It seemed like four-time All-Ireland fiddle champion Dylan Foley and his bandmates hadn’t gotten through more than a few lines of a jig set when people had taken to the dance floor. When the tunes were over, he looked out to the audience in the auditorium at WHYY, gathered for the first-ever Sober St. Patrick’s Day party, and marveled—albeit in a cheeky way.
“We’ve been trying to get people to dance to our music for years. Who knew all we had to do was take away the alcohol.”
Foley’s quip drew laughs, but in a way he was right. A St. Patrick’s Day bash without booze is inexplicably freeing. Well over a hundred people crowded into the auditorium on Sunday following the Philadelphia parade—so many of them, in fact, that organizers had to scramble to find more chairs. Everybody seemed relaxed, and maybe it was because they could just be themselves. They didn’t need booze to have fun. In fact, it was precisely because no alcohol was served that many party-goers in recovery really could relax at a St. Patrick’s Day party for the first time in years. That’s if they’d ever gone at all.
The place was filled with families, too, and that’s not something you’re likely to see during a St. Patrick’s Day pub-crawl, either. Hot dogs moved, well, like hotcakes, and everybody noshed on cookies, chips, soda bread, cheese, and other party foods. Some of the best musicians you could find anywhere played for hours. Dancers, still fresh from the parade—they’re kids, so they don’t tire the way we do—pranced about the floor as party-goers clapped. The only thing that was missing was the one thing that precisely nobody missed at all.
“The appeal is great music, great dancing, and a place to go where you don’t have to worry about drinking,” said Katherine Ball-Weir, who, with partner Frank Daly, pulled off the spectacularly successful event.
Hosting a first-ever event of any kind can be a little nerve-wracking. You can never predict how it’s going to over. “Nobody knew what to expect,” said Ball-Weir.
At first ticket sales were a bit slow. That changed. “Every time somebody bought a ticket, I got a notice on my phone,” said Daly. His phone didn’t buzz much at first. But “in the last four to five days, ticket sales picked up,” says Daly, “which is typical.”
And some people decided to go really late in the game.
“Somebody bought seven tickets at 4:42,” Ball-Weir laughed. “The party started at 4.”
Now that they’ve proved the concept, Daly said, “I think it’ll grow every year, absolutely.”
No one could have been more thrilled than William Spencer Reilly, founder and producer of Sober St. Patrick’s Day, a concept now taking hold in many cities, including New York, Dublin, Belfast, Richmond, Va., Casper, Wyoming, and Avon Lake, Ohio.
“Both of these guys did a terrific job. I’m just thrilled,” said Reilly. “More than any other city, we wanted it here because of its history. You couldn’t have asked for a better team to do this. I have no doubt it’s going to grow in Philly.”
The party is also likely to do things for the local branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, which sponsored the event, Reilly said. (CCE is the world’s largest organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of traditional Irish music. Many people who previously haven’t been exposed to the tradition could become dedicated followers as a result.
Musicians like the party, too, but for another reason.
“Brian Conway (one of the top fiddlers in the world) put it best,” Reilly said. “He described it as ‘an oasis because people actually listen to me.’”
We have pictures from the party. Check them out.