I’m sweating profusely on this late afternoon in May. The sun is beaming yellow-orange hues through the open door. The hues settle on my light blues and shrink the blacks beads centering my eyes. I glance up to the open door across from the café chair I’m sitting in to see the silhouette of the pretty girl I’ve been awaiting for the last ten-or-so minutes. As she walks nearer, the color of her dark brown hair, yellow tank-top shirt, and hazel eyes create an introduction that sends both a smile and a blush to my face.
“Hi, it’s so good to finally meet you,” she says.
“Yea . . . same to you,” I introduce myself to her and embrace the shadow made sentient being with a hug that tells me Yes she is indeed real.
“Do you want to eat first or go for a walk?” I ask her.
“Uhm . . . I don’t know. Either way works for me.”
“Let us walk then,” I decide for her. And off we go through the door of introductions and outside where the sunbeams dusk into our eyes and into the eyes of spectators, vendors, and furry beings on leashes. It’s Irish Fest in Frontier Park, St. Charles, MO.
“I’ll take a Guinness,” I order to the half-drunk attendant at the beer garden.
“And what about you sweet honey?” The half-drunk old man flirts to Laura with the point of a finger.
“Oh, I’m okay. Thanks,” she turns the finger limp.
“Aw come on now. You’re no fun.”
“I don’t drink beer,” Laura asserts with an indignant tone.
“Alright then, suit yourself,” the half drunk impertinent man drops his failing attempts to be Mr. Debonair. I give him seven bucks, stiff him on the tip—rightfully so, and commence our walk around Irish Fest. Laura and I observe the light-eyed, befreckled, smiling faces intermingled with a multitude of non-Irish folk. For tonight, we’re all pale, red-haired, brown-spotted bodies with a penchant for rainbows ending in jackpots of gold. With the price of a Guinness costing seven slips of green paper, we could all benefit from filling our pockets with twenty-seven carrots of heavy accolades.
Second stop, we arrive at the vendor selling Apple Orchard so Laura can quench her thirst with something less yeast filled. Miraculously, the man tending this tent is even more drunk and presumptuous than Mr. Debonair. I ignore this, turn around, and face the flow of brown liquid running adjacent to the park. The Missouri River, only twenty yards from where we stand, is running mightily—not like the Mississippi, but in full force—down the south side of St. Charles’ Main street.
What are the people in Ireland are doing right now? I wonder as the vendors pump out potato cuisine, Irish spuds, and, over on the northern side of the park, Celtic music is singing folklore tails originating from an island far away. The grass is lush and dark green from spring rains, the same rain from last night’s precipitations pour down the less-mighty Missouri with enough fervor to prevent the want for a fortuitous swim at dusk. It’s as if I’ve been transplanted backwards a couple of generations to an event hosted by my Irish forbears. Differently, there are enough potatoes in the surrounding area to stop the potato famine, thus freeing up docks somewhere in Ellis Island’s past. As the sun becomes swallowed up behind the less-mighty river, Laura and I proceed to the North end of the park in anticipation of tonight’s musical entertainment. Six figures take the stage and begin playing to a full crowd.
I am building a boat
And building an Ocean
And Waiting for the rising tide
With my sinners rope
My right hand of hope
To pull me over the side
I am building a boat
After the first verse is sung, the fiddle kicks into high gear; a six-piece folk band from Kansas City, Missouri, called The Elders, provides tonight’s musical entertainment. Although the group is from America’s Midwest, their sound has an antedated sound rooted in a universal folklore pulling strands from Ireland’s histories.
Their music is both upbeat and lyrical. The harmonies they pull off are at times majestic and the rhythmic pulse is always there, but varied with syncopations that are fresh and interesting. The fiddle player strains her bow to the max with double and triple stops at a tempo that would challenge the technique of the first violinist playing for the St. Louis Symphony! The keyboard player doubles the chorus melodies with one hand on the upper keyboard (organ) while the other hand comps syncopations (on the piano) that line up exactly with the drummers accents.
Yea, this group knows what the hell they are doing, I think. What a pleasant surprise it is to hear such a formidable outfit of musicians all capable of showering the world with their musical greatness. A group exhuming with passion, challenging the precedence of folk music’s archetypes, improvising with lines of impetus, and singing their hearts out to the less-mighty Missouri river on this cloud covered evening. With the beer poured and the Irish wannabes soaking in the sonorities of their forbears, I stare in awe as the band I expected to sound like a two-bit Flogging Molly transcends all prejudices with a fresh precedence of Celtic exuberance, an exuberance outweighing the negative possibility of getting soaked in the future precipitation belied by the dark clouds above; the clouds are darkened more by the suns disappearance beneath the less-mighty Missouri river. The show goes on, and, no matter the weather, I’m in it for the long hall.
“This next song I wrote shortly after my dad passed away a few years ago. The music came to me after about a bottle and a half of wine [he chuckles]. I hope you enjoy,” Ian Byrne, The Elders lead singer, prefaces my favorite tune of the night. “Lucko’ The Irish” is a melancholy that reveals a harsh, yet veritable history of Irish pasts. I’ll let Ian Byrne’s lyrics to the chorus of the tune tell the story:
We’ve been beaten burned and enslaved
Starved from our lands where our fathers dug their graves
Never loosing faith we have fought for every mile
Sill no matter where you go you’ll always find
An Irish smile
A slow drone, played by the accordion, bass, and guitar, creates an open platform for the lead singer. Accompanied by four-part harmonies, Ian reveals despondency in Irish folklore.
It’s a Celtic ballade to my ears. The image on stage portrays a sextet of modern-day troubadours speaking to the audience and the past contemporaneously. Their music tickles my ears and gives me Goosebumps as the chorus hits. All members are belting their voices through the audience and into the dark flow of the less-mighty cascade trudging further and further south. Although the Missouri river hasn’t gone anywhere, The Elders have taken us on an adventure across the pond. The less-mighty flow has turned into the River Shannon. Somewhere St. Patrick lurks with an Irish smile. The geography has changed here in Frontier Park. It is now An Irish Evening in Missouri.