Irish Fest you are my sunshine.
It was 2012; it was Milwaukee Irish Fest and my first ever gig in America. To say I was a confused 21 year-old would have been an understatement, considering 6 years later I am only marginally more focused! We Banjo 3 was still in its infancy with just about enough music to put together a show, checkered shirts everywhere and the now famous red pants had yet to surface. We arrived to our first show on the pub stage with about 14 instruments and more enthusiasm than sense.
I grew up in Ardrahan, this tiny town on the outskirts of Galway city, surrounded by green fields and small pubs. My Dad inspired the singer-songwriter in me, while my mother gave me the gift of the gab. Then there’s Martin, my oldest and closest friend, my safety net and accomplice, my bandmate and dear brother. Every project and band we’ve ever been in has been together. We succeed together and we’ve been there for each other's failures.
Milwaukee is where We Banjo 3 took a leap from being a part-time music project to a full-time band with a mission. There are many factors that fueled this fire, but community held the brightest flame.
Walking the festival grounds, the smell of buttered corn and the vibrations of laughter, I learned more in a weekend than the previous 20 years! The thing is we all start somewhere, even legends like Gaelic Storm, The Chieftains and Solas had to play in a small tent somewhere for 10 people at 11:00 am, because those 10 people matter.
We rejoiced in the idea that anyone showed up to our first gig. Our second gig our crowd almost doubled, by our third the tent was packed and more were streaming in. The energy in that tiny tent seemed to be infectious, tables and chairs became obsolete and people took to their feet to dance. The only table that remained was the one Fergal stood on, ripping through his fiddle bow.
On Sunday, the heat was stifling and our last show approached. We had been pre-warned of an impending storm but it wouldn't be Irish Fest without a good Irish downpour! Before we even took to stage, the tent, meant for about 100 people, was packed far beyond that; kids sat on the stage to make room for others. Half way through the show, more people filtered in and the crowd quickly outgrew the tent. Then the heavens opened, the rain thundered from the sky and engulfed the festival grounds. I looked at the others, dread in our eyes, the crowd would surely evaporate seeking better shelter.
I opened my mouth and sang the first line “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine….”, then the most beautiful communal problem solving choir ensued. The entire crowd sang whilst tables and all other unnecessary objects were folded and removed, people opened their arms to each other and every available inch of that tent was occupied.
Music is community, whether its learning from one another, healing one another or helping one another, music brings us together. Total strangers sing together, fathers and daughters dance, teenagers laugh with their taxi driver moms and musicians pepper the landscape.
You get what you give in this life. You want kindness? Give kindness. Love? Then open your heart to those around you. Community? Create the community you seek, open you arms and gather in all you can.
Watch clips from their 2012 performance, below, recorded by the Ward Irish Music Archives.