If your idea of a good time on St. Patrick’s Day is getting drunk as a skunk on green beer and dancing to anyone who can do a half decent cover of a Pogues song, there’s no need to read the rest of this post.
But for those with more discerning tests in both music and beer – not that there’s anything wrong with the Pogues – read on.
Because there’s no night like St. Paddy’s to see some quality Irish and Celtic-influenced music if you know where to look.
Here’s where to look this year:
Ottawa: The Irish Rovers at the Shenkman Arts Centre (Sold out!)
A long time ago when the earth was green, the Irish Rovers might’ve been one of those acts fronting the green beer parties on St. Paddy’s. In fact, given that they owned the Unicorn pub at the Plaza of Nations in Vancouver during Expo 86, I’m going to bet that they did, though I can’t profess to having witnessed it for myself. With a string of hits that included “Wasn’t That a Party,” “Here’s to the Horses” and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” they weren’t exactly setting themselves up as contenders for professorships in the traditional music program at the University of Limerick. But there’s no denying the popular appeal of their energy, their harmonies and their repertoire, which is a mix of trad and original numbers. What’s more, as the original members have passed on or retired, they’ve added some instrumental heft to their line-up with guys like Geoff Kelly of Spirit of the West on wind instruments and Gerry O’Connor on fiddle.
Toronto: Poor Angus at the Rivoli
Borealis recording artist Poor Angus is possibly one of the nicest sounding contemporary Celtic groups on the scene today. The members mix Scots, Irish and East Coast musical styles with the singer-songwriter ethos and, dare I say, even a touch of “indie” in Joel Guenther’s vocals. They present diverse interpretations of Celtic music and ensure that one and all leave their shows with smiles on their faces. And if you need any further proof that this is a show for people who want to listen to it, not get drunk to it, doors open at 6:00 p.m., and the show’s over at 10.
Vancouver: The Celtfest Vancouver St. Patrick’s Day Ceilidh with Blackthorn
Celtic festivals have been a St. Paddy’s tradition in Vancouver for a very long time now, though different people have run them over the years. This year, the St. Paddy’s ceilidh is hosted by Blackthorn, an institution on the local scene, and a band that’s probably played a few drunken bars in its time. That said, it’s a solid outfit composed of veteran musicians who produce some lovely four-part harmonies.
Halifax – Ashley MacIsaac at the Admiral Club
I mean, of course Halifax has a big star lined up for St. Paddy’s. The East Coast is the home of Celtic music in Canada. There was a time when Ashley MacIsaac was a bona fide pop star in Canada – back when commercial radio was going through a love affair with Canadian Celtic-influenced acts. He also started making headlines for being kind of erratic, but that’s another story. (These days, to younger folk fans, he might be better known as the brother of Lisa MacIsaac from Madison Violet). He’s still an incredible fiddler and a magnetic presence on stage, and if he’s anything like he was in his younger days, he probably wouldn’t turn down a green beer if you offered him one.
Whiterock, B.C.: Pat Chessell at Blue Frog Studios (Sold out but there’s a wait list)
Gotta give a plug to Pat who, on top of being a fine purveyor of Celtic-influenced folk, is also an occasional contributor to this fine website. I’m pretty sure he only discovered us because we said nice things about him first though. Pat’s been on the scene for a decade or so now, and his repertoire features some lovely, original country-tinged ballads and a stirring cover of the Clancy Brothers’ “Sally O.” Blue Frog is a relatively intimate venue, and the doors open at 6 p.m., so this is clearly not a get wasted and trash the place sort of gig. It’s a sit-down-and-listen show for those lucky enough to have scored tickets.