Irish fest keeps stomachs filled and bodies in motion
BALLSTON SPA Not being of full-blooded Irish heritage isn’t usually something to be shy about.
But at Saturday’s Irish 2000 Music & Arts Festival at the Saratoga County Fairgrounds, Maggie Donohue, 23, of Ballston Lake, struggled to come to grips with her mixed background.
“I’m full Irish,” she initially said, before admitting it wasn’t true.
The fault was with her father, who was lucky enough to have a full-blooded Irish bride but was himself only half-Irish, she explained. Calculating her true background, Donohue said, “At least I’m 75 percent Irish.”
It didn’t really matter if you had any Irish blood at all, though, as the festival was soaked in enough culture, food, music and novelty items from the Emerald Isle that it rubbed off on everyone.
The first observations of James Johnston, who is from Scotland and was in town to perform with his band, Albannach, was that festivalgoers loved to eat.
“It’s a fantastic festival,” he said in a heavy Scottish brogue. “It seems everybody likes the food here, because there is an abundance of food vendors.”
Visitors to the 17th installment of the festival couldn’t walk more than a few feet without being tempted by fried appetizers, fried desserts and other unhealthy fair fare. Because of the Irish theme, there was also corned beef and cabbage, stew and beer.
The festival’s emphasis on food didn’t prevent people from enjoying the music, which attracted people from as far away as New York City and Canada, according to festival spokeswoman Kathy Condon.
The long pavilion serving as the venue Saturday afternoon for Johnston’s band couldn’t hold the crowd, which spilled out along both sides of the open-air structure. The five-person group performed an aggressive form of pipe and drum music that brought people to their feet and caused some to dance with reckless abandon as their plastic cups bounced up and down.
Johnston said the band’s music is about bringing pipes and drums back to its roots and away from the regimental version that most people are familiar with.
“It’s not your granny’s or grandpa’s pipes and drums,” he said. “It will make you want to get a speeding ticket. It will make you want to punch somebody in the face.”
Donohue was in search of more familiar Irish tunes, noting that later Saturday night would mark her second time this summer seeing Hair of the Dog perform.
“I’m basically a groupie now,” she joked.
In addition to offering people a good time, the festival is also a fundraiser. Since its inception, it has collected more than $350,000 for a variety of charities.