'Storm Chasers' delight in band's performance, Irish Fest

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Nico Savidge
Sunday, October 6, 2013

JANESVILLE—The setting was along the Rock River, not the Irish Sea, and the accents in the lobby weren’t quite right Saturday night.

But Guinness was on tap and Concannon whiskey poured, and as Gaelic Storm took the stage at the Janesville Performing Arts Center to booming drums, bagpipes and fiddle, Janesville was as good a stand-in as any for Ireland.

The show marked a keynote of sorts for Irish Fest, the four-day celebration of Janesville’s Irish heritage that organizers say started when JPAC booked Gaelic Storm for a pair of shows.

With help from a state tourism grant and lots of work from organizers, the festival sprung up around the sold-out shows, the second of which closes Irish Fest at 7:30 p.m. tonight.

For James J. Knilans, a devotee of Gaelic Storm and self-described “Storm Chaser,” the festival marked a chance not only to see the band but also to join his home city in celebrating Irish ancestry.

“It’s great fun for the community,” Knilans said standing in JPAC’s lobby, decked out in a kilt and green shirt from Mo’s Irish Pub in Milwaukee. “Irish Fest is something that everybody can get behind because, in this area, so many people can draw their heritage back to Ireland.”

His was far from the only Irish fashion on display at the show.

Some sported four-leaf clover beads and oversized hats branded with Guinness or Jameson, while others opted for more subtle green dresses or suits with green bowties. Two bartenders went for a fusion look with green and white leis as they poured beers.

Off to one side, a merchandise table offered the usual band swag including T-shirts and hats, as well as the more culture-specific items for a Gaelic Storm show: beer koozies, rugby shirts and flasks.

In an Irish flag-striped polo, Tobin Ryan praised JPAC for booking a big act, and he said he’d like to see the festival become an annual event.

“This whole weekend of Irish Fest has really gotten people out of their homes and into the streets of Janesville,” Ryan said. “It’s been phenomenal.”

Janesville resident Margery Wakefield works downtown, and she enjoyed seeing the Irish flags that have adorned businesses all week. Although she was out of town for much of the festival’s events, she made sure to come back for Gaelic Storm—which she’s now seen live 16 times.

“They’re just an absolute hoot,” she said.

Fans clapped along and cheered as the band began its foot-stomping set, though a few did shout out to correct lead singer Patrick Murphy when he claimed the band had been here before—after all, these Storm Chasers would know if they had.

Murphy also slightly misstated the status of the former Marshall Middle School where Gaelic Storm was performing, praising it as “the only junior high school in the history of the world where you can actually drink Guinness.”

That time, perhaps because of the Guinness and Concannon, nobody thought the mistake worthy of a correction.

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