St. Patrick's Day: Reflections on Twenty Years of Making Music

Who would have imagined that our twentieth year of playing music on St. Patrick's Day would have happened during a pandemic, and that we'd be streaming our show live on the Internet, not playing to large crowds of very happy, slightly (or very) buzzed people?

Margie, right. A spirit like no other.
It's hard to find the right thing to say. We lost people this year. Our Margie last week; she was a dear friend and one of our greatest fans. And Dad, age 84, who came to every gig he could until the day he died. And Auntie Annie, age 89, who sent the kids St. Patrick's ribbons and decoration from Ireland every single year, without fail. And another Margie, an adopted mom, who was light incarnate; she grabbed life by the shamrocks, even though she was Italian.

We recognize that people are sick and dying in many places in the world from Covid-19, and it is sobering. Meanwhile, people in America are joking about stockpiling toilet paper, and maybe it's a little crazy but we get it. Humor helps! The thing: People we know and love (most of them in fact) are feeling anxious. We are all filling the presses and the cabinets. Parents are clawing to instill some control over their lives by scrambling to plan home school activities for their kids. We are all looking at the shelves wondering if we have enough of what we need, should full quarantine be imposed.

And here at St. Patrick's Entertainment Central, are we missing our big day? Yes, in a variety of ways. If you are an Irish musician, St. Patrick's Day is a work day. It's how we pay important lingering bills from the slowtime in winter. But is it fun?

I have to admit that when I got the calls on Friday that St. Patrick's events were canceled, I was disappointed but not crestfallen. St. Patrick's Day is a blast, but it definitely is also hard work. We play for six days straight leading into it, then we typically play for eight hours or more on the day itself. And we might have a beer or two or two or two. And we might be a little hungover the next day, in addition to feeling incredibly hoarse from abusing our voices and singing all day, never mind sore in the legs from dancing, and sore in the feet from my incredibly uncomfortable but oh-so-important shamrock-kickin' green cowboy boots. It's a long day, and not all of the St. Patrick's favorite songs are our favorite songs to sing. Don't get me wrong, we love all music... but there are a few that we do that only come out at one time a year. A ton of fun. And also tiring.

So darned beautiful, that boy.
There have been 20 St. Patrick's Days for us as a band, and there are so many standout moments. These are what come to mind this morning: The first St. Pat's gig ever in the sunny window of the Banshee on Dorchester Avenue with a little speaker we barely knew how to work and the green striped top I was wearing from Marshall's. The freezing rain that iced shut the door handles of the red Nissan Sentra outside PJ Ryan's in Somerville so that we were late for the next gig at The Me and Thee Coffeehouse in Marblehead, and Tich's annoyed face when I walked in. (I've never seen Tich annoyed before or since; I may have had beer on my breath.) Another year, Ruthie in the front row at an insanely wild and unleashed crowd at a Plymouth pub, then loading up the truck and driving to Hingham and looking across the room at a sea of white Irish knit sweaters and green shamrock scarves tapping their toes lightly. The contrast. (They did rise as the night went on!) The excitement in the room at the first note we played last year at Dillon's, the whole room at noon instantly singing. The joyful faces of elderly residents of Plymouth Crossings on the morning of one other St. Pat's. Seth and Natalie's beautiful son and how his glow made me cry when I first saw him at the restaurant one St. Patrick's morning. Mary and Margie, coming to all our gigs last year decked out in shiny blinking shamrocks. Marla and Fintan, my best bud and Steve's brother, connecting on the dance floor at the end of a gig so long ago at the Independent in Somerville. (They are married now with two 11-year-old sons.) The one year we skipped it altogether and listened to Sex Pistols records in Tim Downie's kitchen.

The people. So many new friends, and so many joyful moments. If anything has changed over the years, it's less focus on us as musicians, and instead a sharp recognition of what this music is doing for others—and a deep and abiding love for the way the music is lifting them, connecting them to each other and to something bigger.

It's not about the alcohol, but the alcohol serves a purpose. It loosens our boundaries and often it opens our hearts. It clears pathways to a sense of joy, more quickly than meditation and yoga. It clears pathways to a central sense of melancholy and compassion, if we are prone to repress such things. Sometimes it does bad things, too, and so we don't love the public connection between St. Patrick's Day and beer, though it seems all Irish eating, drinking, and playing establishments willingly exploit it.

Us, well, we like life at the rough edges. Irish music in my favorite form reflects the imperfect, the sloppy, the sublime, the insistent, the committed, the lustful, the hilarious, the angry, the foggy, the mistaken, the wild: the real.

St. Patrick's Day has a way of bringing that all together in one germ-laden pile, and so it's good that we're all in our own spaces this year. It'll all be alright to be confined from the outside so long as we agree to be free on the inside. And maybe tomorrow morning when it's all over, somewhere in the blurry memories, we find peace.

"Ireland unfree shall never be at peace," said the patriot Pádraig Pearse at the funeral of Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, a founding member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He was talking about political freedom, mind you. His oration aroused rebellious sentiment and many said it helped to set the stage for the Irish 1916 Rising that touched off its multi-decade struggle for independence.

His words are truth political but also personal: Freedom brings peace. Twenty years of playing songs that celebrate a nation's history, identity, and sentiment has a way of changing you. The search for freedom is catalogued in the songs and echoed in the tunes. And that has a way of echoing in your heart. 
St. Patrick was a gentleman. He came from decent people.

Thank you to Pádraig (Patrick) the Saint and Pádraig Pearse the Scholar, for opening doors to a unique kind of freedom, even for a half-Italian girl like me. But, ach St. Paddy, we know you were born in Roman Britain in the 5th century so that makes you just a wee bit Italian, too. Thank you vindicating this wee-bit-Eyetalian to become as Irish as the Irish themselves. 

Happy St. Patrick's Day from Ireland's most reverent wannabee.