Aug 3, 2018
The 2018 Great American Irish Festival gave its attendees just what they have come to expect – the absolute best in Irish and Celtic culture, music, dancing and fun…and a spot of rain. It all added up to another unqualified success for the festival that has grown to be the pre-eminent Irish festival on the east coast.
On July 27-28, the Great American Irish Festival marked its 15th year by introducing its fans to a bunch of new friends, as festival-goers took advantage of the opportunity to acquaint themselves with acts never before seen in the area; from the looks of things this could be the beginning of some long and beautiful friendships. While fans gave the usual GAIF favorites – the Elders, Enter the Haggis, Barleyjuice – the expected raucous receptions, some of the new bands also made an impression on fans who had never had a chance to see them before.
While many festivals will start their shows slowly, Great American Irish Festival fans know enough to get there early, so it was no surprise that when last year’s surprise hit, American Rogues, opened the festivities on the contemporary stage, and the dynamic duo Moxie Strings kicked things off on the traditional stage, both were greeted by enthusiastic crowds that grew as the sets went on; neither band disappointed and the 2018 GAIF was officially underway. As Moxie Strings gave way on the traditional stage to the Gothard Sisters, Arise and Go (making their big stage debut), and Ottawa Valley’s favorite sisters, Searson, the contemporary stage kicked into overdrive with consecutive sets from Toronto’s Enter the Haggis and a clear new fan favorite, We Banjo 3, who were indoctrinated to the GAIF experience by playing through a (ho-hum) torrential downpour. Bringing that stage to a fitting close for the first night of the festival was Kansas City’s own (though Central New York would certainly put up a fight for that claim) The Elders; in the tail-end of their storied career.
On Saturday morning (after the Ranger Run participants got their collective breath back) local favorites the Barney Rebel Band kicked off the action under the Contemporary Tent, treating the crowd to songs from their new CD and general goofiness. In marked contrast to that goofiness, Searson followed with another solid set, paving the way for another returning act, upstate Celtic rockers 1916. Leading an appreciative crowd with their powerful anthemic set, American Rogues continued to gain fans with every song.
There was plenty of great music on the traditional stage as well, with sets from Craobh Dugan, Albany’s Triskele, the always popular Stoutmen, consummate entertainer Donal O’Shaughnessey, and, making their GAIF debut, House of Hamill (Brian Buchanan from Enter the Haggis and Burning Bridget Cleary’s Rose Baldino). As both stages shut down for the massed bagpipe march, the fairgrounds began to fill with the sound of pipes and drums, the march through the fairgrounds culminating with all the bagpipe bands performing as one.
Following the massed bagpipe march, a familiar mix of artists took their place on the trad stage, with sets from Moxie Strings, the Gothard Sisters, the Capital Region’s darling boys, Hair of the Dog, and a final set from the high-stepping Searson. At the same time, the contemporary stage was rocking to the sounds of Barleyjuice and Enter the Haggis… leading to what most of the festival crowd was waiting for – and dreading: the final GAIF appearance of festival favorites, The Elders. In a very touching closing set, the Midwest Arsekickers did not disappoint; singing to (and often being drowned out by) their adoring fans, now so familiar with all their songs. And as a special treat, they were joined on stage by Enter the Haggis in a joint performance of ETH’s “Gasoline.” Closing with their second (third? fourth?) encore, The Police’s “Message in a Bottle,” they got the message from the fans they’ve come to love and respect: We will miss your music and your friendships.
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