The festival season has just about ended, except for a very few in the Southern states, and I’d like to share a few observations from this year’s Irish/Scottish/Celtic festivals.
First of all it’s been a bad year for Celtic vendors, sales were down while expenses were way up. Granted the economy hasn’t been really good and the US dollar has been weak compared to the Euro and the British Pound, making imports a pricey proposition. Those vendors who deal in Irish-made jewelry have seen the market flooded with cheap-as-dirt, and quality to match, Chinese and Thai silver jewelry, selling for pennies, comparatively. Meanwhile Irish jewelry manufacturers have had to layoff most of their workforce. Think about those laid-off workers the next time you pass by the Made in Ireland stickers to lash out with your cash for the cheap stuff.
While I’m beefing about buying habits, I have to mention all the folks who stand in front of my booth and tell their friends, “don’t buy that CD, I’ll burn you a copy” or “That CD was so good I had to burn 12 copies for my friends”. If you’re looking to kill the Celtic music industry, that’s the way to go. Performers complain to me that sales of their CDs have dropped off by 50% or more. I even saw one vendor at a Feis selling burned CDs of dance music. I was surprised the feis musicians let him out of there alive! Performers can’t afford to tour if their CD sales are diminished. That affects the music venues that then have to lay off the people who work there, when they aren’t booking performers.
My last complaint, I swear my last for this month, is theft. 20+ years ago we never saw theft at an Irish Festival or Scottish games. It was family and people acted like family, the occasional argument and/or poke in the nose, but theft… never! Now, unfortunately, it’s an everyday occurrence and I don’t know any festival vendor that can afford to absorb those kinds of losses. All this has added up to the largest number of vendors getting out of the business that I’ve ever seen in one year. Don’t expect the big-box mega-merchants to take their place at the festivals. Even they are carrying less celtic merchandise in their stores!
But enough grousing, there have been some good things I’ve noticed this year too. Festival organizers have been working extra hard to keep the festivals alive and improve them at the same time. They’ve beaten the bushes for new and exciting bands and come up with quite a nice bunch. Peatbog Fairies at Milwaukee Irish Fest were a real surprise, great music. Kris Drever and his band Lau were another pleasant surprise. I have to say though that of all the new bands I got to watch this year, I was most impressed by four sisters from Donegal, who play together as the band Screaming Orphans. The band consists of Marie Therese Diver on keyboards, piano, accordion, vocals; Grainne Diver, guitar and vocals; Angela Diver, bass guitar violin, vocals and Joan Diver, drums, percussion, lead vocals. I have never seen so versatile a band. They play country, they play pop, they play rock, they play traditional Irish, and they play them all well. Are they good musicians? You bet! Are their vocals angelic and their harmonies tight? Right again! Do they have stunning stage presence? The best! But the best, the absolute best part is they have star quality! They live their music, sharing the joy they obviously feel in their performances. They spend time with their fans, hugs for all the kids, autographs for all who want them. You have to watch the girls, fussing with all the little kids that come up after their set, taking the time to make it special for the little ones. These are the kind of artists that inspire the next generation, that make festivals wonderful and full of the personal experience you can’t get off the best CD, DVD or TV show. The ladies have only one CD currently in print, Circles, a lovely piece of work that shows off their voices and musical talent. This is a band that must be experienced in person. Check their website at www.screamingorphans.com for their touring schedule, get out and see them. They’re great and I love them.
Now, Some Food
I have been a great fan of corned beef all my life. As a kid, it was a special treat and not something we could afford very often. Today I can afford it and I’ve become pretty picky about where I eat it. The Chicago area is a good place for corned beef lovers and the area abounds with restaurants that know how to prepare it well. In such a situation the competition for the best corned beef is pretty stiff but I have found the home of the best corned beef I have ever tasted. It turns out that the home of the best corned beef is a friendly wee place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. McBob’s Pub & Grill at 4919 W. North Avenue in Milwaukee is the place to go for the absolute best corned beef. Their phone is 414-871-5050 but reservations aren’t necessary, just tell Robert & Christine, the owners, that I sent you and you’ll get the meal that legends are made of. No joke, they’re the best.
Lastly, just a note to remind everyone that though the festival season is over, there’s a great place in Chicago to see good music at a good price. The Irish American Heritage Center has music every Friday and Saturday night in their Fifth Province Pub. The craic is always great there with good food and drink and a friendly crowd. Hope to see you there.
Catch me in the store, Rampant Lion Celtic Traders, 47 S. Villa Avenue, Villa Park, Illinois 60181, 630-834-8108. Always happy for your input. Slainte.