Another Saint Patrick's Day Story
This is North Carolina, why is it snowing?
One year, my band the Pratie Heads got a call from an agent. We had never used an agent and didn't know this person. Turns out, she was the agent for Touchstone, our local kind-of-famous Irish band at the time.
Touchstone had been called for a week-long gig at a resort in Florida and couldn't do it. Would we go?
We did. They flew us down, three musicians and our significant others - my ex and our toddler daughter came along, as did the other fiddler's disapproving girlfriend (she wanted him to quit fiddling and get a real life - he did become a soil scientist later).
Our flight was late. We got to Alamo Rent-a-Car and saw a scene I'm glad I've never seen again - a line extended twice AROUND THE ENTIRE BUILDING, like Disneyland or the World Fair, of people sitting on their suitcases in attitudes of despair. By the time we got out of that line and off to the golf resort at Port St Lucie we were almost late for our first gig.
To make a long story short, we did not have a great time. My ex was freaked out because a toddler had recently been snatched and devoured by a marauding alligator so he wouldn't let Melina toddle around by herself. Also, our room had a ceiling leak and smelled moldy (I guess since we weren't paying, we didn't get the deluxe accommodations).
Then, there was the bar. We were at the time one of those sort of snobby Irish bands that did not want to do any of the Irish-American material which was, it turns out, exactly what we were HIRED to perform. Drunken people climbed up on stage and tried to bribe and then threaten us to sing "Danny Boy" and "The Wild Colonial Boy" - but we didn't know them.
Then the manager called us in and wanted to fire us - after all, as it turned out, the owner had really only wanted us for St. Pat's night itself, but the agent had leveraged him into taking on a week of Irish music.
Well, there was a contract, so we stayed out our time, but it was hard. We compromised a little on the material, and the crowd got used to us, and it kind of worked out, but the "why the hell are we here" feeling never subsided.
Later on I lost my "attitude" about Irish-American material completely. It was in the course of preparing for another gig which I also got through an agent I didn't know and which also did not turn out to be what I expected. The agent had said "all you need to do is go into this wake and sing five Irish songs" and I thought to myself, "well I know five hundred Irish songs, so this shouldn't be hard," so I said yes.
It turned out there were five precise songs expected, none of which I knew. These days I would just look on the internet and find them in half an hour, but in those days the footwork involved calling the schizophrenic ex-husband of one of the Balkan singers I had known fifteen years before (he had been in an Irish band) and having him sing a couple of these songs into my answering machine so I could play them back to myself and learn them.
I was walking a block to the funeral home when I got nearly mugged, closer than any other time in my life. I ran to the door as the guy continued to follow me, banged desperately on the door and got let in as the mugger faded away into the dark. OK good. Now I see it is an open casket. The guy is lying there, laid out in his emerald green golfing sweater, with a golf club in his hands and a rosary wrapped around his hands and the golf club. I couldn't make this up, could I?
The widow was sitting next to the coffin and pictures of their grandchildren had been tucked into the lining of the top of the coffin so people coming for the viewing leaned over the corpse to look at the pictures and remarked to the grandmother that the children were so precious.
So anyway, I sang "Danny Boy" and "Wild Colonial Boy" and "Bold Fenian Men" and two more that I can't remember any more, and the people were so glad, and they were crying silently, and I'm a ham so of course I felt much better about these songs which I had previously scorned, and I thought "they love them and they need them, so who am I to scorn?"
Years later I have totally lost my snobbism. To the point that my kids roll their eyes at some of the things the band does. Well, it's their turn to be snobs.
2006 UPDATE: Bob Vasile and I will be doing a St Patrick's Day concert tomorrow night. Info.
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