Thursday, September 30, 2010

Two Johns Walk into a Pub . . . .

If you happen to be there consider yourself lucky.

As part of the ICHC Hallamor Fall Concert Series, John Doyle and John Williams will be playing on Saturday October 16th at 7:30 PM.

Doyle made his first appearance at Milwaukee Irish Fest with Eileen Ivers and Seamus Eagan in 1996, and joined Williams, as a member of Solas at the Fest in 1997.  Since that time both have developed reputations as two of the finest musicians in the Irish music scene.

John Doyle performed at Irish Fest this year with award winning fiddle player Liz Carroll.  I also saw him sitting in with Paddy Homan in an unbelievable show at the Tipperary stage.  He now travels the globe as a most sought after session player.

John Williams from Chicago, as a five time All Ireland champion, and in addition to the concertina, plays the bodhran, flute, and piano.

This is a show you won't want to miss.  Tickets are $19 in advance and $23 the day of the show.  You'll find more information at the ICHC site

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Stage Managers

I told you we have meetings - Last night was the annual stage managers wrap up.  All the stage managers get together to discuss issues from this years' festival. It's a chance to trade war stories and find out how to make the festival a little bit better from our perspective.

Let me tell you a bit about Irish Fest stage managers.  It's a highly coveted job.  About the only way you can get a job as an Irish Fest stage manager is if someone dies.  This actually happened a few years ago when Tall Paul Jablonski on the Aer Lingus stage passed away, so I'm not kidding.  Now I'm just worried the O'Keefe brothers are going to kill Paul's replacement Dennis Murphy (I'm just kidding about that part).

We have 16 stages and almost everyone of them has a manager or managers running them.  Their job is to be sure the stages run on time and be the liasion between performers and the sound engineers on each stage.

Stage managers live on their stages and seldom venture out to see other parts of the festival.  Most stage managers are unaware the festival has a cultural village on the south end except of course for those managers that work in the cultural village on the south end.

Most of the Irish Fest stage managers have been working on stage for more than 20 years.  On the Peat Blogger's stage, Kevin and Dan Costello have been working onstage with me for 28 years.  In short we've seen it all and know what we're doing (unless something goes really wrong).  At times it's really hard work ("we need to get those risers buried behind all that gear in the back"), but for the most part it's a lot of fun, with a behind the scenes view of the festival.

Stage managers have some of the best stories, (Dennis Day and John Gary in a shouting match backstage, with Dennis Day calling John Gary a "lounge lizard" - all of us agreed with Dennis wholeheartedly).  Or the last year Frank Patterson sang at the festival before he passed away.  Frank was a wonderful person and on Friday night he asked if we could put a chair out on the stage for him, which we did.  The next night before the show we put a couch out there too, and by Sunday night we added a table, lamp and a potted plant.  Frank just laughed and went out there and did a fabulous show.

Stage managers at Irish Fest play a huge role as ambassadors of the festival.  Part of the reputation of the festival comes from the many things we do for for performers above and beyond our assigned duties. Finding babysitters, getting fiddle bows re-feathered or securing a motorcycle rental for a band member.  One Saturday morning a few years back, I took John Reynolds from the Irish Rovers shopping for fishing reels.  The remember the things we do for them and in most cases they become good friends.  When they return to the same stage, it's like a family reunion.

Stage managers - another reason why this is a great festival.  

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Meetings - We've Got Meetings!

So. . . ., it's been like three weeks since the festival ended, and what do we do now?  You got it - we're having meetings! Lot's of 'em. 

Oh sure, we all took a couple weeks off and listened to our Motley Crue and Metallica collections (even the Peat Blogger needs a break from the Irish stuff for awhile). But now we're recharged and what's the best thing to do when you're recharged - have a meeting!

At Irish Fest the joke is we only have meetings on days that end in "Y", and we're really gotten back into the swing of things this past couple of weeks.  Summer school had it's wrap up last week along with the Green Team.  This week we had meetings for PR, the board wrap up, a general wrap up, and Thursday night the Online Development committee sat down and discussed where we are with technology, and what we need to do for next year's festival. (Hey, as of right now it's only 326 days and 26 minutes away.  That's practically TOMORROW you know).

In the next couple of weeks, the entertainment committee will get together to discuss how our lineup did this year (Fantastic!) and who will be selected for next years' festival. It's always interesting as there are so many great groups out there and we only have 16 stages.  Don't worry, it will be great.

Let's see. . .  sponsorship, retail, cultural, finance, oh yeah, board elections in November, budget hearings, you can pretty much see we're heading into the winter doldrums with nothing to do . . .

Gotta go - I'm late for a meeting

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Arthur's Day

Today is Arthur's Day.  For those of you not in the know, this is the anniversary of Arthur Guinness signing the 9,000 year lease on the Guinness Brewery in 1759. For those of you without the math gene don't worry, the lease isn't up for another 8,749 years (Whew!)

Last year was more exciting because it was the 250th anniversary of the Guinness Brewery.  That's a remarkable accomplishment if you stop and consider Blockbuster Video filed for bankruptcy today after only about 12 years.  That's one reason why you never see VCR's in Irish Pubs.  We're serious about our stout.

So lift a glass at 17:59 (get it?) and have a pint of Guinness.  They tell me it's good for you.  I've even heard there's a sandwich in every glass.

Happy Birthday Guinness!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Great Irish Open - Update

You can always get a pretty good idea of how good the golf outing is going to be when you open up the little bag they give you at registration.  Looking into my gift bag last Wednesday I saw a roll of breath mints and thought "We're gonna have fun today"

Well, about the worst thing you could say about last Wednesday's Great Irish Open was that the day was perfect.  The weather was fantastic although a bit on the windy side, Ironwood Golf course was in superb condition and judging by the amount of laughing I heard, everyone enjoyed themselves.

It's such a great outing (that's why we don't call it "The Mediocre Irish Open"). I mean for $150 bucks you get lunch, a round of golf, a sleeve of golf balls, dinner, three free drinks, and a really cool golf shirt. Where I come from that's called value.   We had some terrific Silent Auction items (thanks to all our generous sponsors - please enjoy Jameson, Miller Coors products and stay at a Marcus Hotel if you can't drive!) We also had enough raffle prizes donated that nearly everyone walked out that night with some kind of takeaway.  And although Arthur Andersen hasn't finished 'ciphering the books, I'm sure we raised a bunch of money for the St Patrick Centre in Downpatrick Northern Ireland.

The Peat Blogger's foursome literally imploded the day before the event with the usual excuses; "I have an SEC audit next week" "I have to drive my daughter to kollege" "The dog ate my golf clubs", so I got thrown in with another foursome that was probably more fun than mine.  I will have to say that Barry Stapleton won the "Strong Man" award for having to carry four completely inept golfers on his back for 18 holes.  Our group was titled "Nice Shot Barry" based on the number of times I heard that line.  I also heard a lot of other words too, but this is a family Blog and we won't be repeating those here.

Many thanks go to all the people who worked on the outing this year; Maureen Modlinski and Patti Garrity, Therese Fennelly, Jane Anderson, and Cathy Ward.  Chuck Ward who had the best job of the day driving around the course with a cart full of snacks (Butterfingers and Guinness - Yum!).

So mark your calendars for next September - the Great Irish Open is coming back!


Friday, September 17, 2010

Bog Snorkelling

Ok, I'll admit it . . . . .Sometimes we blow it when considering new ideas for the festival.  I'll have to say everyone overlooked bog snorkelling this year as part of our Northern Ireland Showcase.  I honestly don't know how it happened but suffice it to say at the top of the list (ahead of the Giant's Causeway) for the next Northern Ireland Showcase is bog snorkelling.

Bog Snorkelling for those of you who don't know, is a competition that dates back to 1976 and a discussion in a bar (I'm surprised too!) in the wee country of Wales.  Bog snorkelling consists of a swimmer completing two 60 yard lengths of a bog drain in the shortest time possible.  Swimmers can use flippers, a snorkel and a swim mask which I'm sure is for protection only. 

Here's the best part - swimmers must complete the course without using conventional swimming strokes (the bog paddle?)

Bog Snorkeller

Northern Ireland held its' most recent championship in July on, wait for it, - International Bog Day at Peatlands Park. Surprisingly, it was free to enter the competition.  There are several different categories (for fairness no doubt) and all competitors get a free high pressure "hose off" after the competition.

This is something we can do at Irish Fest.  Maybe in the childrens area. 

All we're gonna need is a bog . . . . Maybe Bob Hamill can make one  . .hmmmm

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

50 Years of Shamrocks!

You know the Peat Blogger has spent a lot of time talking about the 30 years of Irish Fest lately - I know, you're getting tired about hearing about it.  But hey, we 're proud of what we've done over the past 30 years.

But when the Peat Blogger was a wee wane of 5 years old, another organization had it's beginnings in Milwaukee.  That's right, the Milwaukee Shamrock Club is celebrating it's 50th Anniversary this year.  I know, I can't believe it either!  First the Barbie Doll then the Shamrock Club - 50 years!

For the past 50 years the Shamrock Club of Milwaukee has been promoting all things Irish in the Milwaukee area and putting on one of the best parades in Milwaukee snow or shine. (for the record it's been 40 snow, 10 shine.  The Shamrock Club holds its' St. Patrick's Day parade on the coldest day possible!)  The Shamrock Club is home to the award winning Shamrock Club Color Guard Pipes and Drums (or SCCPD for short). They also have a really good site for anything Irish going on in town

The Shamrock Club is celebrating their 50th year with a big dinner dance at the Humphrey Scottish Rite Temple at 790 North Van Buren September 25th at 5PM.  If you're interested in going call Malkin Wallace 414-234-0653 or send an email to  If you can make stop in.

Happy 50th Shamrock Club!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Cool Irish Fest Tradition #2 - The Scattering

Some of you may not even know this, but for many years our festival has been divided into several parts; The Grand Hooley on Thursday night, "The Gathering" on Friday, Saturday is known as "The Day", and Sunday has always been referred to as "The Scattering".  The Scattering is a term often referring to the scattering of the Irish people during and after the Great Famine in the 1800's.  In Milwaukee we try to be a bit more upbeat; for us the Scattering is the big sendoff of musicians, fans, and volunteers at the final show of a great weekend of celebrations.

The Peat Blogger watched the first Scattering backstage at the old Miller stage in 1996. John Gleason came out and recited poetry from some significant Irish poet who's name I couldn't remember even if I hadn't been drinking that much.  Ed Ward came out and sang a song quickly joined by his brother Chuck. Tommy Makem was there and the stage quickly filled with musicians , dancers and singers.  Backstage was organized chaos as everyone tried to figure out who was going on when, and what song they would be singing.  Musicians wanted to be sure they would be plugged in onstage (didn't happen when they found out there were only 16 inputs for 60 performers.) And the stage managers Vince and Tim discovered just how quickly a keg of free beer can be emptied by Irish musicians.

Scattering with Trad Musicians and Dancers

Over the ensuing years we refined the format for the Scattering and for the most part it works pretty well although I have to admit just a couple of years ago it didn't seem that way as I stood side stage with a microphone announcing performers as they walked onstage.  Ed Ward kept telling me to announce Johnny Connolly and I did - about four times.  To this day I'm convinced Johnny was in the bar at the Park East.

Years ago we found out the main ingredient for success was a strong leader on the stage.  Most of us would agree there is none better than Joannie Madden.  It's a treat just watching her stand in front of a group of trad musicians backstage shouting out the order of the songs they will be playing. Onstage she's a maestro, controlling the flow of the performance. 
This year she was joined by Tom Sweeney and they did a masterful job as the folk singers followed the trad players and did a set of folk tunes.

The die hard audiences staying for the Scattering on Sunday night are usually in for a real treat.  It's the best show of the weekend.  This year was no exception, and in my humble opinion, was the best Scattering we've ever had.  For the audience the Scattering is the best performance of the weekend - a goose bump filled show with some of the best music performed by nearly 100 of the most awesome Irish musicians alive today.  On the stage, the Scattering is a huge celebration as performers have fun with one another - like a big party.  everyone is laughing and having a fantastic time.

Everyone onstage at the Scattering
The Scattering ends with our tradition of the singing of "Wild Mountain Thyme" everone on the stage and the audience join in singing this song written by the McPeake family from Belfast.  This year was especially poignant as the McPeake family was center stage leading the singing. And, unlike other years, the fireworks actually started after the final song.  It gave you the shivers.

Scattering Fireworks
It's a great tradition - an exclamation point to a weekend of everything Irish.  A reaffirmation of our "Irishness" and a big thank you to all our fans and the musicians.

It's a really cool tradition - one of many in Milwaukee.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Kevin Fegan

A few weeks back I wrote about our Festival Experience interns from Ireland. These four young adults from Ireland spend ten days working in all areas of the festival; folding shirts in the retail area, hanging festival signs 40 feet above the grounds in a cherry picker, answering phones in the office, setting up and taking down. The full Festival Experience.

The Peat Blogger’s job each year is to take all the interns around the grounds on Friday morning to introduce them to all the stage managers at the festival, and explain the stage operations. The lessons they learn in Milwaukee are taken back to Ireland and shared with others interested in the business of running festivals.

This was the second year of the program in Milwaukee and the four young people who came over this year were great additions to our family. I say family, because by the time they return to Ireland they are truly a part of the large extended family of Irish Fest.

This past Saturday we received the shocking news that one of this years’ Festival Experience interns, Kevin Fegan suddenly passed away. He had gotten ill and was rushed to the local hospital where he passed some time later.
Kevins’ host family in Milwaukee was Pat and Jane Fitzgibbons. Their daughter Emily was in Belfast this week and we were fortunate to have her representing the Irish Fest family at yesterday’s services in Newry.

Festival Experience Interns (l to r) Aoife, Kevin Fegan, Nathan and Sally
On Sunday night at the Scattering, I sat side stage at Aer Lingus and watched the celebration with Kevin and Doug Johnson. We shared a beer and Kevin talked about how amazing his trip to Milwaukee had been and what a great experience it had been for him.

Kevin left behind his parents Tommy and Anne, a brother Martin, sister Grainne and his twin Ruairi. 

And a very large, sad, extended family in Milwaukee

Ar dheis Dé go raibh anam.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

ee-ii-o G.I.O.

Wait? You mean you’re not going to write about the festival today? Are you kidding me?

Nope. Today I’m writing about the Great Irish Open – G.I.O. for those of us in the know.

What’s the G.I.O. you ask? The G.I.O. is simply the best golf outing containing the words “Great” and “Irish” in the title.  Held each year for the past seven years (or is it eight?) at the fabulous Ironwood Golf course, the G.I.O. is a chance for members of the Milwaukee Irish Community to have a little fun and raise some money for a charitable cause.

The idea for G.I.O. came about in a meeting (I know you’re going to be shocked by this) at O’Donoghues Pub B.T.F. (Before The Fire). About seven (or eight) years ago to be exact. Chuck Ward wanted to have an event separate from Irish Fest to have a little fun and benefit a worthwhile endeavor. For the past three years the G.I.O. has rasied funds for the St. Patrick Centre located in Downpatrick Northern Ireland. (btw, that’s how they spell “center” in Northern Ireland).

 The St. Patrick Centre is a non-denominational organization that brings youth of all traditions together to promote cross community understanding and further the peace initiative in Northern Ireland.  Proceeds from the G.I.O will support the youth education programs of the St. Patrick's Centre

The golf outing is a lot of fun – closest to the nun on the 13th hole (it’s not a REAL nun), putting with a shillelagh on the 2nd hole (only if we can find the shillelagh; I hear it’s in Ed’s house somewhere. If not we’ll have to use an empty Jameson bottle or something). We’ll have a leprechaun, and of course the Guinness girls will be there again on the 11th offering samples of Guinness, Harp and Smithwick’s. The modest $150 fee includes golf, lunch, dinner, a couple of drinks (free ones no less!) and quite possibly a commemorative item – you’ll just have to pay up to find out. After golf there’s a silent auction and some great raffle giveaways. Because Chuck runs this, it’s well organized and we promise to have you back at O’Donoghue’s by 7:30 avoiding your spouse. It’s fun!

So, if your not doing anything next week and want to get in on some real fun send the Peat Blogger an email at to register.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Legendary Paddy Reilly

After last years' festival the entertainment committee got together to discuss the entertainment for the 30th anniversary this year.  While the Northern Ireland showcase was something we were planning on doing, we also wanted to honor the tradition of the Irish folk singer.  The passing of Tommy Makem in 2007 just before our festival, and Liam Clancy's death last December highlighted the need to shine the Milwaukee spotlight on the Legends of Irish Folk music.  And we did.  If you missed the "Legends" shows this year you truly missed some of the most memorable shows we've ever had. At one show I think we had 17 musicians on the stage singing - truly remarkable.

Selecting performers for the "Legends" concept was pretty easy; incorporate some of the Northern Ireland performers and mix them with the current legends of the genre.  Names like Tom Sweeney, Seamus Kennedy, Evans and Doherty and Eugene Byrne.  Add in the Makem and Spain Brothers, Schooner Fare, and Blarney and you really had some special shows.

When selecting performers for this concept, Ed Ward invited two legends no longer performing, Danny Doyle and Paddy Reilly.  Danny's had some health issues preventing him from performing and Paddy retired several years ago.  Both came and had a terrific time.

Paddy Reilly first performed at Irish Fest in 1982 on the Schlitz Stage, and came back many times after, becoming a perennial crowd favorite.  His voice had such a deep richness to it you felt like you were in the fields of Athenry or walking down the rain soaked streets of the town he loved so well.  His stories reflected the humor and sadness of the Irish in Ireland and Milwaukee Irish Fest crowds always packed his shows. 

The Peat Blogger has a special spot for Paddy because he performed most of his shows on the Old Style/Pabst/Parkview/Miller High Life stage where the Peat Blogger has been a stage manager for the past 28 years.  Standing backstage with Paddy before and after his shows was usually the funniest part of our weekend.  Introducing him before a huge crowd one night, I was explaining to the audience Paddy was a favorite of the stage crew not because of his musical talent, but unlike all the other groups performing on the stage with their enormous set ups, Paddy "only required a microphone and a chair". As I said it, I heard Paddy behind the curtain yell "You Bastard!" at me and then walked out with a huge grin on his face.

Paddy Reilly (center) with Tom Sweeney (l) and Maura O'Connell(r)

It was good to see Paddy at the festival. Although he didn't sing at the "Legends" shows, he was coaxed into singing a verse at the Scattering Sunday night.  The crowd and all the performers onstage loved it. Saying my goodbyes at the hotel bar at 2 AM Monday morning after the festival, I came across Paddy talking to Joannie Madden.  Both of them grabbed me and Paddy insisted on getting me a drink.  He was telling Joannie and I funny stories I can't repeat, and enjoying himself immensely.  As I said goodnight I thanked him for accepting our invitation to the festival, and how great it was to hear him singing at the Scattering.  He stopped for a second, blinked hard a couple of times and then gave me a big hug.  I think it meant a lot for him to come here and be a part of a great celebration.

Paddy is a Legend in my book.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Goin' to Kansas City

Actually, I wish I were going to Kansas City, especially this weekend.  Because KC is hosting their annual Kansas City Irish Festival in the Crown Plaza in KC.  Ed Ward, Barry Stapleton and Jeff Ksiazek from the Ward Music Archives are there this weekend with the Archives Exhibit. 

The KCIF'ers are good friends of Milwaukee Irish Fest; Danny Regan comes here nearly every year to replenish their stock of great ideas.  He'll even admit it in his blog post when he talks about "The Mighty Craic" the KC equivalent of our Scattering.  If I know the KC crew they'll make it a memorable event.  I will admit his blog is a LOT better than mine, which is why you should bookmark it on you list of favorites.

So, if you're not doing anything this weekend and you're going to be near the airport, stop in and see about a ticket to Kansas City.  I know you can stay at the Regans house - Danny says he's staying at the festival hotel.  If you can't make it, be sure to stop by the website, they say they're going to have a live feed from a few of their stages this weekend.  It's perfect if you can't make it there but still want to see The Screaming Orphans or The Red Hot Chilli Pipers.

It's sure to be a great weekend for the Irish in Kansas City

I wonder if Barry will bring back some KC Barbeque . . . . .

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mass for the Masses

When talking about the festival, a lot of people focus on their favorite part; the music, food, children’s activities, their favorite vendor. Not surprisingly, a lot of people will tell you how much they like the Irish Fest Liturgy for Peace and Justice held on the Sunday of every Irish fest for the past thirty years. If you've never been to the Liturgy shame on you. You really should, otherwise you'll probably go to Irish hell (boiled food, daily rosary, and sharing a tiny bedroom with three siblings who should be using Beano)

The Liturgy represents who we are as Irish Catholics, and who we want to be as Christians.  It is the centerpiece to a great weekend of cultural celebration.

The Liturgy is a great ceremony; the Knights of Columbus with their hats and swords, the Hibernians in their white shirts and sashes, and menbers of each of the six Milwaukee Irish dance schools processing in with about 50 priests from around the Milwaukee area followed by the celebrant. The massive ampitheater stage is beautifully decorated for the mass and the 50 person choir singing beautiful hymms.  With about 10,000 people filling the stands, it is truly a faith filled event.  

Over the past thirty years irish Fest liturgy celebrants have included priests, monsignors, bishops, Archbishops, and even a Cardinal. Some years back we asked this Irish guy from St Louis with the moniker Dolan. After he agreed to celebrate the mass it was announced he would be the new Archbishop in Milwaukee. That year we just about filled the ampitheater to the brim with people wanting to see the “new boss”, and it took the Archbishop about two hours to leave the place because he wanted to stop and talk to every person there.

For the past few years we’ve been fortunate to get celebrants from Ireland. Just a couple of years ago we actually had the 150th successor to St. Patrick himself, Archbishop (now Cardinal) Sean Brady. Or as he liked to introduce himself to everyone, “Sean”. This year we had a delightful bishop from Dromore, Northern Ireland, John McAreavey who didn't have any fun at all during the weekend (yes he did)

As great as the Mass is each year it wouldn't be possible without the efforts of a lot of volunteers, such as Fr. Mike Maher and others, but more specifically the two coordinators of the liturgy; Bob and Paula Harrold.

Bob and Paula have been organizing the liturgy for the past 20 years or so and do a masterful job of making it all seem so smooth; music, readings, volunteers, choir, musicians, orders of worship, even down to ordering the wine and communion wafers for 10,000.  Bob handles all the music, directing the choir and playing the keyboards for the mass, and Paula orchestrates everything.  Any of us (The Peat Blogger included), who have participated by doing a reading have marveled at the detailed three ring binders with a step-by-step timeline of the entire ceremony and the instructions for each participant in the liturgy.  It's why it looks so good.

Last week I was at the office helping load Mass supplies to be stored, into cars at the Irish Fest center.  I was moving the big wooden candlestick holders and the podium into the trucks out in the parking lot.  Bob was there and commented how he had made the candlestick holders and the podium himself.  He said he designed the podium so it could be taken apart and stored more easily. Remarkable. 

How can someone who can play the piano and organ also be so good at woodworking too?  Bob is currently facing some medical challenges and is doing so in an uncomplaining cheerful grace-filled manner; truly an example for all of us.  He and Paula have done an amazing job converting a place that holds concerts by KISS, Ozzy Ozbourne, and Justin Bieber into an intimate place of worship for all.  When Irish Fest announced Bob and Paula as our "Volunteers of the Year" a couple of years ago Paula set out to make fetching new matching sashes for them to wear in the parades.  Of course she did.  I have trouble making a bed.

So next year, when you're at the Liturgy and you can thank Paula and Bob for re-filling all that sanctifying grace you lost on Saturday night.  And don't forget to bring a non perishable item for the food pantry.

Thanks Paula Thanks Bob.
Paula and Bob Harrold