Not even a foot of snow could prevent us from relishing in Utah’s Winter Irish Festival. Salt Lake City’s snow plows had given up making their passes along the streets which were flush with spin offs and sliding cars. Fortuitously, we’d agreed to car pool … and we got to ride in our friend’s 4WD truck.
It was a crazy time. The post-Christmas rush had hit and many of us were slammed on all fronts: holiday travel, parties, family, trying to ski or snowboard our brains out, work, not to mention the perpetual snow shoveling activities for a week’s worth of storms. But this was the one concert indulgence we were determined not to miss. One of the concert posse had gone snowboarding all day and rather than worry about her hair, she bought a $50 hat to wear. I admire priorities like that.
We headed due east to Park City in the relentless snow storm. Dinner was supposed to be on Main Street, but one of the group who was already up there wisely decided that the eating establishments would have too long a wait, so we went to someone’s condo, drink wine and ate freshly prepared appetizers while we waited for the rest of the group … and pizza.
It was 8:55 pm and we were still sitting around chatting. The concert was supposed to start at 9 pm, but of course, you never really know how timely things are going to run til you arrive. We put on shoes and hopped in a few cars. Princess parking was not too hard to come by, amazingly, and fortunately for the one of us who wore 4″ heels. After a short hike up icy Main Street, we found our way to Harry O’s, where we bought tickets and checked our coats.
We’d heard the VIP seating areas on either side of the stage and along the walls were quite pricey … the figure I heard was $200 per seating area. People would actually sit through a concert with two of the country’s premier Celtic Rock bands? “This, I gotta see,” I thought to myself. I would have to have my legs chopped off not to be on the dance floor jigging and dancing to the whirring Irish tunes I knew would be emanating from the stage any minute. The Harry O’s staff politely but sternly kept me from even putting my ice water on the VIP area divider near the foot of the stage … so my pictures are mostly a one-handed effort.
Slaymaker Hill had just taken the stage. We’d seen them before at the Summer Irish Festival in Deer Valley. Someone mistakenly thought they were Swagger, and I assured them the Swagger musicians would be in kilts. In the end, only one was, and definitely eye candy for all the women in attendance.
Swagger’s set was about 50 minutes. After the concert, one of the band members told me they tour with and are the “warm up” band to The Young Dubliners, but they play it like their the stars, and in Utah, they most definitely are. I recognized many of their Celtic fusion songs since I have heard them play several times, and I would have seen them yet one more time had my plans to attend their recent Piper Down concert not been derailed by a broken furnace on a Saturday night. Suffice it to say, I’m addicted to their music – which merges Irish and Scottish traditional sounds with rock, funk, reggae, jazz, country and folk – and incredibly proud they’re from Utah. They play with unquenchable spirit and energy.
I’m sure it was frustrating to Swagger and the Young Dubliners that the crowd was light that evening, probably due to the extreme weather. Based on the number of Harry O’s staff present, I’m guessing they were geared up for a much larger audience. But as the saying goes, the show must go on.
Swagger’s lineup included the usual lively fare: “Morrisons Jig,” “Next Time I See Her,” and “Myrtle’s Daughter.” About the time they played “Whiskey in the Jar,” the crowd let loose, at least as far as I could see from the middle of the dance floor. We met and danced with some fine gentlemen from Salt Lake City who like us braved the roads to hear their favorite band, the Young Dubliners. Meanwhile, I glanced over at the VIP sections. They were filling up. Yes folks people really can and do sit during a Celtic rock concert. I didn’t even spy any toe-tapping. Their somewhat blank stares were perhaps an indication of irritation at the over-jubilant jigging and swinging crowd on the dance floor in the center of Harry’s.
In a conservative state where propriety is paramount, Swagger’s merchandising splashed their sense of humor across a t-shirt “What’s under your kilt?” They wrapped their packed set – 11 songs – with “Whiskey on the Floor” and “Paddies in America.”
Rick Butler – Vocals/Guitar/Mandolin
Dennis Harrington – Fiddle/Vocals
Sam Cottrell – Lead Guitar/Vocals
Bill Hepworth – Bass/Vocals
Mark Motonen – Drums
Seamus McKean – Guitars, Vocals, and Green Tambourines
with contributions by:
Eric Slaymaker – Tin Whistle and Mandolin
Kenny Gordon – keys, tin whistle, and anything else you hand him
Mike Gibbs – Bagpipes
The Young Dubliners kept the Celtic rock energy that Swagger had set up going strong with “Saoirse,” “Real World,” and “Howaya Girls.” Then … their music and the lights toned down for a few ballads and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I was not expecting this … I don’t remember the band mellowing their set at the Irish Festival this summer. But it was masterful nonetheless. The art of revving up the crowd at the entrance, toning down for a few numbers, and then building to a finish with songs such as their lively renditions of “Rosie” and the traditional “I’ll Tell Me Ma” is an art that only the great musicians and bands possess. Near the end of the set, they played a few numbers from the “Saints and Sinners” CD.
The story on the Young Dubs could’ve been far different. Though two founding members were from Ireland, they were based in Santa Monica and perhaps could’ve devoted themselves to Hollywood stunt acts or surfing their way to obscurity. Much to my delight, they embraced their Irish roots at the Irish Rover Pub back in 1988 and have been bringing their Celtic rock to audiences throughout the world ever since. They hold a special place in my heart … I love the music and one of the band members looks like an Irish fellow I used to date, perhaps not ironically the one who told me about the Young Dubs.
I looked at my cell phone clock shortly before 1 am. Yes it was incredibly late for a “school night.” And the Young Dubs carried such that we didn’t make it back to our cars in the Park and Ride til about 2 or so. The fatigue of the next day was something I could’ve done without. But the photos tell the story and the memories of a splendiferous evening will be discussed for a long time to come.
The Young Dubliners
Co-founder Keith Roberts (vocals, guitar)
Brendan Holmes (bass, vocals)
Bob Boulding (guitar, vocals)
Chas Waltz (violin, keyboards, harp, mandolin, vocals)
Dave Ingraham (drums, percussion)
Photography courtesy of Amy O’Neill