As I found out on Friday, Sláinte is pronounce “slan – cha”, which means “to your health” as in a toast to one’s friends. I was glad to pick up a gig at Arts Quest on St. Paddy’s Day and it paid well. I decided to call up my friend Kris Kehr and see if we could work up a couple of sets of Celtic music, with him on bass and guitar. He, of course, said, “hell, yes!”
I was ambivalent about the gig, mostly because I was a week out from another serious operation, and my physical ability to pull it off. I have years of material though, and, with some rehearsal, I felt I could do it. Besides, both Kris and I need the money. I came close to cancelling, and I’m glad I didn’t.
I prepared a list of songs I’ve been doing in bars for years, a couple of knock-off Irish standards and several mandolin medleys. (There was a time when I had three gigs on a St. Paddy’s Day.) I also picked out some Americana songs that would fit the ballad style for the occasion. Kris and I did one Facetime session on songs and another on mandolin tunes.
Kris put in a lot of time researching the songs and I sent him links to my renditions I did during my productive pandemic You Tube work (My library paid off). Several of these tunes have some difficult chord changes, often foreign to the average American ear, so we dug deep. The session pointed out, quite strongly, that my mandolin chops have deteriorated considerably over the past few years, due to age and less frequent gigs. And Kris had to figure out these subtle chord changes. I was worried about my fingers.
Strong songs: Don’t Call Me Early, Roseville Fair, Ireland, Drinking Whiskey Before Breakfast, Giant and Giants. The more obscure tunes went well: Ballad of Ned Kelly, Part of the Union, Skewbald, Wild Rover and All for Me Grog. I threw in a capella: Rambling Rover and The Irish Ballad, and they always do well. The mandolin stuff was shaky, by my standards, but we stumbled through them.
We were the opening act in Commons area, now known as Pallet and Pour, with a large bar, tables and chairs, food vendor, and it included an open space extending up to the second floor. I wasn’t expecting a large crowd and I was becoming confident that we could pull it off. Thankfully, the sound man had the PA settings from our gig a couple of months ago, so we were ready and comfortable on stage. Praise be to the competent sound guy! We led off with some of my more recent tunes and away we went!
I planned on mixing Irish songs, some mandolin tunes and an occasional a capella bar song and throw in a few folk songs as well. The mix made for an interesting and, hopefully, entertaining show. There were folks who caught a portion of our sets before they moved upstairs to the two other venues supplying music, as well as Celtic vendors in the floor above us. We were the warm-up act, somewhat posers for an Irish music festival, and I was fine with that.
As I found out later, Arts Quest was charging $33 tickets for the event, and that precluded some of my friends from entering. I also acknowledge that the price made it possible for us to get our profession-grade pay scale. It certainly limited the attendance for our set down in the “free” area. Still, it was nice to be included in the festival’s programming.
One interesting moment came late in our second set, where I opened up my somewhat racy bar-only repertoire with songs like The Dogs’ Meeting (“arse hole”), and Cuckoo’s Nest (a not so-thinly-veiled seduction ballad). A small camera crew trickled down to video some of my set during Cuckoo’s Nest (“at the bottom of the belly lies the cuckoo’s nest”) Oh, no! I extended the instrumental, left out the culminating verse, and finished with the after story, including, “every night he claps his hands on her cuckoo’s nest.” Such is my legacy in the world of folk music.
I was glad to have Kris in support, and have the chance to make some money in my home town, and play music with my friend. Sláinte!