Irish Fest
in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
(21 August 2005)

I was a little sad when I walked through the gates of the festival park today, being it was the last day of the festival and knowing I'd have to wait a whole year for it to happen again. I decided I was going to make the most of it and see as much as I possibly could.

I started my day by checking out a very unique show called Chicago All Stars. The name says it all. With Liz Carroll as the emcee, performances included the music of John Daly, Marty Fahy, Kathy Cowan, Kevin and Maggie Henry, and Johnny Harling with his children! Every performance was amazing. I was glad I made it to a show with some good traditional music by people from my own country. It was very inspirational to see how far these musicians have come.

Next, I watched part of the Musical Families: A Cherished Tradition show again. It was as good as the first one, from what I got to hear. This time guests included Tommy and Rory Makem and Jean and Cara Butler. I wish I could have stayed for the whole show, but I had to perform with Atlantic Wave, so I sadly missed half of it.

After two hours in a very hot, but very appreciative tent of people, I went and saw one of the top traditional Irish bands of today. Danu was fabulous, as always. I admire this band's creativity in the way they put sets together. The show began with some wedding tunes. This was followed by a hornpipe, a pipe march and a tune called "Around the House & Mind the Dresser." Next, the amazing Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh belted out a song in Gaelic about a woman in an unhappy arranged marriage. She later sang about a man in an unhappy marriage called "Only Nineteen Years Old" -- "just for good measure," as she put it. My favorite song in this show, however, was "County Down" by Tommy Sands. It is a gorgeous ballad and I can't think of anyone with a more beautiful voice to perform it. The show ended with a fast-paced set where each person took a solo and then all of them played "The Contradiction" reel together. This, of course, led to an encore, which included another beautiful song called "Follow On," which can be heard on Danu's latest album, When All is Said & Done. They also played one more set of reels that had the audience clapping and bouncing. It was amazing.

The last great band I was privileged to see for the evening was Cherish the Ladies. This band really knows how to work a crowd, which explains why this is their 15th time at Milwaukee Irish Fest. There was never a dull moment in the show. This is another band that I like to listen to for ideas on how to arrange sets of tunes, because they are always interesting and exciting. From the first set of rousing reels, the audience was having fun. I also enjoy their songs, performed by Heidi Talbot, another amazing voice. This particular show included dancers from everywhere, too. There were some from Ireland, some from the states, and some from Canada, including a couple of Ottawa Valley dancers, whose legs appeared as if they were made of rubber. At the end of the show, Joanie Madden and Heidi Talbot even got up and did some polkas! Other guests included Madden's and Coogan's fathers on accordions and Jean and Cara Butler, who proudly showed their steps. After seeing this show, I am really looking forward to their new album, Women of the House, which is due out shortly.

Immediately following their performance was the closing show of the festival, which is a tradition at Milwaukee Irish Fest. It is called The Scattering and this year, it was emceed by Joanie Madden, who led musicians from all the different big name bands at the festival in some lively sets of tunes. This was quite entertaining, but I was a little disappointed that none of the local tune-makers were allowed to participate in the performance this year. Since it was the 25th anniversary of the festival, this saddened me a bit. The show did include performers from every local dance school, however.

After an announcement that in 2007, Irish Fest is going to try to break the Guinness Book of World Record's record for drumming, it was the singers' turn to take the stage. This part of the show was emceed by Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy, who led the audience in "Red is the Rose." This was followed by the special "25th Anniversary Song," and then the typical "Wild Rover" and "Go Lassie Go," which is ALWAYS the closing song of the festival. My favorite part of this show was not the performance, itself; it was looking behind me and seeing hundreds of little Irish flags. It was proof that this year's festival was another huge success.

As the fireworks blasted through the sky, I made my way through the gates for one more good night of sessioning.

by Kaitlin Hahn
5 November 2005