Irish Fest
in Milwaukee, Wisconsion
(19 August 2005)

For my second day of Irish Fest, I began the day by wandering over to the Castle Garden Stage. Although this stage is small, it really serves a big purpose at the festival because it introduces several of the local bands and acts to festivalgoers.

Opening the stage was not an Irish band, but a wonderful new Milwaukee bluegrass group called the .357 Stringband. Members include Double D on guitar and vocals, Jayke on guitar, 'Becca Moonshine on fiddle, Banjovi on banjo and Rikki Sixx on bass. At some points in the show, a couple of the members also played the "idiot stick," which was just a long stick with maracas tied to it. I really enjoyed this group, despite some issues with sound at the stage. They were very tight and I saw a lot of toes tapping in the audience. The show included a good mix of songs, tunes and humor, which made them fun to listen to. It was a good start to my day.

After spending the next two hours performing, I went over to The Snug to see Frogwater, another Milwaukee-based band. I have always found their show to be interesting because it includes so many different styles of music: Celtic, Americana, old-time, bluegrass, Cajun, blues and, at this show, even some pop -- sort of a musical stew. On top of that, I never know whom I should expect to see and hear in the show. It always includes Susan Jeske-Dermody on fiddle and vocals and John Nicholson on guitar, banjo and vocals, but often there are guests, too. This time they added folks playing bodhran and spoons -- and the show was fantastic. No empty seats could be seen in the tent! There were appreciative applause and cheers after every set they played and the crowds' hands must have been stinging because of all the clapping that I heard as the band played. It was really great to hear Frogwater again.

The last show I saw was the one I had been waiting for all day, and it did not disappoint. Liz Carroll and John Doyle are always a delight to see and listen to. Their music is so energetic that I always end up with shin splints from tapping my feet along with it. This particular show was exceptional -- not only because of the great music, but because of an unexpected event during the show. In the middle of a set of tunes, a HUGE spider came down from the ceiling and attached its web to Liz's elbow! As she was playing, the spider kept toying with the audience by getting close to her arm and then dropping back, over and over again. When Liz saw the horrified (or grinning) faces on the front rows of the audience, she turned to John and he told her what was going on. The way that she handled it was hilarious, and yet, so professional. After continuing to fiddle away and walking around to try to get rid of it, she and John finally stopped the tune, got the spider off of her and onto her chair, and then they picked up EXACTLY WHERE THEY LEFT OFF! The audience was roaring with laughter. When the set was over, she pushed the chair over onto the stage and said, "That's the LAST time we ever use props!" Right after she said this, John bumped his guitar off of his chair, and it fell to the stage. Thankfully, he had another guitar, and the show went on.

This dynamic duo is definitely a crowd pleaser and I was really impressed by their performance, as always. It was a great end to an exciting day.

by Kaitlin Hahn
24 September 2005