Saturday, 18 September 2010

Joyful traditions open Michigan Irish Music Festival

MUSKEGON -- The crowd couldn't wait to get its Irish on.
The Michigan Irish Music Festival opened Friday at Heritage Landing at 5 p.m. on the dot, but eager fans began to congregate half an hour early to listen to Irish-American duo Switchback perform a pre-concert at the gate. As the hour drew closer, however, some fans jokingly shouted, "It's 5 o'clock somewhere!"

Switchback played traditional Irish music, as well as their tribute to the festival volunteers, "The Michigan Irish Festival Song."
"You'll probably hear that about thirty times this weekend," guitarist and bassist Matin McCormack said. "We're here making sure you all turn to Irishmen and women the moment you step through the 'portal of transformation.'"
Mary Buckley Ellis, of Muskegon, is one of the few who can say she's 100 percent Irish. She and a non-Irish friend, Betsy Schappert of Twin Lake, were dancing in the Bob & Bernie's Pub tent to quintet Kennedy's Kitchen.
"For the next three days, everybody's Irish," Ellis said. "Look at the joy here. Everybody knows they're just going to have a fabulous time."
Ellis said she has cousins who came from Detroit and from Arizona to attend the festival.
Nancy Kowalski, who is not Irish, said she came to Muskegon from Chicago for the first time to hear the music.
"For a small town, the way this is set up is very fine," she said. "It's beautiful."
Necia Colleen Wheeler, of Muskegon, said the festival has done a good job of bringing people to town and keeping it organized.
"It's not a drunken brawl yet," she joked.
Though no fights broke out, the performers paid tribute to the stereotypical Irish love of drinking.
Kennedy's Kitchen played a song called "Whiskey," and a version of "Do-Re-Mi" from "The Sound of Music" with the line "Do, a beer." They also sang that "I want a beer just like the beer that pickled dear old Dad."
Drinking wasn't the only Irish custom celebrated, however. Cathy and Steve Smith of Columbus, Ohio, gave a presentation on the tradition of holding a "wake" before a funeral to celebrate the life of the deceased, with a stuffed dummy playing the man being honored.
It's important to have salt on hand for your wake to keep the fairies away, Cathy Smith said, because in Irish lore they aren't like Tinkerbell.
"They say fairies get smaller the less you believe in them. Irish fairies are four, four-and-a-half feet tall. They are not cute," she said. "If they took you, you would probably never be seen again. If you were seen again, you would probably be dead."
The festival is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. today, and from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Joyful traditions open Michigan Irish Music Festival in Muskegon |

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