I’ve decided it’s time for Best Fest Buddy Tom to heed his true calling and become the star of his own Netflix series.
The premise: Tom goes undercover at parties and festivals to solve crimes, sort of like Jessica Fletcher from Murder She Wrote meets Miami Vice or 21 Jump Street or Charlie’s Singular Cherub or Castle XXL, but in a kilt or lederhosen or baggy shorts. Whatever garb it takes to solve whatever mayhem might happen at a fest. Maybe we’ll call it Irish Heat.
We didn’t actually see any crimes at the Highland Games and Scottish Festival over the Father’s Day weekend. In fact, it’s on our annual list of fests not-to-miss and generally seems a pretty safe place.
We did witness a badly aging biker fighting with his jolly drunk sister and her mean daughter, which isn’t a crime. That was just sad and what you can see at pretty much any summer festival.
The was no sabotaged cut log in the caber toss. The haggis was nice and smoky. No one poisoned the whisky tastings.
I even tried something called Oma’s (German for grandma) Cherry Vodka, which is made with Michigan cherries and is an acceptable ingredient for making a take on one of those copper cup mule drinks. The Crabbie’s ginger beer paired nicely with a bourbon from Wisconsin’s J. Henry & Sons.
Ok. There was a guy milling about sporting a cheetah print kilt, which may have been a fashion crime – or a clan the other clans just refuse to discuss.
But the mind reeled with Scottish plot possibilities, especially since Tom already has t-shirts to blend into just about any fest, his Saturday choice of “Rub Me Shamrock for Luck,” a fine, if grammatically confusing, example.
Past the Scottish fest, that Saturday night we hit the Schaumburg Park District’s Solstice Hop & Vine Fest, where Tom worked as a bar back for the Village Vintner, which is an awesome undercover job, as you get to watch people drink and occasionally flirt or be flirted to. Again, Tom had the shirt for the occasion, this one reading, “You can’t drink all day if you don’t start in the morning.”
Because of a mini monsoon that lasted about an hour, they moved the gathering into a gym with a wooden floor in a rec center that has a pool and at which you had to use the locker rooms to go to the bathroom.
If you can’t picture Angela Lansbury solving a crime in that setting, well you don’t know television and are not old enough to have parents who loved that mystery-solving queen.
Plus, middle-aged Schaumburg people really, really seemed to like to drink. While these folks seemed amiable enough, on TV such behavior almost always leads to trouble. Fun can be fatal or worse on cable, particularly HBO.
Anyway, after the early marking of the longest day-part day of the year, we headed to the Lucky Monk in South Barrington for a bite to eat.
There, we very well may have overheard our first crime – a wedding party in another part of the establishment murdering a Journey song.
They were so tone-deaf, I offered Tom $5 to tell the singers that, thanks to them, he had decided to stop believing. A true undercover eater, he declined.
The prior weekend we hit the Irish American Heritage Center for the Celtic Concert of the summer.
No, that blowhard Bono didn’t show up in his silly sunglasses with the rest of self-serious U2 to perform an intimate, acoustic version of the whole damn Joshua Tree album – to be watched by votive candlelight, no doubt.
I’m talking about the Byrne and Kelly show up in the center’s ballroom. In case you think maybe former Talking Head David Byrne has paired up with Kelly Ripa for a night of cabaret, think again.
Neil Byrne and Ryan Kelly are two of the Celtic Thunder guys, and they and their band offered a perfectly pleasant, free of histrionics, set of Irish trad and original tunes that would fit right in on a mix with the likes of Fleetwood Mac, the Mamas and Papas, John Hiatt and Bonnie Raitt.
The duo even does pledge drives for WTTW, and I’m pretty sure that’s not to work off some community service obligation from having too many parking tickets for their tour bus.
Tom blended in nicely for that night. He had on a green shirt, like some of the other guys there, most of whom I think were husbands whose wives made them go, judging by the estrogen to testosterone ratio in the room.
In such a setting, for the Netflix series, Tom could go gigolo to infiltrate the soft underbelly of the world of senior citizen ladies who love the Irish lad bands after one, a rich widow from Orland Park, vanishes after heading downstairs to get a corned beef sandwich at the bar before a show.
Or something like that.
Tom did not accompany me to a Civil War reenactment the first weekend in June, where he could have found who was using typhoid as a bioweapon or who used a drone to spook horses. And he didn’t go with me to the wedding the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend of Conor Clarke and Mary Knuth, which was held in The Greenhouse Loft in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood.
Being a true suburbanite, I dreaded heading into Chicago on a late Saturday afternoon and trying to find parking at a place where there was no free lot. But it only took 45 minutes to get there, I parked less than a block away, I only had one plate of food, and I didn’t have any alcohol to drink, even!
I did place next to the wedding card basket a vinyl Bill Cosby album that, for some unknown reason was among records just sitting there in a sitting room off the big dining hall. The lp’s title: Bill Cosby Is Not Himself These Days.
The Greenhouse Loft is space converted into offices and a big room for meetings and banquets, with a courtyard from which you can watch commuter trains pass close by. Who doesn’t want a train rumbling by as vows are exchanged?
There’s even an out-of-place restaurant inside the Loft which serves “sustainably sourced cafe fare,” whatever price point that means. It’s called Arbor, so maybe everything is wood-based, including the drinks.
The wedding was very much of this decade, with a wise elderly earth mother serving as the minister, the couple writing their own vows, the rings being passed around to all the guests (thankfully, Gollum wasn’t invited), the crowd blessing the couple, with hands raised in the air to show they cared, the food being organic, the booze being brought in from home to save money, and Conor’s old band tearing through tunes from the 50s through today’s top hits.
I thanked my buddy and father of the groom, Shay Clarke, via text the next morning for the “wistful, wonderful evening.”
“Wistful?” Shay texted back.
“There’s always a sweet sadness after a nice night,” texted me.
“You are seriously f—-d up,” Shay texted.
“Nah. Just poetic,” I typed. “It’s why people cry at weddings.”
As that may or may not imply, wedding receptions would be another setting begging for some crime-solving, but, come to think of it, there’s another way to go with the show pitch.
Tom’s series could be one of those so-called reality shows, this one called Undercover Fest Fixer, which would combine elements of Undercover Boss with Restaurant Rescue, but set at festivals, weddings, bar mitzvahs, Venetian nights, dance contests and bowl-athons..
Either way, summer just started, so we have plenty of time to figure it out.