The venerable KC Irish Fest first drew me into its orbit 5 or 6 years ago, on a road trip down from Doane College to see Celtic rockers Black 47. A good time then, and though much last weekend was different it still moved us.
Friends picked me up for the trip down to Crown Center, which is a cool outdoor venue in the middle of the south end of downtown Kansas City; a multileveled plaza with fountains and a semi-permanent white tented contraption, surrounded by high-rises. Sunday night was the final night of the festival, and we rolled in time to catch full sets from both The Elders and Eileen Ivers with her band Immigrant Soul.
Kent loaned me an Elders disc a couple weeks back; it was tasteful, pleasant, and generally uninspired. Competent Irish AAA-rock. He’d been telling me what an amazing drummer Ian, the true Irish frontman, was; when the Elders took the stage, I finally understood. This band needed a DVD crew out Sunday night; they took us up and down, putting on a firey, passionate show. Ian worked us like a pro, like Bono: his voice, his banter, his sing-alongs, his drumming with child-like energy any time he wasn’t singing. Consummate musicianship with exciting, unrehearsed showmanship, the Elders earned every ounce of love they got and gave it right back to the crowd.
I’d heard Ivers at the Lied Center in Lincoln several years ago, and forgotten how jazz-influenced she is. Her music pushes the boundaries of Celtic canon, helped out by an all-star band. I was most impressed with guitarist James Riley; armed with a simple six-string acoustic, his style was all his own, rhythmic and driving with a very advanced sense of harmony. Ivers’ stage presence is a hoot, pogo-jumping like a punk-rocker with her violin in tow. I would see her again in a heartbeat.
All told, Sunday was a perfect exercise in musical pleasure relative to energy output; we were in and out of downtown in about four hours, heard two great sets from two very different bands, enjoyed the near-autumn out-of-doors on Labor Day weekend, and had enough time for chatting.