It is clear, after attending the 2015 edition of ShamrockFest, that I need to get myself to Galway, Ireland.
Because the girls.
Scythian, DC’s native purveyor of Irish tunes, crooned ‘and I lost my heart to a Galway girl’, in a lively cover of Steve Earle’s “Galway Girl”. Then later, Gaelic Storm performed their brand new “Girls Night in Galway”, an ode to the multitude of bachelorette parties that festoon the city.
ShamrockFest is an exercise in excess. An excessive amount of Irish and Celtic music. An excessive number of people dressed in elaborate green costumes. An excessive desire to visit Galway (for me, at least).
Strolling around the RFK Stadium Festival Grounds, there is no question that DC loves St. Patrick’s Day. Taking a cue from Carbon Leaf’s dance ready “The Donnybroke Affair”, you might describe ShamrockFest as ‘a rough-n-tumble free-for-all’ and ‘a ruckus to be reckoned with’.
Festival goers were ready for a day of music and beer. I would guess a large percentage of the sold-out crowd partook in the VIP package, which included access to an expansive VIP area and bottomless beer within.
The VIP area spread between the Gold stage and the Green stage. Aside from the dedicated beer stalls and a small DJ booth, it also provided cordoned off and up-close access to both stages. The lines for beer were so long that Red Frog Events eventually opened up VIP member’s access to all festival beer stands. Which then made all the lines long. We want our beer.
The sprawling Festival Grounds is not attractive (after all, it is a parking lot), but the three stages and the electronic tent were spaced apart so that you never felt overwhelmed by crowd movements and spontaneous dancing.
The beer selection was small, but with three choices and a cider (Guinness, Guinness Blond, Yuengling and Angry Orchard Cider), it was both appropriate and better than many festivals. The food offered was nothing beyond typical festival fare to further the St. Patrick’s Day theme. But Bailey’s Irish Coffee was on offer. Yes and thank you.
Other activities included Bear Pong (an outsized version of the classic beer pong) and Cornhole hosted by NAKID Social Sports. There were also stalls selling green things, kilts and alcohol infused cigars. Nice. There could have been more to do, if you wanted a break from the music.
The music options were an eclectic mix of Irish standards, electronic dance, covers, folk, fiddles, Celtic songs and a pinch of blues (Traveler) thrown in for good measure.
I was able to listen to a good number of bands on the Gold, Green and Dewey Beach stages, and did also poke my head into the DJ tent (Electric Isle).
The main complaint for the Electric Isle tent was there was a sizable pool of water in the middle, towards the back, courtesy of the rain from the previous day. People danced around it.
Here is my music lineup and brief notes on each.
Gaelic Mishap, from Baltimore, played a selection of hard-rocking tunes, including a cover of “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” by the Dropkick Murphy’s. They also played a rendition of “The Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues. A solid start for the day.
Scythian, celebrating 10 years together, were lively and entertaining as usual. If I had to pick one band I most wanted to see, it was Scythian. Even though I’ve seen them already 7-8 times at festivals or the 9:30 Club (this doesn’t include shows in local DC Irish bars, of which I’ve lost count). For a more complete review of their set, go here.
Go Go Gadget started off their set like rowdy street performers, with a montage of quick takes from multiple songs while banging away on large overturned buckets. From there it was all cover songs, until we went for the next band.
Carbon Leaf, from Richmond, gave festival goers a range of introspective songs such as “Shine”, about not waiting to live life, “A Life Less Ordinary”, a personal favorite from them about being humbled when finding the right partner, and “War Was In Color” to honor Vietnam veterans. Lead singer, Barry Privett, also announced that their performance at ShamrockFest was being recorded as an iTunes concert.
Gaelic Storm would like you to kiss them. They’re Irish. And with songs titles like “Kiss Me I’m Irish”, “The Night I Punched Russell Crowe” and “One More Day Above the Roses” you can believe them. Yet only lead singer, Patrick Murphy, hails from Ireland. Switching lead vocal duties, Patrick Murphy and Steve Twigger had the crowd dancing in a sea of green and crowd surfing (granted only one girl, who was probably from Galway). On the jaunty “Devil Inside Her”, Kiana Weber, who joined Gaelic Storm in 2012, played the fiddle so emphatically, strings broke left and right.
Reel Big Fish, from California, were clear on what to expect. Lead singer, Aaron Barrett, captured elegantly, ‘We’re not going to get drunk…we’re already drunk!’ They played a mix of original songs and covers, but I wanted to check out the main act, so didn’t stay too long.
Blues Traveler played their biggest hit “Runaround” early in the set. The crowd transformed instantly from passive (possibly tired) listeners to active dancers. Then they transitioned to a melancholy new song, “Castaway”, which was the first time they had performed it in front of a live audience. Before they finished, I decided to walk around and see what else was still going on.
The Electric Isle tent was jam-packed with jumping and moving people.
Celtica performed to a tiny, but enthused crowd at the Dewey Beach stage.