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The Untold Story of the Night Before...

Posted by Sharon Armstrong on Tue, 03/09/2010 - 02:38

It was on Sunday morning that we eventually found Eamonn. Or rather, we got a kind of forlorn early morning text, and then he found us - good lad that he is, even if he was also what my granny used to call a 'dirty stop-out'.

"What’s the story?" read the text.

Feeling our usual helpful selves, neither Karen nor myself could resist the obvious retort.

"Morning Glory," we texted in tandem. Of course.

“Aren't ye right funny women :-D” came the immediate reply.

Saturday had turned first into a long day, and then into an even longer night, however it seemed that we had all survived.

Early the Saturday morning before, after just a few hours sleep, we had all boarded what has to be the best invention ever...the Festival Shuttle-bus.

Every ten minutes of so, one of these brilliant buses would show up to ferry the tired, the huddled, but the still willing hotel masses to Fair Park, and the festivities. It kind of reminded me of school trips in Scotland, only this time there was no teacher telling me to sit down and shut up, and I don't remember ever feeling this delicate on my school trips to Culzean, or Kirkmichael.

But one of the many charms of American music festivals is that they seem to be very carefully organized. They have to be, especially one as big and varied as the North Texas Irish Festival.

As well as lending a welcome helping hand to the still determined but obviously slightly damaged, the festival organizers have a lot else to do to make sure that the festival comes off without a hitch. At the NTIF they deal with ten stages, and on the ten stages, as well as musicians, there is an ever-changing line-up of dancers, story-tellers and actors. There are also dozens of vendors, and an eclectic mix of other organizations to orchestrate. It's quite the achievement.

At this year's NTIF you could find a petting zoo, a, equine performance area, dog adoptions, swords and armory, pottery, henna tattoos, as well as flute, storytelling, guitar, bodhran, vocals, harp and whistle workshops, not to mentions booths from a variety of charities, heritage organizations, and an entire area devoted to children called Urchin Street. I did mention the DeLoreans, didn't I?

Since the festival is a 'dog friendly' one they also have pooches everywhere: dogs of all shapes and sizes, from rangy Irish Wolfhounds to the tiniest and fluffiest of toy breeds. The NTIF charges one dollar per pet admittance, and the proceeds go the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Bearing in mind that an attendance number I heard bandied around for just Saturday March 6 was in the vicinity of 50,000 people, many of whom brought their dogs the NTIF cannot be said not to be doing their part for needy animals. They also had a booth for the Blackland Prairie Raptor Center, where people can get up close to birds-of-prey such as Red-Tailed Hawks, Great Horned Owls, Peregrine Falcons, American Kestrels, and what has to be the cutest raptor in the world, the Screech Owl. Volunteer Nikki Lefebvre outlined the basic objectives of the Center, that of conservation and education.

“What a lot of people don’t know is that raptors are important both as pest control and also as indicator species,” she said. “Being the top predator they give us information about events in the eco-system.”

While we were talking about the said 'delicate and ecologically revealing dynamics between avian predators and their prey', there developed an equally revealing stare down between the tiny Screech Owl that was currently on display on a volunteer's gloved wrist, and a large macaw that had just arrived on someone's shoulder. The macaw looked nervous – in absolutely no way at all! But you know something? Neither did that fluffy little scrap of owlish killer instinct. It might have been ruffled feathers all round, but it was apparent that neither bird was chicken!

Another point of interest at the NTIF was the presence of the Ulster Project Arlington.

This Project has, since its beginning in 1975, brought over 5,000 youths from Ireland over the States to participate in what is described by the Project as an ‘effort to ease the Tensions in Northern Ireland' by placing selected young Irish children with American families and enabling them experience the ‘melting pot’ of American Society.

A kind of holiday with a plan, I thought. Sounds a wee bit better than Kirkmichael in the rain.

After catching the David Munnelly Band again, featuring the lush vocals of All-Ireland champion Shauna Mullin, and the great dancing of Nic Gareiss- whom I think, but can't be positive, I later spotted on a table at the upstairs private session/after party, still dancing very well I might add – it was time for us to head off to the ‘Hostility’ Room again for some more of that wonderful southern hospitality. They treat their musicians very well at the NTIF, even though a sign on the wall above the tea does read as follows:

“NTIF HOSPITALITY: We reserve the right to Refuse service to anyone For any reason.” Love it. And quite right too!

For me, the only funnier sign was the one posted above the best sandwich you will ever eat, proudly announcing the pulled-pork sandwich from a place called Dick’s Last Resort. The pulled-pork from Dick's was big, and really, really tasty. ..Ahem. ..and with Meade, Guinness, Smithwicks and Bushmill to wash it down, the world quickly became a very friendly place. Everything started to look good, even something that had been puzzling me since I sat down - Dick's serving lady with her towering Marge-Simpson-inspired red wig.

"She says it's her Irish wig," Karen told me.

"Aha," I thought. "Now it makes perfect sense." I can be a bit slow at times.

In no time at all we were revived, and ready to get back to work, which we did by sitting next to the long, cool-blue pool that splits Fair Park, and watching the fountains throw water high up into the blue Texas sky to the sound of classical music. That wasn’t the only thing being thrown skywards…next to a bunch of food vendors was a climbing wall, and also some kind of contraption for the kids that seemed to involve large bungee cords, trampolines and the fearless attitude that only the very young can manage. We waited for a while, but when no one was sick we kept on walking, and even thought there was some talk of joining in, we all came to our senses before it could get silly. We did start to think about getting back to the hotel for a spruce up, and maybe a few more drinks. But we were only thinking about it; there was still such a lot to see.

As well as the music from the stages, in amongst the T-shirts, the Celtic Genealogy booths, and the Scottish Village, with its books and charts on emigration, O’Flaherty’s Irish Music Retreat - a yearly Music Camp for those interested in learning Irish music which is situated about 30 minutes outside Dallas - had open sessions. Members of an American Civil War organization tapped their feet in time to the Tam Lin Reel, and people lingered on their way to the bigger stages to listen. The atmosphere, despite the number of things to do and see, struck me as curiously laid-back. People were taking their time, and wandering and strolling rather than striding around the Park. It was all about the side-trips, it seemed, and so we took a side-trip to listen to Clandestine.

Clandestine was a popular Texas Celtic Band from 1992 to 2003. In 2003 they suddenly broke up, much to the dismay of their many fans. They recently reformed with a slightly different line up. At the NITF original members EJ Jones, Emily Dugas and Gregory McQueen had been joined by newcomer Al Cofrin. I remembered the original band from their gigs in New Orleans, so I was curious to hear what the new line-up would be doing to the old tunes. What they were doing to them was justice I am glad to say, and it is always good to see old faces in new hats.

It seemed that while the sun was up, the order of the day was relaxation to good music, and as much good food and beer as seemed right to the situation - stuff and nonsense, it seemed, could wait until later on.

Happily, as the sun set, and it started to get dark and people started to drift off back to the hotel, that is exactly what the stuff and nonsense did!