Thursday, October 11, 2007
Weston Irish Festival
Posted by Bull E. Vard
In the truly terrible movie "The Devil's Own", Brad Pitt was fond of saying, "this isn't an American story, it's an Irish one". For me, the Weston Irish Festival, reminds me of this saying. Don't get me wrong, the Weston Irish is the best Irish festival in town, but I have an Irish story to go along with it.
When I first moved up to KC a couple of weeks before the Irish festival, I didn't really know anyone. My old college roommate, Killian Red, lived up here somewhere but I'd lost his phone number and other info, I didn't know anybody at my new job and I didn't know any great places to go. My company had me put up at some corporate housing way out at 119th and Roe so I didn't even feel like I was part of the city, although I spent some quality time at Paddy O'Quigley's across the street. In short, I didn't really talk too much and my arm was starting to hurt.
My brother, Busch Light, and his wife were coming up for Weston Irish so I made sure I was going to go so that I had some contact with someone I knew. I printed out a map, I thought about going to AAA to get a Trip-Tik, but I didn't know where a AAA was. Off to Weston I went. I had no idea what to expect, Busch Light had told me O'Malley's was a really cool bar and the music would be great. What I didn't expect was Weston. Coming from Wichita, anyplace that's hilly is instantly mysterious and cool, and Weston is hilly, they have a ski "mountain" there. On the downside, the roads were only about a lane and a half wide and there were cars parked everywhere, making driving very hazardous. I've since learned to just get down the main street and park at the bottom of the hill wherever you see a spot. Then just walk up the street and stop at the mom and pop shops, stop into the McCormick factory store and have a coupl'o shots for a quarter and make your way to O'Malley's. But at the time, I had a Wichita mentality, which, for those without that affliction, is to drive to the front door and get upset when there isn't a parking place right there. I finally found a spot about a half-click away (is a click a mile, did I spell click right? I just want to sound cool.)
As I walked up to the gate I saw my brother, his wife and their weird friend, Sam Adams Cherry Wheat (Sam Cherry for short). What fortuitous timing I have, they were staying in Junction City and took a party bus in which is about $5 and is a really great idea because Weston isn't very close to town. We paid the ten bones to get in and immediately set out to find a beer. I don't recall if we were paying in cash that year or not, but now, you buy tickets (50 cents each) and everything is priced in tickets (Guinness 7 tickets, something like that), because you apparently can't trust the Irish with cash. Or more likely, you can really trick the Irish by making them do math. If I don't stop now, I'll just make Irish jokes the rest of the post.
I started with a Guinness, I knew it would be a long day (we got there about 1) and I wanted something heavy so I didn't burn out around 4. Still, a pretty sound strategy. The band at the outdoor stage wasn't really doing it for us and I wanted to check out the bar so we headed down. For those that don't know, O'Malley's is a truly unique bar. O'Malley's was built, I believe, as part of a winery and has 3 rooms which were used to store wine barrels. Basically the bar is an underground warehouse with 3 cement rooms cut out of the Weston stone. In each of these 3 rooms is a stage and during Irish Fest an Irish performer doing their thing. You get a schedule of all the acts and when they appear on which stage when you come in the door. For those planning on going this weekend here is the stage schedule.
We made our way down to one of the stages where Bob Reeder was cranking out his version of some of the classic Irish folk music, it was too early and too many kids around for the dirty limerick (more on this later). But, he's a fun performer anyway and we really enjoyed his set. When he finished up we were able to grab a chair at the bar railing overlooking the stage (sitting down in the bar is a rare thing) so we had a chance to talk a little bit and order more beer. The next act on the stage really did a great job getting everyone involved and singing. This was about a month after 9/11 and whoever the band was did a great job talking about our troops, firefighters and police; when I think of 9/11, I like to think a little bit about this band and this particular crowd experience, it's kind of what I think is the good that came from that horrible day.
On to more fluff, I ordered another beer, Black and Tan this time, need to ease myself into the light stuff. As the day went on, we made an appearance at all of the stages, having a good time, drinking many a beer. Around dinner time we went up to the food tents where traditional Irish fare was to be had. I was very leery of Irish food and at first glance didn't see anything that sounded in any way good. Still today, it's kind of a crapshoot what food they have and if you're not really into Irish food, you should prolly pack a lunch, but I can usually find something good to eat. On this day though, I decided on the ham sandwich on sweet potato biscuit. Holy lord was it good. It could have been the Guinness talking but I dare say that's the best sweet potato biscuit ham sandwich I've ever had (only). I've tried to recreate it a couple of times in the Bull E. Vard kitchens and I've yet to come up with anything near as good. True, I haven't tried my creations after 5 beers.
After dinner, we sat down and got ready to see the headliner band, The Elders. I seemed to recall, on one of my trips up to see Killian, that I had seen this band before and really liked them. I was right, I friggin' love the Elders. If you haven't heard Irish music and don't think you will, you're really missing out because the Elders have a great rock n' roll sound with an Irish sensibility (I'm shooting for an album cover quote). Nickel Creek kind of reminds me of the Elders, but the Elders are a little more rock than that and not quite as country. But, basically bluegrass and Irish music are pretty close.
I should mention this because my wife Stella didn't listen to me on her first experience at Irish fest, take a jacket. No matter what the weather is like when you leave your house, it's going to be cold when the sun goes down. Take a jacket, you won't be sorry. It got real cold during the Elders' set so we decided to go down to the main bar stage and see another band. Then Reeder came on at something like 11. Mind you, I'd been drinking for 10 hours at this point, so there was a pretty good chance that I was going to make it onto the stage. Reeder allows drunks to entertain the audience with the dirty limerick portion of the show. He gets the whole thing going by telling 10 or so of his favorites. His fans know them and shout them out with him. It's really a great time. He also allows the audience to come up on stage and tell their own dirty limerick. These usually involve someone in their group and Nantucket, and for the most part they're pretty funny. When I found this out I knew that I had to come up with some dope rhymes myself, pronto, or I'd be bogus too (Spicoli voice). Now, it's been several years and many beers ago, so I have no idea what my limerick was. I'm absolutely certain that it was very dirty and very funny, because I got quite the warm reception as I got off the stage. At this point, I got separated from Sam Cherry and Busch Light and found a seat in a booth with 7 people I didn't know.
O'Malley's is the type of place that grabbing an open chair at a table where you know no one is perfectly acceptable and encouraged. At this table sat a married couple around 40, a married couple around 60, an English girl, an ex-military guy and Vera Farmiga (or she looked like Vera Farmiga). I couldn't place Vera yet, and I was sitting next to the English girl, so I started talking to her. She was a foreign exchange student, I kid you not, but, in the study abroad type, meaning she was in college. I just dig an accent and have/had a bit of a reputation about being with girls with accents. I thought, at the time, it would be funny to have this girl leave a voicemail for my friend in Wichita at my old job. I thought it would be heeeeeeeee-larious for him to listen to his voicemail on Monday morning and hear this English girl telling how she met me. I found out on Monday that I was really drunk and he couldn't understand anything. English girl had to push off because she was going back to England in the morning. I think now she may have been attempting to get away from me. I headed back downstairs (we were upstairs for the cell phone reception, you don't get good service in caves) to talk some more to Vera.
I'd had the feeling that military guy and Vera were together, but I wasn't getting that feeling anymore after I sat down. Something told me he knew her about the same as me. Ka-ching. Then I place her, she looked like Vera Farmiga who was on this crappy show I had been watching called "UC: Undercover", because I had a crush on Vera Farmiga and John Seda (but that's for another post about Buddies). When I told her I had a crush on her doppelganger I had an in that military guy couldn't match (plus he was a bit of a jerk). We chatted for about an hour, Busch Light and my sister in law kept coming by to check if I was around, and I finally said "look, I'm closing a deal and you're ruining it, go away". Anyway, the bar was shutting down and the deal wasn't closed yet. I was in no condition to drive the 40 or so miles home, so I knew I had one shot. I laid out the gold standard "I know you don't like me or anything, but I need a ride home" line. It worked. Yada yada yada the next morning as she was leaving she asked for my phone number and I gave it to her. This was a completely new phone number that I had just gotten a day or two before and I thought I had it memorized, I'm pretty good with numbers, so I just wrote down what I remembered. When Busch Light called me about 30 minutes later, I asked him what the number was he just dialed. This is what makes it an Irish story, I had transposed the last 2 numbers. Stupid Guinness. I was so full of Irish I turned a good American story into an Irish one.
I go back to Weston every year for the Irish Festival. It's the best event of the year in my book. Go this weekend and get your Irish on Friday night through Sunday. O'Malley's truly is the pub you've been practicing for as it says on their waitresses shirts.