Bagpipes and Haggis

Bagpipes, haggis, Celtic music and a real Irish Catholic mass.  There’s only one place in Kansas City that you’ll find that combination:

The Kansas City Irish Fest.

If you remember this post from last year you’ll recall that it was an absolutely awesome experience – something I’ll remember for years to come.  I got introduced to Celtic rock and alternative music (rock on Scythian and Killdares!), enjoyed (?) haggis for the first time and just had one hell of a great weekend, closing it out with the Mighty Craic on Sunday night.

This year’s party was almost as good.

The rain – a remnant of Hurricane Isaac, but much needed – hampered activities on Friday night, but Saturday was absolutely rocking once the skies cleared up a little in the early afternoon.  I had a tournament early on so I arrived down at Crown Center a little late, but I was there in plenty of time to enjoy the heart of the music lineup.  The first thing I did was snag a funnel cake – you can’t not have a funnel cake, and the ones they make down by the Boulevard Stage are huge.  I mean more-than-my-appetite huge, and I can eat.

After indulging myself with a funnel cake (shared with Sam and Josh who wore their St. Patrick’s Day hats) I found the stage just after one of my favorite bands – Scythian – finished up.  Luckily I was able to catch Sprag Session, which is the band led by Colin Grant, one of the best fiddlers around (you may recall the Colin Grant Band was jamming last year’s Irish Fest) and they didn’t disappoint.  I could feel my feet moving right from the get-go and save for the wedding song they didn’t stop.

In between sets I wandered around and discovered that one of the Ghost Hunter International team (Barry) was doing a little presentation at one of the tents.  I don’t watch the show regularly (not one of those ghost kinda people) but I at least recognized him so I hung out and watched for a little bit.  After that was some fish and chips at The Old Bag of Nails while I waited for one of the premier acts of the night to get set up.  A little more walking around (I logged about 10,000 steps – roughly 4.5 miles – at the Irish Fest last night) and it was time to get the jam on.

You haven’t lived if you’ve never heard heavy metal done on bagpipes.  The Red Hot Chili Pipers – the same ones who played the Olympics this year – took the stage and pulled off everything from “Amazing Grace” to “Everybody Dance Now” (remember C&C Music Factory?) to “Thunderstruck” (AC/DC).  And they did it with an energy that’s so infectious that you couldn’t help but stand up and join them when they did some classic Journey (“Don’t Stop Believin’“).  That was one incredible show to watch.

The finale of the evening held a special treat.  Pogey was the headline band of the night and they were filming a live album.  It was originally supposed to be a two-day event, but Friday night they got rained out.  And, to top it off, Saturday’s show was shortened because the rain had driven some delays on the main stage.  I had never heard of Pogey before and had actually planned to listen to Gaelic Storm on the Miller Lite stage instead (since I enjoyed their music from last year), but on a whim after hearing the opening jam from the latter I decided I’d hang out on the north side and give the former a shot.


All it took was two songs and I was over at the merchandise stand picking up their newest album “Full Speed Ahead”.  They put on a great (albeit shortened – and no encore) show full of energy, upbeat tunes and great ballads.  I actually found myself up by the stage in the throng of people dancing before the set ended, and I quickly got in line to get my CD autographed.  I’m pretty sure the songs on that CD are going to get some serious play time in the Pauly-moblie.  Great show, Pogey – wish we could bring you back to the Irish Fest on Sunday and show you a REAL Kansas City party (as a group we were pretty subdued on Saturday, unfortunately).

Wait a second.  Did I say this year’s party was almost as good as last year’s?  My mistake.  Last year was awesome, but this year the team that put the Irish Fest together outdid themselves.  This year was incredible.

Sunday I got there about 2 – right as the Red Hot Chili Pipers started.  This time a friend of mine was dancing with them on stage which was a trip; the show was just as good as it was Saturday night.  After that was the Young Dubliners – a high-energy show to be sure.  In between those shows we walked around and enjoyed some haggis (yes – authentic haggis) Boulevard beer (Stout and Pale Ale) and the beautiful (but humid) day it turned out to be.

After the Young Dubliners left the stage it was time for one of the headliners of the night: Gaelic Storm.  If you have never heard one of their songs you’re missing out – they’re good old-fashioned fun.  There’s “Johnny Tarr” (a fun ballad about a hard-drinking Irishman); the sad tale of “Just Ran Out of Whiskey”; and a personal favorite – “The Night I Punched Russell Crowe”.  And that’s just the start – if the title of their albums gives you any insight to their humor they have “Bring Your Wellies”, “Cabbage” and their latest “Chicken Boxer”.  Good fun and a great show you’re guaranteed to laugh at; make no mistake – you don’t go to a Gaelic Storm concert to find a powerful ballad…unless you consider “Dead Bird Hill” (a song about a dead bird they saw at a festival) to fall into that category.

Sunday night’s jam was no exception – there was the “whiskey” and “light” battle (from “Me and the Moon“), a ballad about Darcy’s Ass and of course the song everyone who has a friend who never buys a beer wants to sing (“Alligator Arms“).  And all the while they’re cracking jokes, referencing Monty Python and making fun of how stupid the audience looks when we’re doing the Whipping Donkey.  And every single one of us ate it up because they’re just that fun – the kind of band you grab tickets to when they’re headlining.

But as much fun as Gaelic Storm was there was one more band left to play – the band that closes it all out.  The band that’s been there all ten years of the KC Irish Fest.  The headlining band for a damn good reason: The Elders.

Don’t get me wrong – the other bands that played were good, and some were excellent.  But in the world of Celtic music The Elders simply sit on top which is why when you go looking for a chair for the concert two hours before it starts you’re what we call S.O.L.  I’m not kidding – if you didn’t have a seat by the time Gaelic Storm took the stage at 6:00 you were sitting on the south side of the intersection of Grand and Pershing…which is a pretty far away from the Boulevard Stage where they were playing.  They are that good.

And they certainly didn’t disappoint.  From prior-record favorites like “1849” and “The Men of Erin” to awesome new songs from their new record (Wanderin’ Life & Times) like  “Building A Boat” and “Appalachian Paddy” they played with the intensity and power that symbolizes their music.  If you haven’t been to one of their concerts you don’t have the slightest idea what you’re missing.  Read every review, watch every YouTube video and talk to every fan and you will still fall short of just how incredible being at one of their concerts is.

When The Elders finished their set – including their two song encore – it was time to say goodbye to the 2012 Kansas City Irish Fest and prepare ourselves for the 2013 version.  And how do we do that?  With the Mighty Craic, of course.  And who does that?  Any of the dozens of musicians who played.  There were probably a good 25-30 on stage for the finale, led by Ian Byrne of The Elders.  What was particularly spectacular about this year’s send-off is that in the middle of it they played “Whiskey in the Jar” which was one of the songs that The Killdares sung last year – Roberta Rast (the fiddle player) was absolutely, positively incredible on it – that I really missed this year.  And, of course, it all ended with “Kansas City” because that’s how you get yourself geared up for the 2013 KC Irish Fest.

I can’t wait.  In the meantime I picked up The Elders and Pogey’s latest CDs as well as a 15-track compilation for the 10th anniversary of the festival.  362 days to go…


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