowing or rising above and forging myself into something new and better. I chose the latter route and while I am glad to see 2012 depart, I will always take the lessons learned with me. I look forward to 2013 being a stellar year – musically and personally.

My year started with a resolution of writing more and being more proactive. I had a great start of the year till I made a poor decision one evening and went out, had too much drink and on my way home, wrecked my poor Paddy Wagon and was arrested for a DWI. The morning after, sitting in the impound lot, waiting for AAA to tow my car home, while filled with regret for my poor decision, I was quite thankful I did not hurt physically hurt anyone. It was at that time I made the commitment to sobriety. I was very public with my ordeal, my pain and my decision. While it may have been uncomfortable reading for some, I gained many words of encouragement and support that I cannot even begin to express my gratitude of receiving. Much it was from people in the Celtic Rock and Punk scene, which as many of you know, is quite alcohol fuelled giving me encouragement in my commitment to sobriety.

For months my writing languished as I struggled to work on the demons that drove me to drink and other self-destructive behaviors that have not only hurt me, but those that I love. It was a constructive time for me – I learned much about myself, what drove me and my decisions, learning to trust in myself and gain the inner strength that I never knew was in me. Alcohol has always been a crutch for me. Something to hide behind, something to give me the false sense of strength. Once I stopped hiding who I was, channeling my inner strength, the decision of sobriety was easy.

Over the next few months, I had to miss a few shows that rolled through St Louis – Cutthroat Shamrock, Mighty Regis and Red Rebel County as I was still in severe emotional turmoil.

My first real test of my new life decision was going to a Whiskey of the Damned show. It was my first time in a bar since my fateful night. I went with my friend Ron, who I knew would have my back. My strategy that night was to bring my new camera and take pictures. As the night wore on and I watched some of the most inebriated patrons, I started to feel a strengthening of my conviction. At the end of the show, a quite drunk Eoin McCarthy was attempting to tempt me, to give up my choice and go back home with the band to go to college show full of nubile co-eds. Needless to say, I rejected the offer, knowing I was doing the right thing, not just for me, but for my kids. On my drive home, I drove with calm and peace with the knowledge that I had nothing to worry about it – as far as I am aware, there is nothing illegal with driving with excessive caffeine and nicotine.

After the Whiskey show, I had to face my punishment and accept my loss of driving privileges. I unfortunately missed The Real McKenzies but accepted it with grace as I chose to make my whole experience a learning tool. Not something to bemoan my luck, the cops, the legal institution but to accept my failings and stand tall. Over the years, I had become disconnected from the person I was. I gave up not only my will, but my personality and my voice. I reached back to the last time I was alcohol free – my high school self. I held nothing back, I did not hide myself or my quirks. And during that time, as many of you know by reading (and may be tired of hearing of) “Poor Troubled Life” became the song that  got me through the rough days, the song spoke to me like no other song had before.

Come June/July, I got a message from Beau of Lexington Field they were going to be playing in St Louis in August, during the last two weeks of my restricted driving, which only allowed me to drive for employment or community service. So I could see the band, Beau agreed to hire me as a photographer for the show, so I could have a legal reason to drive. I wrote up a contract, had business cards made and included a pre-shoot consult the day before the show which was conducted at the Cardinals game. That night, Beau really encouraged me to get back to writing, that my voice was being heard. His words that night still help give me the drive to write.

Since that night, I have worked to become more proactive – instead of waiting for bands to contact me and send me their stuff, I have utilized my Xbox Music subscription to find albums to review. I have written a few things to help spread the word about upcoming works. In all, as I have rediscovered myself and become more comfortable in my sobriety I have found my ease in talking to bands has not diminished. I no longer need the social lubricant, I just need to be myself.

So after boring you all, here are some of my top moments of the year

  1. Hanging out Lexington Field on their night off with Chad Ross of Rusty Nail. They are wonderfully down to earth, funny a joy to spend time with
  2. Going to the Weston Irish Festival – yes it was a long day, but it was a blast seeing Flannigans Right Hook up close when the rain ran them off stage. In addition, it brought back some good memories seeing Eddie Delahunt play. Third, it was great to see The Langers Ball play live and meet with the band and get some more grief over my views of their version of “Fields of Anthery” – I still stand by my point of view though!
  3. Yes another road trip – this time going to Urbana, IL to see The Mahones and meeting Finny and Katie. The gratitude of their words about my review of Angels & Devils has been a great motivation to keep writing. I look forward to seeing them play again (they told me they are planning an US tour in 2013 and said St Louis would be a stop!)
  4. In general, the music community of this genre is outstanding! All the friends I have made, even virtually has been fantastic – I hope some day to meet you all in person!
  5. Some of my favorite albums this year, in no order of preference has Hoist the Colors, the Kilmaine Saints, the Killigans, Lexington Field, Flatfoot 56 and Celkilt.

This year has been filled with great music and new friendships. I cannot even place a value on what has meant to me and the reforging of myself into something new and better. So with that I say Godspeed 2012 – you were rough on me, but you have taught me some invaluable lessons.

To 2013, I give a heartfelt and joyful welcome to 2013! This upcoming year should hold many new reviews, with many great bands releasing new albums this year, I am anxious to hear them and write about them. New concerts to see and new bands to discover and new road trips to take. Personally, I look forward to continuing with my personal growth and making new friends (hopefully some that will take said road trips with me, lol.)

So to all my readers and friends, I bid you a happy new year and slainte!

Forged anew, the Red Wolf rises!

Weston Irish Festival

Saturday was not my first visit to Weston, MO and it was well over due. I had passed through 17 years ago on my way to Omaha in which I visited the McCormick Distillery and lunched at what is the Weston Brewing Company where I had walked through O’Malleys Pub and the cool underground holding cellar it is in. I always vowed to come back, but did not realize it would be so long and under so different circumstances.

This week I was given the opportunity to have the day to myself and not much longer after  that I heard of the Weston Irish Festival – it seemed like kismet. Then I started looking the bands playing on Saturday – The Langers Ball, a band I know I wanted to see live, Flannigan’s Right Hook & the Mickey Finns – both of which I have heard great things and Eddie Delahunt – the Irish performer that got me hooked onto Irish music plus many other bands such as 3 Dollar Band, Jiggernaut (who the guys in Rusty Nail say are fantastic) Screaming Orphans, Barlyjuice and Tullamore with three stages (one outside and 2 inside) with the music scheduled from noon to midnight. For those of you not familiar with Missouri geography, Weston, MO is a bit north of Kansas City, on the other side of the state from me. For me to get there, it would require a 5 hour drive each way – most of that interstate driving at 70 miles per hour. Door to door it would be 271 miles each way. For me to do this, I figured  if I can do 24 hours straight, it would be possible – I did 26 hours last year for Shamrock n Roll Fest with a couple of naps at rest areas and this would be more festival time and less driving.

Friday night, after coming home from my daughter’s High School football game I started getting things ready to wake up at 4:30 am and then hit the road early to allow myself plenty of time getting there. I had my cooler set aside, drinks within reach to pack and snacks for the road bagged up and the batter to my camera already charged. The day started good, actually woke up right before my alarm went off, got myself ready in no time flat and was out the door at 4:45 am, 15 minutes ahead of schedule! The drive itself was nondescript – dark and the only colors for me enjoy on this fall day was the white stripes of the road, the red taillights ahead of me and the orange glow from my dashboard. About half way through the drive, I started to hit some light rain – d’oh! I forgot to check the weather forecast! Nothing for it now, just keep pushing along till I can actually do something about it. About the same time, I realized I left packed snacks for the road at home as well.  So a good start dropped down to an ok start. Took care of those needs including a quick run over to Leavenworth, KS for rain gear.

At last! I am at festival, still have time as The Langers Ball is setting up on stage, the sun is breaking through the clouds, so it looks like the day is looking up! The day starts to soar as The Langers Ball roll into their rocking tunes, many off their new album (if you have not bought it yet, what are you waiting for? Sure to be on the 10 top lists later this year!) Awesome, another long drive festival where the first act alone made the drive well worth it!

After The Langers Ball was done playing, I had to start to making choices as the times for the stages were staggered. Something I learned for the next time I attend – if you want to watch from inside stages – go in a group, pick the stage you want to be at and hold your table all day long – perhaps it was the rain, but watching the inside stages were difficult as a stage hopper. I did check out Tullamore – a trad oriented trio, 3 Dollar Band – another trio that more country than rock. When 3 o’clock rolled around, I was eagerly awaiting Flannigan’s Right Hook. While they were setting up, an Irish dance school was demonstrating their skills and for a grand finale did a number called “The Calm Before the Storm” – boy were they right about that! As they finished up, a new batch of rain started to fall, time to head to cover and be glad I brought my telephoto lens with me for some long shots. From the gate, Flannigan’s Right Hook did not disappoint, even the rain cooperated to let me get some close shots of them but not for long – more rain, then heavier rain, and then lightening! Stage show interrupted! OK, no biggie, I will see what is going on inside I thought, problem is that is what everyone else was thinking – shuffling through the crowds with my camera backpack was no fun but everyone was polite! After finding no place to really get a good spot to settle, I shuffled back out to the rain and wait it out where the air was fresh under the covered seating. What fortunate timing! About 5 minutes later, the guys from Flannigan’s Right Hook come up asking for some seats and setting up an intimate impromptu set with guitar, fiddle, upright bass and the guitar case acting as percussion once the drummer was able to make it up. This unplanned event really made the day for me – it was great seeing these skilled performers not only up close but to see the joy in their eyes and hearts as they performed for their fans. They played through up till the rain cleared (I don’t think anyone even noticed till the bagpipers started playing while The Mickey Finns were setting up.)

Now here was the decision I was dreading all day – The Mickey Finns or Eddie Delahunt – there was very little time in which neither was playing – I decided to do a split – the first half hour of The Mickey Finns set then run down to Eddie Delahunt play a few songs and some quick pictures. After squeezing into the Pub Stage area, listened to a few songs, as good as I remember! Then back upstairs to The Mickey Finns. The weather highlighted my decision – while under cover I did some long shots and when I came back up the rain had  slackened so I was able to get some close shots. The Mickey Finns put on an incredible show and my original plan had been to stick it out to their 10:30 show.

By this time, the early day and being on my feet I was starting to feel  the effects with a prospect of a 5 hour drive ahead. While trying to make up my mind, I went inside, hoping to catch the Screaming Orphans, but it was near impossible to get near their stage area and the only other opportunity to see them would be at 9:30. OK, back upstairs then! By that time Jiggernaut had just got set up and started to play – I have heard some great stuff about them from the guys in Rusty Nail and was curious, but I had a nagging voice in my head called prudence. I reviewed the situation – I was feeling tired, my legs were stiff, dusk was approaching and looking at the radar, rain across the state and I had an excellent day already – the time and drive was already worth what I put in so the value of staying as late as I would need to so I can see other bands I wanted was not as high as the value of being safe and getting home to see my kids another day. So for the bands Screaming Orphans, Jiggernaut and Barleyjuice – I am sorry I did not get to see your shows but it just gives me something to look forward to the future.

All in all, I had a wonderful time at a wonderful venue. The prices appeared reasonable for drinks and food – no price gouging there! I cannot say enough about the graciousness and politeness of the people I encountered (and my backpack) made for a pleasant dead even if the weather did not always cooperate. I will definitely be keeping an eye on the event for next year and planning ahead accordingly so I don’t have to make the rough decisions I had to yesterday. Hopefully I will see you there!

You can my pictures on the Rocking The Craic Facebook Page here.

Slainte!

A Great Fall

This fall is going to be great! I love fall to begin with, the crisp, chilly air, the leaves changing colors gives a perfect excuse to hop in the car and drive nowhere plus Thanksgiving! This fall though has the added bonus of some great shows and album releases.

This upcoming weekend will be the Weston Irish Festival with Langer’s Ball, The Mickey Finns, Flannigan’s Right Hook and many more, including the musician that really got me into Irish music, Eddie Delahunt. Hopefully I will be able to find the gas money in old pockets and between couch cushions to make the 5 hour drive to Weston, MO.

There is also the must see concert with the Dropkick Murphys and the Mahones, who are rolling through St Louis on Halloween night. I plan on being with my kids that night, so instead, I will be traveling 3 hours to Urbana, IL to see them in November. Speaking of November, Black 47 will be playing in St Louis on November 3rd.

Other than the live shows, there are two highly anticipated albums set for release. The Mahones are set to release Angels & Devils on November 13th and the Killigans are releasing Another Round for the Strong of Heart on October 26th. Looks like more couch scrounging for me! From what I have heard of the teasers from Paddy Rock’s last podcast, these should be fantastic!

So a great fall is coming, and hopefully there will be some stuff I don’t even know about right now that will make it that much better!

Slainte

The Standards – Come Out Ye Black and Tans

I thought it might be fun to compare various versions of the standards and give my view on the songs by the different bands. My pilot post is on Come Out Ye Black and Tans by Dominic Behan. My first experience with the song was at the now defunct McNulty’s Pub at Westport Plaza in St. Louis. It was played by an Irish acoustic musician from Kansas City, Eddie Delahunt.

McNulty’s was a special place for me – it was there I learned how important it is have my Guinness served on Nitrogen instead of CO2. My taste buds experienced the heaven of Middleton Irish Whiskey and the hell of potcheen (albiet a licensed and taxed version) along with getting to sample many other fine Irish Whiskeys that opened my eyes that there was more to the water of life than Jamesons and Bushmills. It was also there that I heard my first live Irish music. Eddie Delahunt would come playing every few weeks and his performances were fun and lively.

Every song has a meaning to people, be it good, bad, intentional or not. I am a true American mutt, based on the genealogical research my father has done, puts my family in the Americas prior to the Revolutionary War. The Troubles in Ireland have not affected me or my family – so the aspect of the song as a rallying cry does not sway me so much as the emotion of patriotism and belief in a cause that is worth fighting and dying for. My enjoyment of this song is not the political but the empathy that freedom from oppression is worth the fight.

The songs I pulled are from my personal library, and if I left someone’s out, it is because I do not have it. Secondly, since most of my focus is on Celtic Punk and Celtic Rock, I have excluded traditional versions of the song as well. I have always felt that song with a balance between respect for the tradition but with inspiration to expand, this would be an excellent rock song. It has a hard beat, deep emotion and great lyrics.

Here are the band’s versions I listened to, each song is great in their own respective rights so I have not ranked them, only given my personal take on the songs in no particular order:

  • Saint Bushmill’s Choir – their version is near the top of the list for me. it is well-balanced version of the song “rocked” up. The pace is quickened and the vocals well done.
  • The Kreelers – with the exception of the instrumentation, the Kreelers version leans more to the traditional version, the vocals are even and to me feels lacking the emotional power the song is capable of driving.
  • The Sandcarvers – another good “rocked” up version, The Sandcarvers capture the emotion and beat but the tempo has been slowed down for my taste.
  • The Rovers – here is my favorite version – it starts slow and builds up. The tempo is increased, the vocals drive the emotion of the song – to me it captures the anger while adding great elements of rock to it.
  • The Bleeding Irish – this is perhaps the most traditional of the versions I have listened to for this. Driven primarily by vocals, this song misses the hard percussion I feel can really drive this song forward.
  • The Muck Savages – this is one of the few versions that tip the scales more towards rock and in doing so some of the deeper emotion beyond anger is lost.
  • Between the Wars – another version more traditional than most. I enjoy the vocals and increased tempo. Between the Wars has more instrumentation than The Bleeding Irish but still missing some driving percussion to really rock.
  • Charm City Saints – another scale tipper towards rock with a lot of the deeper emotion lost in taking the surface emotion and expanding on that. The instruments tend to overpower the vocals.
  • Screw City Saints – the intro is my favorite of all the versions I listened to, but like Charm City Saints, the vocals get lost.
  • The Gentlemen – this version has great balance, up tempo and rocks. This one was near the top of my list.

Each song is fun to listen to and they each have something that makes them special. And with a lot things, everyone has a different view on what makes the songs great. The Rovers topped my list as the best balanced between the versions but The Gentleman and St Bushmills Choir are pretty close. The more traditional versions are great when I really want to get the emotional impact of the song and the Muck Savages, Charm City Saints and Screw City Saints are all great on my pissed off, “fuck you” kind of days.

I hope you enjoyed my pilot forray into the looking at the standards and I want to thank my co-worker Carol for not complaining about me listening to the same song for several days in row.

Slainte!