Shamrocks, shillelaghs, and shenanigans
"So it goes!"
The leprechauns were up to their old tricks last week. They were messing with my normally quite tranquil cultural sensibility.
Once I had finished topping off my St. Patrick’s Day weekend social calendar by adding the annual "Blessing of the Guinness Keg" ritual down at the old Union Depot for Friday evening, the mischievous little buggers set about muddying the waters.
They accomplished this by dangling various and sundry equally tantalizing temptations in front of my admittedly undisciplined appetite for cultural diversion. The first rabbit out of their hat got their foot in the door. The Yonder Mountain String Band would be performing just a few steps away from the "Blessing" site at The Depot venue, also in the Gateway, later Friday night.
Having not caught their act since their quite rompin’ performance as part of one of the last Deer Valley Bluegrass Festivals, I was all over it. The timing was perfect and the logistics were, to say the least, user friendly. I saw participation in both the "Blessing" and the trek up Yonder Mountain as a no-brainer.
It was then that my Irish elfin friends dropped the other shoe: a CD release party involving the Red Rock Hot Club with special guest guitarist Mike Miller who would be flying in from Los Angeles. They knew I couldn’t pass on such a virtuoso gypsy-jazz musical gathering and they took special joy in the fact that it would be overlapping both the keg ceremony and the Yonder Mountain show. Well, so it goes: feast or famine.
In an attempt to acquire at least two out of the three, however, I first checked in at the 100-year-old Ladies Literary Club on South Temple which was serving as venue for the Red Rock Hot Club gathering. There appeared to be a modest window wherein a couple of pilgrims could catch the keg blessing and then still scurry back in time for the Django-ish musings of RRHC.
Not to be, however! The Hibernian Society folk down in the cavernous Union Depot, while busily setting up for the next day’s après-parade shenanigans, were acutely on schedule when it came to filling their own cups with Guinness but were somewhat less so in blessing the keg. So it goes!
Luckily for the thrill seekers in question, however, beginning with the aforementioned events at the Ladies Literary Club, there were plenty more cultural fish to fry. Suffice to say, the Red Rock Hot Club, along with their very special guests, kicked off the weekend in quite-fine fashion with a rollickin’ display of acoustic swing jazz that would have had both Django Reinhardt and Fats Waller on their feet begging for more.
As far as the weekend’s social calendar, of course, this was all prelude to the parade in honor of St. Patrick that would begin to snake through the Gateway the following morning. Not to mention the border-crossin’ gallivant up to Pete’s Roc N Rye Saloon in Evanston following the shamrock and shillelagh affair.
There’s really nothing quite like immersing oneself in a sea of green with a quorum of Irish and those who lease the designation for a day. Many non-Irish treat Saint Patrick’s Day in a manner similar to the way I slip a virtual serape over my shoulder and toss back an agave nectar or two on Cinco de Mayo. Through ritual and culture, we become one!
It’s not totally unlike what we Utahns are looking for when we head up to Wyoming to gain an audience with Stan Taggart, the West’s most well-read barkeep. Just by hooking your boot heels on one of his barstools, you’re instantly transformed into a high plains drifter a rustic intellectual, of sorts.
An evening at Pete’s is basically a swap meet of books and tall tales played out against a backdrop of Hank Williams, John Prine, Emmylou Harris, Lyle Lovett, Townes Van Zandt and the like. But it’s not a trickster-free landscape, by any means. Irish elves like Pete’s too.
You can’t go around unarmed on St. Paddy’s Day weekend, of course, not in this leprechaun-riddled environment. Myself, I exercised my (Irish) constitutional rights by packing a quite gnarly blackthorn shillelagh right out in the open for all to see. And, as I expected, I didn’t have to crack one cranium.
In fact, I didn’t see one donnybrook. Not that the celebration at the Gateway wasn’t wild and crazy. It’s just that everyone gets along these days. Even the Irish wolfhounds kept their peace when the basset hounds waddled away with the Best Dog parade-entry award. So it goes!
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.
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