Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Where Have You Gone, Derek Jeter?


            I love Derek Jeter! A bracing thought first thing in the morning! But what can I tell you – even for a Mets fan there’s just something about this guy.

            And it’s not that I was seduced by his leaping catches and double play pivots either, for I had already given my heart to Keith Hernandez, and Doc Gooden - not to mention that my first cousin, Charlie Kerfeld, was a relief pitcher for the Astros.

            “C’mon now,” says Your Man up in Pearl River, “That’s a tall tale.”

            I swear to God! My Aunt Margy Kirwan, while a nurse in London during the Blitz, married US Air Force Sgt. Jerry Kerfeld, and Charlie was born in Knob Noster, Missouri. Life is, indeed, stranger than fiction.

            But back to my man crush on Derek! What I really like about that damned Yankee is his coolness and unflappability even when struck out in a disputed call. He doesn’t indulge in the usual histrionics, but merely raises one eyebrow an infinitesimal degree so that the umpire understand the real reason for the bad call is that his smitten wife burns his toast every time the handsome shortstop’s name is mentioned.

            Jeter never thanks Jesus either or points heavenwards when he hits a triple; no, Mr. Wonderful is supremely confident because of his natural ability, diligent training, and the long hard hours he puts in chatting up beautiful women.

            Speaking of which, a friend who claims to know about such things, once related that Derek has dated more women than Pete Rose had hits, but none feel aggrieved when given the pink slip for he shows them every courtesy during the courtship. Of course this could be another urban legend or more likely wishful thinking on my friend’s part.

            Despite all this well-earned adulation I have one question for the Yankees’ shortstop. Do you have any idea that baseball’s huge salaries are killing America’s pastime? Now I wouldn’t even bring this matter up to the like of Roger Clements. Steroids or not, I never liked that bully – even before he flung a broken bat at the saintliest of Mets, Mike Piazza.

            But you’re a very smart man, Derek, and you have to see the change in baseball’s demographics since your rookie years. What family can afford the price of tickets to a major league ballpark any more? I’ll tell you who can’t– the 47% that Mitt Romney wrote off a couple of years back. Even with reasonable seats it could cost a family of four $300 for a baseball outing nowadays.

            Look around you at Yankee Stadium, man! Where are the working or lower-middle class kids who made baseball the great American game? And why do you think so many Yankee fans bolt around the 7th inning if the pinstripes are not leading? They’re not invested in the game or the team anymore – only in the expensive spectacle.

            So, Derek, why don’t you use your undoubted influence to persuade baseball owners to subsidize tickets for working poor families? Or even give away empty seats on a slack night. Yeah, I know that might affect the immediate market. But think long term: baseball is taking a beating. Basketball has replaced it for African-Americans and an increasing number of major league players are from the Caribbean or South America.

            Why do you think that is? Because “south of the border” you don’t need to float a Wall Street bond to take your family out to a ball park. It’s still a national pastime in those countries, and I won’t even get into how much it costs to see a game in Cuba.

            No one begrudges you your big salary, Derek; it’s just that I know you’re a thoughtful man who could make a difference. You’re a class act and have been an important role model to generations of children.

Thanks for all the years. It’s been a treat to watch you turn those double plays while barely raising your eyebrow to offending umpires. Mets or no Mets, come next April I’ll be singing:

            “Where have you gone, Derek Jeter, oh?
            A nation turns its lonely eyes to you

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Pete Hamill - Eugene O'Neill Lifetime Achievement Award


            I’ve become president!

            “Oh, no!” Says Your Man up in Pearl River, “Nightmares do come true!”

            Not to worry, comrade. I inhaled and enjoyed it, so no fear of me moving to new digs on Pennsylvania Avenue.

            As regards my recent elevation, I am merely following in the hallowed footsteps of Peter Quinn and TJ English as president of the Irish-American Writers and Artists, a group forged back during the 2008 election when it was suggested that working class Irish would be too prejudiced to vote for Barack Obama.

            We are non-sectarian, inclusive, proudly progressive and our main goal is to represent and further the aspirations of artists and writers. In case you hadn’t noticed, this is not a good time for workers in general, and is particularly dismal for those laboring in the arts; in fact, when asked about a career in music, theatre or literature my advice is don’t even dream of it without a thorough psychiatric evaluation and a skill that will net you $200 a day.

            That being said the IAW&A is an organization of realists and dreamers who love what they do and support each other. I urge you to come to one of the bi-monthly salons held in Manhattan at The Thalia (95th/Broadway) on the first Tuesday of the month and on the third Tuesday at The Cell (23rd/8th Avenue).

            You’ll witness a minor miracle. Artists of the stature of founding director, Malachy McCourt, read or perform regularly and are often followed by someone making their first public appearance. Both receive rapt attention from full houses. Only members of the organization may present but admission is free to all.

            Membership is less than a buck a week – half that for students - and comes with other benefits, but anyone may receive the weekly newsletter that lists the doings of members, details of opportunities, along with a roundup of artistic happenings in Irish America and beyond.

            Our salons regularly hit the road and have recently visited Philadelphia, Washington DC, and Fairfield, CT while we are in the process of forming chapters in Kansas City and Chicago.

            As regards philanthropy: this year we created the Frank McCourt Literary Prize that went to three students at the Frank McCourt High School of Writing, Journalism and Literature, and we have raised money and awareness for causes as disparate as earthquake relief in Haiti and support for the preservation of St. Brigid’s Lower East Side Church.

            Each October we give the Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award at one of Irish-America’s top social event where well-known and aspiring artists rub shoulders with supporters and admirers.

            Previous awardees have included William Kennedy, Brian Dennehy, The Irish Rep’s Charlotte Moore & Ciaran O’Reilly, Judy Collins and John Patrick Shanley.  On Oct. 20th at The Manhattan Club/Rosie O’Grady’s we will be honoring Pete Hamill, the great journalist and writer, and a seanchaĆ­ to many of us.
            
The IAW&A speaks for artists at a time when the arts are being marginalized, unions and community groups derided, and we are encouraged to view life solely through the prism of financial gain. We provide a forum for people who usually toil alone, while at the same time offering the public a chance to experience new work in a lively social setting at no cost.

            For those with a yearning to express themselves through poetry, prose, music, dance, you name it – we’re there for you. My own goal is to encourage the carpenter in Queens who could be the next O’Casey, the nurse in Brooklyn who might be a budding Edna O’Brien, or the late starter in The Bronx with a tale as riveting as Frank McCourt.’s, to realize your potential and help create a community

Hey, come to think of it, Your Man up in Pearl River shows much of the edge of Bob Geldof. Come on down some Tuesday night, man, time for you to strut your stuff in The Thalia or The Cell!

And if you can, let’s get together on Oct. 20th and honor Pete Hamill, reflect on his work and times, and the remarkable influence he’s had on so many of us and our city.

For details of membership, salons and the Eugene O’Neill Award go to http://i-am-wa.org

Monday, 8 September 2014

The Priest and the Fireman



Anyone knocking around Manhattan in those days knew people who perished, but for me it all comes back to the priest and the fireman.

Even thirteen years later I can look offstage and imagine where each would be – Father Michael Judge standing by the bar, impeccably coiffed, surrounded by friends; and Richie Muldowney NYFD, darting around the room bantering with all and sundry, crooked smile lighting up the joint.

Though both are frozen in time they summon up the city as it used to be. For New York changed ineffably on 9/11when the spirits of so many unique people departed. They’ve been replaced, of course, great cities do that, but it’s not quite the same, is it?

I often thought of Mychal as a mirror, he was so empathetic he seemed to reflect your own hopes and fears. I never knew anyone who helped so many people; he was always concerned, forever providing a shoulder. 

I guess he came to see Black 47 to let off a little steam. I’m not even sure he liked our music – his own taste ran towards the more conventional – but the rhythms, juxtapositions and overall message fascinated him and, anyway, he liked to be in the thick of the action. 

Richie was hard-core Black 47. He knew all the words, the players, the other fans. He delighted to show up unexpectedly at out-of-town gigs; the moment you saw him you knew it would be a good night. To think such an irrepressible spark was extinguished so early!

I remember jaywalking across Times Square the first September Saturday the band returned to Connolly’s. The “crossroads of the world” was so deserted in those immediate post-9/11 nights it felt like a scene from a cowboy movie where sagebrush is blowing down the street.

But cops, firemen, emergency workers, the mad, the innocent and those who just couldn’t stay at home needed somewhere to go – to let the pressure off – and that was the band’s function. 

Those first gigs were searing. You couldn’t be certain who was missing, who had survived, who was on vacation, who just needed a break from it all. When a familiar face walked through the door the relief was palpable, someone else had made it. 

The atmosphere – though on the surface subdued - was charged with an underlying manic energy, a need to commemorate, celebrate, to show that life was going on. That would be some small revenge on the bastards who had caused all the heartbreak.

And yet, what an opportunity was missed in those first weeks. That smoldering pit down on Rector Street had galvanized the country. We were all so united; we would have done anything asked of us.

Republican, Democrat, Independent, we all came together as Americans. We would have reduced our dependence on foreign oil, rejuvenated poor neighborhoods, taught classes in disadvantaged schools. You name it - nothing would have been too big, too small either.

But no sacrifice was asked, much less demanded. Instead, 9/11 was used by cheap politicians to get re-elected; patriotism was swept aside by an unrelenting xenophobic nationalism that brooked no dissent. The US was converted into a fortress and the lights were dimmed in the once shining city on the hill. Worst of all, our leaders sought to use the tragedy as an excuse to invade Iraq.

Look at us now, dysfunctional, walled off from each other and the rest of the world. That began when the national will for a positive response was squandered in the aftermath of 9/11.

Though he was finally hunted down, sometimes it seems as though Osama Bin Laden won, for we’ve become a fearful, partisan people, unsure of ourselves, uncertain of our future.

But then I think of Mychal and Richie, their smiles beam across the years and I know that the current national malaise is just a patina that covers the soul of the country – it can be wiped away. It’s not permanent. We have greatness in us yet. 

That’s the hard-earned lesson of 9/11 and will always be the message of the priest and the fireman.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Forget The Format - The Music Marches On!


            I threw out all my old records last week. Remember LPs, EPs, singles? They’d been gathering dust since my old turntable went caput about 20 years ago. I knew I’d never play them again and yet…

            It was one of those impulsive decisions. I was trying to clear some space when I stumbled upon them in all their dust-clad, discarded glory. There was The Clash with Joe Strummer glaring back at me in youthful arrogance. My sneaker print still adorned the disc courtesy of a late night stagger through my old East Third Street apartment.

            The Tain by Horslips looked considerably worse for wear – its cardboard corners curled and faded; yet, I marveled at the detail - album covers were indeed majestic compared to emaciated CD insets. 

            And then I came upon Television’s brilliant first offering. By far the best band to play CBGB’s: the glass-strewn East Village streets it up whenever they hit that Bowery stage. I was there the night Clive Davis of Arista arrived in his big-shot fur coat to sign them, and was booed by the black-leathered legion fearful he might turn their heroes into another insipid pop music machine. They needn’t have worried Television were so wired they couldn’t even spell “sell out.”

            Music meant something different back then, or were we deluding ourselves? Placing a song in a commercial would have been traitorously un-cool; nowadays getting a few licks on a toilet paper ad would be a coup announced with a barrage of tweets.

            Perhaps that’s why I dumped my beloved records into two industrial trash bags and lugged them out on the street - they were a guilty reminder of a purer time. Of course the reason a band would now kill for a toilet paper ad is that musicians retain practically no illusions. Back in the LP days there was an assumption that if you made great music you would eventually break through on radio and gain the acclaim of your peers along with a comfortable living.

            Now even Bruce Springsteen has to hustle for a couple of plays on NPR and, like the rest of us, he receives miniscule percentages of pennies for plays on Spotify, Pandora and the other “cool,” but unconscionable, streaming services. Ads – for toilet paper or Tiffany - are one of the few ways a band can fund recording and touring.

            What would Strummer make of it all? Though quite rigid ideologically he didn’t live in some purist ivory tower. The Clash functioned as a working band – paid their bills and took care of business.

He was never short of advice on how Black 47 should function; indeed he got us our first gigs in Wetlands and other rock clubs – said we had to broaden our audience and let the world know what we were about.  He appeared to take it for granted that we’d never sell out; perhaps he was right but then again, to quote Neil Young - “no one ever made me a good enough offer.”

The next morning - as I was heading into SiriusXM to “spin” digitized songs on a computer - the two big industrial trash bags were missing from the sidewalk.  It was 6:30am and I assumed the garbage men had been and gone. I felt a pang of loss but put it behind me – “life marches on” and all that baloney!   

Then at the bottom of the street I found one of the bags; it had been ripped open. Most of the albums were gone but on a nearby loading dock a half-dozen or so were strewn about. Guess which one was on top? Yeah – The Clash with Strummer glaring up at me, forever young, forever sure of himself!

I cast a cold eye back at him and passed on. By the time I returned from the studio, even those records were gone.

I guess I was right to throw out what I would never use; The Clash, Television and Horslips had found new homes where they would once more be enjoyed.

In the end the format doesn’t really matter. The music lives on – forever young, forever trapped in a moment, while we continue to age and change.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Her Garden


            I often think of her garden this time of year. Though full to the gills with all manner of flowers it was laid out with great precision and taste. It’s probably like a jungle now for she passed on fourteen years ago.

            There have been tenants, good and bad, but none had much interest in gardens; they needed a house for a couple of years and that was that. I’ve often been tempted to visit but never felt quite up to grappling with the memories.

            She was partial to many types of flowers and yet the sweet pea is what always comes to mind. It must be running riot now, weaving its lovely way around roses, lilies, mallow, clematis, fuchsia, and honeysuckle – which she called woodbine.

            She wasn’t always a gardener. People who grew up on farms rarely are but when she finally took an interest, she jumped in hook, line and sinker. It even surprised my father; he was working on the oil rigs up off Aberdeen back then and when home watched her first efforts with amusement. But he was a perfectionist, no stranger to spade or shovel, and eventually pitched in.

            Her sitting room chair faced a sunroom, so she had a good view of her creation. She bought books on horticulture; these she studied until she knew all the flowers’ names, their preferences for shade or sunlight, and the plants in whose company they might prosper.

            She would often look up from the page she was perusing and stare out, no doubt visualizing the perfect position for each of her favorites. My father paid little attention to her deliberations – he was a television man and would chuckle away at some comedy show or other. They were very unlike and yet delighted in each other’s company – though, in the Irish fashion, they rarely made much show of affection.

            My father never complained about all the digging and transplanting she put him through, for she was never quite satisfied with her groupings. She once told me that she had made some big errors early on and instead of starting again from scratch, she chose to fix things as she went along.  She regretted this decision and said that I should take it as a lesson in life, for she considered some of my choices rash and impulsive and worried about me.

            Like many gardeners she liked to take her time about a decision weighing the pros and cons – this must have driven my father crazy for sailors are forced to make quick choices and live with the consequences.  And yet he would lean on his shovel and stare off into the distance as she pondered some setting or design. Was he thinking about his life away from meandering Wexford or merely counting down the hours to his first evening beer?

            I’ll never know now. I suppose he was already suffering from the Parkinson’s that would eventually nail him. They took it for granted that he’d be the first one to go. It didn’t turn out that way. He survived her by three years. For someone seemingly so independent and well used to his own company, her loss knocked the stuffing out of him. He had no stomach for the garden anymore but he did employ a man who tended to it. 

Both my parents passed in the summer months so when I returned her garden was at its glowing best. The weather was balmy on each occasion and I spent much time rambling the little paths she had created. My father had laid these walks with old wooden railway spars and in the warm sun the tar sizzled and the smell curried the sweetness of her bee loud domain.

            I was never one for cameras but I took a lot of mental pictures on those depleted afternoons for I knew I wouldn’t be coming back.

It’s odd though, whenever I attempt to summon up memories all I seem to see is the lovely sweet pea. I bet it’s everywhere now climbing and twining its way around that sweet-smelling jungle. Yeah, I often think of her garden this time of year.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Bert Berns - The Bronx Explorer


            Bertrand Russel Berns from The Bronx never set foot on the Emerald Isle yet he irrevocably changed Irish music.

            Okay, so only his Jewish-Russian socialist parents ever addressed him as Bertrand Russell - in honor of the British philosopher-activist; but, without Bert Berns, Van Morrison would likely be a grouchy curmudgeon still slouching around East Belfast.

            Berns is barely remembered nowadays but he’s about to come back with a bang courtesy of a recently published biography, Here Comes The Night by Joel Selvin, and a new theatre production, Piece of My Heart, currently running at New York’s Signature Center.

I first became aware of him as a boy while jamming my ear into an old cloth-covered wireless. On clear nights back in Wexford you could pick up the crackly sounds of AFN (American Forces Network) broadcasting from Germany.

            Berns’ songs and productions pulsed through those GI airwaves. Along with Carol King & Phil Spector he was one of the most brilliant graduates of the music scene centered around the Brill Building and 1650 Broadway.

            Bert’s effective career lasted only seven years, yet in that short span he wrote or produced 51 hit songs including Twist and Shout, Hang on Sloopy, Little Piece of My Heart and Here Comes The Night. He also owned and operated Bang Records where he nurtured the solo careers of Neil Diamond and Van The Man.

            Although a human dynamo who rarely slept Berns had a severe heart condition from boyhood. His parents worked long hours at their dress shop on the Grand Concourse and legend has it that their convalescent son became interested in music on account of the pounding radio of his Cuban neighbors.

            Infatuated with the Samba he became an accomplished dancer and even moved to Batista’s Cuba to follow his passion.

            Was it in Havana or The Bronx that he first became acquainted with certain shady figures from the New York Crime families? Of course, back then if you were involved in music it would have been hard not to cross paths with “made men.”

            Bert hustled around The Bronx and got by with handouts from his mother until well into his 20’s, but eventually moved to Times Square where he honed his skills as a singer, guitarist and pianist cutting demos for songwriters. They soon discovered that he was equally adept as a lyricist.

Many feel he was responsible for introducing the Latin tinge that made New York pop music of the 60’s so irresistible. He was also deeply influenced by R&B or race music, as it was often called. He got The Isley Brothers to record Twist and Shout. That song became the climax of live shows for then unknown Beatles, and was the standout track on their best selling first EP.

            That’s how Bert came to be in London where he was hired to produce Them, a raw Belfast R&B band. He instantly recognized the brilliance of vocalist, Van Morrison. Less enthusiastic about the band’s musicians he brought in 20 year-old guitar whiz, Jimmy Page, and organist, Phil Coulter, to record his desolate ballad, Here Comes The Night. That hit record by Them still sends shivers down my spine.

            When Them imploded and surly Van retired to his mother’s East Belfast home Berns sent him the fare to New York and turned Van’s Brown Eyed Girl into the exuberant Latin-tinged classic that still fills summer dance floors.

            By then Bert’s time was running down literally and figuratively. Corporate America was buying up the small independent labels; paranoid and under financial pressure he turned to his shady friends in the “families” for support.

When Neil Diamond wanted to break his Bang contract a veiled warning was delivered about the consequences. Meanwhile Van, wrestling with the complexity of his Astral Weeks masterpiece, had neither time nor inclination to deliver another Brown Eyed Girl.

            Shortly after a telephone screaming match with Mr. Morrison, Berns’ heart finally gave out on Dec. 30th 1967.  He was 38.

Hopefully, the musical, Little Piece of My Heart, will catch the effervescence, complexity and volcanic talent of the forgotten genius from The Grand Concourse who changed the face of pop music and rescued Van Morrison from East Belfast anonymity.

For tickets, information and a video visit http://pieceofmyheartmusical.com

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Support Your Irish Festival!!!!!


support your irish festival!!!

They’re everywhere now. Increasing and expanding by the year, Irish festivals have outgrown their natural roots on the East Coast and the Rust Belt of the Midwest. Now they flourish in Kansas City, Savannah, Manheim, and places you’ve never even heard of. Every month I get a call from some savvy All-American wondering about his or her chances of pulling off an Irish Festival.

And why not? Get yourself a fenced-in space, a stage, a workable PA, a headlining band, beer company support, a volunteer staff, some fine weather and you could be on your way to being the next Milwaukee Irish Fest.

Where did it all start? Well, that’s a bit like the Ray’s Pizza conundrum, isn’t it? But my gut instinct is that it all began back in the New York Irish community of the 50’s. Okay! South Side Chicago and Boston, you’ve got documented proof that your festivals were celebrating their centenaries when wide-trousered Galway men and their petticoated dates from Leitrim, Mayo and Tyrone were chastely cheek-to-cheeking to Micky Carton’s Orchestra at the Jaeger House on Lexington Avenue.

My theory, though, is that when these young immigrant Irish trooped out to the Rockaways on pre-air-conditioned summer weekend and danced and drank in the haunts along the Irish Mile, that the seeds were sown for the modern Irish Festival.

With time, those dancers married, had children and didn’t get out as much. Besides, the urban decay of the 60’s hit the Rockaways hard. Most of Irish Town was demolished and the streets were no longer as safe; but the couples still wished to meet, reminisce and show off their kids. So, they unfolded their beach chairs, bought a keg, finagled a couple of hungover musicians into playing and before you knew it, they had a rip-roaring block party on their hands.

The Rockaway Festival that grew out of those innocent Sunday afternoons is one of my favorites – although, one year I was almost brained by a beer cooler thrown by an appreciative fan.

But I digress. A number of veterans of the Rockaway bash who relocated to Southern Florida, Sheila Hynes and Rory O’Dwyer (son of the great Irish American Civil Rights activist, Paul O’Dwyer) amongst other longed for an authentic hooley around St. Patrick’s Day. They hired a park, a PA and engaged Adrian Flannelly to snare some top class musicians. A couple of decades later, their festivals in Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach are still setting the pace and, given the location, they almost always have good weather.

The first festival I performed at was the Catholic Charities event out in Coney Island. Chris Byrne and I were in the midst of a very earnest version of The Patriot Game” at the end of which, to the wail of the pipes, I would denounce every Taoiseach, Tanaiste and elected rat-catcher for betraying the Cause when, to my amazement, I glimpsed the sight of a nun in full habit sweeping past me. Figuring it was some kind of flashback, I returned to my denunciations but there she was again, this time fiddling with a boom-box from which emanated the heavenly sound of synthesized strings. After the set, I found out that we had overstayed our allotted time, the good sister had a second gig to get to, and it was “later for you, Black 47, whoever the hell you are!” Sister Mary Beata is a trooper who will be playing festivals a long time after more trendy musicians have hung up their guitar straps.

Speaking of divine intervention, ask Frank Bradley about weather. Frank is the visionary behind the great South Side Chicago Festival held every Memorial Day Weekend. Sounds balmy, right? On our first appearance in 1991, snow began falling as we hit the stage. We were contracted for a 90 minute set and, fearful of not being paid, we blazed on through a gathering blizzard to about 50 hardy souls who danced to our frantic pleas for James Connolly to rise up, initiate a proletarian revolution and liberate us from the frozen stage. When we shuffled off like six emasculated snowmen, Frank stood there, check in hand (plus bonus) silently marveling at the lunacy of certain New York musicians. The Festival now takes the precaution of erecting an enormous tent. You just can’t trust that Lakeside weather. But you can depend on the warmth and rowdy loyalty of the South Side Irish.

For my money, having a headlining act is a must for a successful festival. Ask Cavan man Steve Duggan, whose Belmont Family Festival had chugged along to respectable successes. Some years back he nailed down the Saw Doctors for his Saturday night extravaganza and hit the jackpot with a record-breaking attendance.

Of course, when you have built up a reputation like the Milwaukee Irish Fest, you don’t really need a headliner. Back in 1981, the goals of the organizers were modest, hoping in some small way to emulate the successful local Fest Italiano. Now over 100,000 pass through their turnstiles annually. Founded by Chuck and Ed Ward and a loyal, hard-working committee, Milwaukee has become the Mother of all Irish Festivals. One of the projects funded by the Festival is the Irish Music Archives; it now contains almost 50,000 pieces of Irish recordings and sheet music.

Festivals, of course, reflect the current dynamics of Irish American life. There is the eternal battle between those more attuned to the homeland who cringe at leprechauns, green beer, freckle-faced competitions, and those who see no harm or, indeed, make a buck from such shenanigans. Then there are the various political activists who consider it their right to set up a table on the big day versus those who feel that festivals should be apolitical or that Irish politics ended circa 1916. This has led to friction at many festivals. But now, with peace in the ascendancy in the North of Ireland this issue shows every sign of becoming a memory. Besides, a vast majority of people now feels that festivals are about celebrating Irishness in its myriad forms and the tent is big enough for all.

I’m forever impressed by the level of altruism at festivals. Practically all of the money raised goes to an array of charities and quite often of the construction or maintenance of Irish Community Centers. Volunteers spend many months prepping, primping and preparing for their big weekend.

But in the end festivals are about community. Whether this means a return to the old neighborhood of Rockaway, a celebration of being South Side Irish in Chicago or a uniting of the clans in Patchogue, North Haven, Hartford or Herkimer, the festival is a way of getting together and celebrating heritage. In a society that becoming ever more white bread and homogenized, it’s an affirmation of all the things that make us different.

So, you want to start your own Irish Festival? Just get a fenced off space, a stage, a PA, a good band, a Mussolini-like stage manager and everything Irish you can think of – except the weather. Maybe I’ll see you there this summer.