Jim O’Connor from the band Boston Blackthorne here again to relate our exploits over the Irish High Holidays, 2012. Faced with a daunting schedule of 5 gigs in 3 days on either side of the great state of Massachusetts it was the best of years and the worst of years! Heading out on the road, the disabled list for our 5 piece Celtic band read like the Boston Red Sox last September right down to the beer and chicken in the clubhouse. This included a broken leg (mine), a recently repaired rotator cuff (bass), a thrown back (guitar) and our fiddler and drummer, Hear no Evil and Speak no Evil. Now some would think that an acoustic Celtic band leaves the heavy metal at home but we pack upwards of 10,000 watts of power and 15 instruments to most gigs. And the roadies left with the groupies years ago. It was all on us and certainly no country for old Irishmen…
Our first gig was on Friday morning at the Lowell Chamber of Commerce Irish Breakfast- first call was at the ungodly hour of 4 A.M! When the gentleman from the chamber first contacted me for the gig, he started to go through event program. I told them to hold it right there- so long as the breakfast is decent and the jokes are fresh we’re your men. I know about these things- for over 30 years my father was the Master of Ceremonies for the Irish Breakfast in Northampton MA. I remember how he would start preparing a month in advance; taking down all of his accordion files filled with jokes and all the joke books friends gave him as presents over the years and spreading them out on the spare bed. He would point to the books and shake his head, “There is not one decent joke between those covers but they keep giving them to me.” Then after carefully perusing the bits of paper on which countless jokes were scribbled he would begin to put his show together, “This one’s funny, and I haven’t told it in 4 years…”
My father never missed a breakfast in over 30 years and performed in front of 500 each year well until he was nearly 90. He almost missed his last year sidelined with a persistent bloody nose, one of the many indignities of age. But my niece who was helping him get ready was quick with a solution. She reached into her purse and grabbed a product guaranteed to stop the flow and packed it up his nose- it worked like a charm. There was a picture that day of my father on the front page of the paper laughing hysterically at his own joke (his trademark). Only if you get out the magnifying glass can you see the telltale string.
Well the Lowell breakfast was great fun, honestly the level of humor was very high- the Lowell pols really know how to tell a story. The room was electrified by the presence of celebrity adversaries Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren, both running for the Senate seat. We played the Irish National Anthem and the crowd sang along to Danny Boy- it was like old times.
Then back in the truck and the trip from the gritty mill city, home of the industrial revolution, to the tiny town of Westhampton MA, a place in many ways unchanged since those times. We had a concert in the newly constructed library and it was beyond sold out. This was partly due to my niece’s preschool-age son and daughter who each sent a personal invitation to every student in their school. From toddlers seated at the foot of the stage to senior citizens in the Boston Blackthorne t-shirts it was a real celebration and a special night for the band. Many of our families are from the area and the place was packed with old and new friends.
Despite admonishments to get an early start and a good night’s sleep since we had another 2 gigs the next day and after all had been working since 4 A.M. it was back to Jon’s house down the road where the sessuin began and continued on until the small hours of the morning. We can’t help it- we love to play and it is a great time to try out new songs or ones we haven’t played in years but somehow remember like we last played them yesterday.
The next day was another study in contrasts. First an elegant Irish wedding in the afternoon then a mad dash down Mount Tom to Holyoke MA, home of the oldest St. Patrick’s Day Parade in the nation. Holyoke is a “sister city” to Lowell with mills and canals from the same era, and in many ways fallen on hard times. But once a year thousands descend on the city to celebrate and the Mecca is my Cousin Pat Brennan’s pub on High Street. We played Saturday night and Sunday right after the parade. For an Irish band there is nothing like the St. Patrick’s Day crowd in a real Irish pub. The place is full of local characters, not all of them related to me, and cops and firefighters from all over the region there to march and celebrate. My brother Tom and his friend drove all the way from VA each having finished recent stints in Afghanistan. Cousins came out of the woodwork after the house party ended and acquaintances we only know for this weekend each year celebrated and sang with us like long lost comrades.
And in a flash it was over for the year, the equipment packed away for the long ride home. The following week a few of the lads played at a reading of Kevin O’Hara from his great book “The Last of the Donkey Pilgrims”, a must read about his trip around Ireland in a donkey cart in the 1970′s. Chetz played the jig based on the book that was featured on our last album, County Kerry to Kerry Park.
It will be quiet for a few weeks, time to woodshed on the fiddle, take in a sessuin, and maybe even write a song. Then it usually gets busy over the summer with outdoor town center concerts and festivals. Here’s to the lads in the band, another fine year to look back on and another fine one to come. Come out and join us just as soon as you can!