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Dance, Food & Drink, Music

Northeast Philly Irish Festival 2015

Organizer Bill Reid kept the rain out and the Irish in, all of them gathered under the big tent behind the Cannstatter Club in Northeast Philadelphia.

Deborah Streeter-Davitt of MacDougall's Irish Victory Cakes

Deborah Streeter-Davitt of MacDougall’s Irish Victory Cakes

Saturday was the first of two days celebrating all things Irish, with a raft of performers, including Deirdre Reilly,the Bogside Rogues, Belfast Connection, The Hooligans and the Fitzpatrick Dancers, plus lots of vendors hawking jewelry, T-shirts, whiskey cakes and scones.

There was a big dance floor in front of the stage, and although there weren’t a lot of dancers, those who stepped up did so with the enthusiasm dancers tend to have in buckets full.

We caught all of the action.

Dance, Music

We Were Wearing Our Movie Directors’ Hats, Too

Seamus Kennedy in a reflective moment.

Seamus Kennedy in a reflective moment.

These days, when we go to many Philly Irish events, we’re occasionally doing double duty. You’ll sometimes see one of us with both a still camera and a video camera draped about the next. We’re often confused about what to do with which.

We got over our confusion the day of the Philly Fleadh down at the Cherokee Festival Grounds last weekend, enough so that you can see some of the dancing, hear some of the music, and generally take in all of the fun.

Dance, Music

Picture This: The 2015 Philadelphia Fleadh

Maggie Carr Wreski and John Byrne share a laugh.

Maggie Carr Wreski and John Byrne share a laugh.

For one day, the Cherokee Festival Grounds was a microcosm of just about everything that is Irish in the Delaware Valley.

On Saturday, this broad tree-lined lawn played host to a fèis—an Irish dance competition sponsored by the Celtic Flame School of Dance—along with open-air concerts by Burning Bridget Cleary, Jamison Celtic Rock, Seamus Kennedy, Ray Coleman, the Mahones, the Bogside Rogues, and pretty much of the royalty of Irish music from Philly and beyond, traditional and otherwise. People lined up for chips on a stick—what genius invented them?—hot dogs, burgers, bite-sized Guinness cupcakes with swirls of Bailey’s frosting–and again we ask, what genius invented them?–and cold brews to wash it all down with. There were vendors all over the place. If you wanted to buy a Goth-y corset, the Philly Fleadh was just the place to get one.

Thank America Paddy’s Productions for pulling it all off smoothly. We ran into one of the aforementioned Paddys, Jamison front man Frank Daly, who seemed a whole lot more relaxed about things this year than last. And that, even after a last-minute switch from the original festival location, Pennypack Park. Everything worked out for the best—maybe better than the best.

We have a pile of pictures from the day.

Here ya go:

 

 

Dance, Music, News

Philly’s First-Ever Sober St. Patrick’s Day

Family-friendly fun

Family-friendly fun

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.

Dance, News, People

They Danced Till They Dropped

Louie Bradley feels the love after he and partner Michele Quinn win the contest.

Louie Bradley feels the love after he and partner Michele Quinn win the contest.

It was the fourth year for the Delaware County Gaels terpsichorean fundraiser, Dancing Like a Star, and it just keeps getting better and better.

Eight couples competed in foxtrot, swing, and dances of various eras at the event, which drew 700 people to the Springfield Country Club on February 20. Jennaphr Frederick of Fox 29 put in her third year as event emcee, though Bob Kelly, who recently joined the Fox affiliate after years with CBS3, blew in for a brief appearance. Judges included dancers and dance instructors Carole Orlandi Barr, Wayne St. David, and Jenna Rose Pepe, with guest judge Peter Papas, of the Philadelphia Union broadcast team and veteran goalie with the Philadelphia Kixx.

The winners, who were selected not only on their abilities to dance but to also raise money, were Louie Bradley, chairman of the youth Gaelic sports league, and Michele Quinn owner of Blush Salon who has been part of the styling team getting the couples ready for their stage debuts.

We were there from start to finish and got before, after, and a few in-between candids of the couples who were:

Irish-born Paul Hurley, who played Gaelic football himself, and Siobhan McGrory, originally from Tyrone, who has been involved in Irish dancing.

Donegal’s own Dermot “Gogie” O’Donnell, who played football and danced, and is now coach of the Gael’s U14s, and Colette Morgan, a nurse whose two sons play for the Gaels.

Jason Fialkovich, known as Mr. Jason, the children’s librarian at the Middletown Free Library, and Beth Hamilton, a mother of two who works in marketing for a pharmaceutical company and is an accomplished dancer.

Mark Procknow, a Kensington native and student athlete, who now lives in Havertown, and Eileen Corr, the daughter of Irish immigrants who is married to a man from Tyrone.

Tom Kane, who is the owner of the Brick and Brew in Havertown, and Chrissy Penezic, a South Philly native now living in Havertown, who is a media strategy director (and won a “Hustle” contest as a teenager).

Dance, Music

A Look Back at the 2015 Midwinter Fest in Video

John Byrne

 

Take a look at our wee video sampler, and you’ll see and hear proof that the 2015 Mid-Winter Scottish & Irish Festival truly was Scottish and Irish.

Scottish dancers, Irish dancers. Scottish pipers, Irish rockers. That’s not even scratching the surface.

Really, when you consider how big the festival is, how many days it goes on, and how many music and dance groups there, are it would take a much longer video to fit them all in.

We took a cruise around the festival, checked out a couple of acts on stage, and two more upstairs in the ballroom.

So here is a quick look at scenes from our Saturday at the festival.

 

Dance, News, People, Sports

They’re Dancing Like Stars Again

Gogi O'Donnell practices a dip with instructor Lisa Oster.

Gogi O’Donnell practices a dip with instructor Lisa Oster.

For the past three years, Louie Bradley has suited up for the Delaware County Gael’s popular fundraiser, Dance Like a Star, in which eight couples vie for a trophy while raising money for the youth Gaelic sports club. He didn’t dance. He just made a little speech. He’s president of the organization.

But this year, he’ll be suited up and wearing his dancing shoes. His partner is Michelle Quinn, owner of Blush Salon in Newtown Square, who until this year was just contributing her styling skills to the event. “She’s way out of her element,” said Bradley, with a mischievous grin, when I talked to him after Sunday dance practice at Cara School of Irish Dance in Drexel Hill. “I’m out of mine too. I don’t have feet, I’ve got hooves!”

A couple of years ago, Paul McDaid was helping his DJ brother John with the music for DLAS. This year, he’s wearing a tutu, dancing with Heather Crossan. “I said I would do this on one condition,” says the 29-year-old, a recent immigrant from Letterkenny, County Donegal. “I’d do it if Louie Bradley would do it.”

(There’s a family connection here: Louie Bradley and John McDaid are married to sisters; their wives Carmel Bradley and Una McDaid are part of the committee that pulls off this extravaganza at Springfield Country Club every year.)

Some of the contestants, like Colette Morgan of Media, are Delco Gaels parents. “I got asked to be a stand-in at the last minute, and the club has been so good to me and my family, helping us with our travel expenses when the teams travel, that I couldn’t say no—it was a no-brainer,” says the mother of two teens.

One, Dermott “Gogi” O’Donnell, is a coach of the under 12 team. A couple of years ago, he has a small part—as a garda—in one of the dance sketches, but signed up as a contestant this year “because the kids asked me to.”

But you don’t have to be related or a parent to be part of the fun. Beth Hamilton volunteered because a friend who attended last year “told me it had my name written all over it. I love to dance,” says Hamilton, who does tap and jazz at the McHenry Dance Centre in Havertown.

The dancers practice every Sunday with two choreographers, Jennifer Cleary and Lisa Oster. In previous years, the dancers started the event with a waltz, did a group dance, and then each couple stole the spotlight with a special freestyle dance that involves costumes, fancy steps, and sometimes a little acrobatics.

“We decided to change it up this year,” said Cleary. “We’re opening with a foxtrot, then a swing dance, and then each of the couples pulled a decade out of a hat and they’ll be doing dances from that decade.”

The practice schedule can be grueling. In addition to the three-and-a-half hour Sunday rehearsals they’ve had every week since the beginning of January, the contestants meet with Jennifer or Lisa during the week to go over their steps and sometimes the couples get together for extra practice. “I dance in my basement,” says Bradley, laughing.

“We’ve all pretty much been eating, sleeping, working and dancing for the last five weeks,” says Morgan, who is also a fulltime nurse. “It’s been a lot of fun though. It’s stressful learning all these new moves, but hopefully it will all come together.”

It needs to come together by Friday, February 20. Tickets are $45 and aren’t available at the door. You have to order online, or contact Carmel Bradley at pbradley1510@gmail.com (610-789-9697) or Lorna Corr at aidanlorna@verizon.net (610-353-5556). You can also buy votes for your favorite couple online. 

Dance, Music

Kiss Me, I’m Sober

sstpdaySt. Patrick’s Day arrives, and it’s as if someone has uncorked a magic bottle, and the genie of booze appears in our midst, granting but one wish: the wish to become really, most sincerely drunk. Because that’s what the Irish do on St. Patrick’s Day do, right?

Well, there’s no escaping it—some do. But it’s pretty clear that you don’t need to be Irish to wander from bar to bar, wearing silly hats and draped with green beads. Many aren’t.

And it’s a big night for booze, as boozy nights go. According to the financial website The Motley Fool, St. Patrick’s Day accounts for up to 1 percent of annual beer sales in the United States.

The potential consequences of all that binge drinking are pretty serious. More than a third of all traffic fatalities on the saint’s day, especially into the evening and into the next morning—are associated with drunk driving.

Then, of course, there’s a problem near and dear to many Irish hearts—the perpetuation of a cultural stereotype that many find distasteful.

Well, Katherine Ball-Weir wants to shove that cork back into the bottle. So if you’re up for a party, and the thought of waking up the next morning with bed spins doesn’t appeal to you, she’d like to welcome you to Sober St. Patrick’s Day—an epic bash in the Hamilton Media Commons at WHYY studios on Independence Mall on Sunday, March 15. That’s the day of the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day parade and the focal point of the city’s celebration.

“We’re bringing in incredible entertainment,” says Ball-Weir, chairperson of the Delaware Valley Branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, a worldwide Irish music, dance, language and cultural organization. “It’ll be a wonderful Irish party without any alcohol. There will be children’s activities. They can learn an Irish dance step or how to beat a bodhran (a traditional Irish frame drum) or how to say ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’ in Irish Gaelic. There will be activities for adults, too.”

A lot of those activities revolve around music and dance, with some truly world-class entertainment—including seven-time All-Ireland button accordion champ John Whelan, four-time fiddle champion Dylan Foley, Patrick Hutchinson, an All-Ireland uilleann pipe champ.

Some young local All-Ireland champs will be on hand as well: The Converse Crew, fiddlers Alex Weir (Ball-Weir’s son) and Haley Richardson, Keegan Loesel on pipes and whistle, and Dylan Richardson on guitar.

If you want a workout, there will be ceili dancing. If you want to replenish all the calories you’ve lost pounding the boards, there will be plenty of baked goods, snacks and drinks—non-alcoholic, of course. Look for special guest Maria Walsh, the International Rose of Tralee and Philly’s Rose, and performances by the Emerald Isle Academy Dancers.

All of this alcohol-free merry-making is not a new idea, says Ball-Weir.

“It’s been a sold-put event in New York City for three years, and it’s in other cities, too. There’s one in Richmond, Va., Casper, Wyoming, Northern Ohio, and Belfast (Northern Ireland) had a huge one. I knew about the event in New York because I also knew some of the musicians who performed in it, and as I learned more about it, I thought: This is a great idea! So I went to Maureen Donachie, who is the number 2 person with the New York Sober St. Patrick’s Day group, and I said, I really like this idea. How can we do this in Philadelphia?”

With some thoughts and encouragement from Donachie, Ball-Weir presented the idea to the Philadelphia Comhaltas (COAL-tuss) board, and they loved it, too.

Presenting a big event like this is exactly up the organization’s alley.

“Although we are a small group, in the last couple of years our branch has been hosting and co-hosting more and more music events,” says Ball-Weir. “We have co-sponsored or helped to support events of the Philadelphia Ceili (KAY-lee) Group or the Coatesville Traditional Irish Music Series with Frank Dalton, and some events at West Chester University. It’s exciting for me to think about doing things with other groups. The best way for us all to succeed is for us to work together.”

In this case, the partnership is with Frank Daly of American Paddy’s Productions. “They produce the Philadelphia Fleadh and an American Celtic Christmas, among other things. I asked him to partner with us—Frank, specifically, because he and I had teamed up previously to present some Irish concerts and workshops—and he agreed. I couldn’t do it without him.”

Philly’s Comhaltas branch hopes the event will attract families with children, says, Ball-Weir, along with “adults who want to celebrate but not in an overindulgent way, and the third is the recovery community.”

Just because you won’t find Guinness or Jameson at this particular party, Ball-Weir says, doesn’t mean Comhaltas is against drinking, but they are against the binge drinking rampant on St. Patrick’s Day.

As the mother of a one-time Irish dancer, she knows what she’s talking about.

“Alexander was an Irish dancer before he was an Irish fiddler. We went to a lot of pubs on St. Patrick’s Day, where the dance schools would dance, and it was just awful. The bars start serving drinks at the same time they put out breakfast, so a lot of people are totally out of it by the end of the day. These are stupid Americans who are looking for an excuse to get drunk. They hang their hat on St. Patrick’s Day.”

Ball-Weir and her organization want to open Irish eyes to a more authentic celebration, one that hangs its hat on only two things: Ireland and Irish culture.

“This event is basically for anyone who wants to celebrate Irish culture in an environment that will be respectful of Ireland and its culture. It’s a new way to reclaim the day.”

For details and tickets to the event, hosted by WHYY’s Ed Cunningham:

http://www.soberstpatricksday.org/Philadelphia.html

The event starts at 4 p.m., and ends at 7.