Citizens Report American Irish Culture

Danahey on the Loose at Milwaukee Irish Fest

Ronan TynanRonan Tynan makes me cry.

Beautiful as his voice may be, one note out of the big tenor, and I am suddenly blubbery, like a sad Beluga.

It didn’t help Sunday at the Milwaukee Irish Fest that I get melancholy and wistful this time of the year anyway. I don’t know why my biological clock is wired as it is, but for as long as I can remember, once mid-August hits, I get the blues.

I did well in school, and back then it would hit like a stack of textbooks ( Sure there were A’s to be made, but I wanted to remain in sunshine and not head into a cinderblock classroom.

The weather in the Chicago area – where I have lived most of my life – is usually at its best in late August and early September ( – and Sunday was a glorious day, a Midwest version of what San Diego apparently has most of the year. Yet, once I sense the dying of the light, I’m all nostalgic for spring and summer and dreading the cloud cover that is November through February.

Hearing Danny Boy or The Rose of Tralee is not a cure for this (

Sunday, this made me want to walk into Lake Michigan. It also had me wondering if the ocean cruises Tynan hosts are on ships with safety nets deployed.

“No wonder Irish people have seasonal affective disorder,” my best fest buddy Tom said during Tynan’s set.

Mind you, this is not to denigrate Tynan’s talent. I want a voice like that for myself, and since I can’t have one, I want one to sing at my fat Irish wake.

To make everybody else cry – then my mourners can switch on my iPod to the Ramones ( or other raucous, joyous noise and have drinks.

Until that day, I am sure this late summer malady will afflict me.

Sad sack singer James Taylor croons that the secret of life is enjoying the passing of time ( This theory doesn’t account for the building dread related to the imminent lack thereof – and Taylor admits in this very song that even Einstein couldn’t understand it all.

Which is to say, short of living six months in the Southern Hemisphere, I am never too happy about winter coming – and perplexed that the whirl that is the festivals and events I use to mark time seems spinning faster and faster.

Milwaukee’s magnificent Irish Fest has been part of this mix for me for about 10 years, since my buddy Shay Clarke would come up from the Chicago suburbs with his jewelry business, selling Claddagh rings, wedding bands and other baubles by the goldmine-ful.


Then it would be Labor Day. Then football season starts, and I am falling asleep during another boring Bears game on a neighbor’s sofa or maybe off to an occasional Notre Dame or Northwestern game.

Then it’s Ringling Bros. Circus and Thanksgiving and my annual ploy to see how many dinners I can get invited to and attend. Then it’s Christmas, New Year’s Day, the Super Bowl, and I can’t wait for St. Patrick’s Day and Daylight Savings Time and for it all to start again.

But back to the event at hand.

Speaking of St. Pat’s Day, the Milwaukee Irish Fest featured a number of acts worthy of the WTTW/PBS pledge drive that happens – along with the umpteen showing of “The Quiet Man” – every March.

Case in point: happy-go-lucky Carlos Nunez (


The bit we caught of his set had him playing a number of instruments, including what seemed to be a pan flute, a la Zamfir. He brought a pipe and drum unit on stage. His group played and danced to Cotton Eyed Joe. A guy dressed as St. Patrick – but with his wife and wearing Fila shoes – was taking in the show.

There was not a genre of Celtic-tinged music he didn’t offer in his jovial way. Thin, with a bald on the top, scraggy in the back look, Nunez appears as if he could walk across a stage on a high wire or perform some sort of Cirque du Soleil stunt. Or he may be the long, lost brother of cloying Italian actor Roberto Benigni (

Either way, I wish Nunez could have convinced those “little” puppet people who were cavorting about the fest grounds to join him for a number.

Also special-worthy would be the Red Hot Chili Pipers (, a kilted band which Scotches up rock and pop tunes, plays ones that already have a touch of Scotch such as AC/DC’s Thunderstruck, and offers originals. Come to think of it, rockin’ bagpipes are what it would sound like if Stevie Nix, a goose, and a goat mutated together, X-Men style.

This is way preferable to hear than, say, Mumford and Sons or the Lumineers or any other of those current folkie acts. In fact, I tried to get people at the Milwaukee gathering representing the Temple Bar Trad Fest ( to promise me they would beat any of the above with drumsticks should they show up at their event.

Best of all about the Chili Pipers is that they have the most attractive Irish step dancers I have seen in recent years. They dress  in a way that made we want to dig for all the singles in my wallet.

Unfortunately, we didn’t catch all of the set, due in large part to an older drunk guy with a Ditka mustache, an aluminum Miller Lite bottle, and the demeanor of somebody on oe of those old celebrity roasts hosted by Dean Martin. With plenty of bench to spare, this dude parked himself right next to Tom, touching him even.

Tom has been told that he has the most beautiful eyes, but this was ridiculous. Then the overly intimate jackass asked if Tom had heard of the band. Tom doesn’t even look at McDrunky and tells him no.

“What do you mean you’ve never heard of the Red Hot Chili Pipers?” the intruder of personal space implored.

While Tom may or may not have known the Pipers, I’m betting this sauced strange stranger will have no recollection of seeing the Sunday Irish fest performance.

Tom also thought he saw a relative – in photo form hanging in the genealogy tent. It may or may not be somebody on his mother’s side who settled in Minnesota. She looked nothing like him. She had hair.

Also on shaky memory cell ground was another Modern Immaturity guy who was sporting a hat made out of the tall Guinness cans.

I sensed a touch of regret about his fashion choice. For after some attractive, green-clad women had their picture taken with his tin-head, he poured out what was left of his beer.20512_10201141936063597_1620707887_n

Believe it or not, Mr. Ripley, Tom and I did a minimal amount of drinking Sunday. We did eat, of course, opting for Scotch eggs on a stick, corned beef and some so-so haggis sausage.

On the return home, we stopped at a Dog N Suds ( just across the border in Richmond, Il. Where we live, getting a root beer float there from a car hop has been a rite upon returning from Lake Geneva or other vacation spots since the time before subdivisions stretched to McHenry and beyond.

It’s not nostalgia unless you always expect your visit to be the same.

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