Irish Fest
in Milwaukee, Wisconsion
(18 August 2005)

The first night of Irish Fest in Milwaukee is always a fun one because it showcases bands that have never played at the festival before, and this year proved no different. Not only did the night include some phenomenal musicians, but there was a lot of excitement in the air because these artists were kicking off the 25th anniversary of the festival.

Although the crowds were somewhat small for the Grand Hooley (they always are on a Thursday night in Milwaukee), they were not disappointed.

I started my "25th Anniversary of Irish Fest" experience by heading over to the new Celtic Roots stage. Opening the stage was the Appalachian/old-time music master Bruce Molsky, who did a wonderful job of introducing this stage and his style to festivalgoers. His performance included everything one would want to hear in this style of music: fiddle, banjo, guitar and, of course, songs. The most impressive part of this is that it was Molsky doing all of this! He was a one-man show for this performance and he made all of it look effortless -- even the crooked tunes with alternate tunings on the fiddle. His sound was so dynamic that if I closed my eyes, I actually thought there was more than one fiddle playing at times. I also enjoyed his songs very much. His voice was very clear and his renditions of old cowboy and Irish songs were well done. At the end of the show, Molsky received a much-deserved standing ovation.

Next, I headed over to see a band called the Bridies, and this show left me with very mixed feelings. It is an all-girl band that includes fiddle players Brenda Curtin and Maire Egan (both of whom were featured soloists in Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance), who were dressed a bit like Britney Spears. I don't really understand why they feel a need to dress this way for a show, because when they started playing, I was blown away by their talent. The combination of their tunes and stage presence was wonderful. The mini-skirts, however, were totally unnecessary.

Still, I have to admit that I didn't stay for the whole concert. Their singer/drummer, Michelle Mulhaire, sang a song that sounded very country-western and it turned me off even more than the outfits. I left during the next tune -- "Tico, Tico," performed by Eilis Egan on the accordion and accompanied by Brenda and Maire playing maracas and dancing. It was just a little too much for me. I like things a little more subdued and less flashy, so I decided to make my way to the next show.

The last show I saw for the evening was in the dance tent. It was a ceili that was called by Julie Clark, who does several ceilis in the area, and the music was provided by Billy McComiskey, Brendan Mulvihill and Zan McLeod -- three stellar musicians. It was nice to end my evening by listening to some good, traditional tunes. The dancers seemed to enjoy it, too. As the ceili went on, more and more people got up to join in, and they looked like they were having fun. It was a breath of fresh air to hear these guys and I left the grounds feeling like it was going to be a promising festival because of them.

- Rambles
written by Kaitlin Hahn
published 10 September 2005