Milwaukee Irish Fest 2001, report and pictures by Seán Laffey.


Milwaukee's 21st Irish Fest (August 16 -19) was a festival of superlatives, big stages, huge crowds, even enough rainwater to float an ark on; everything was XXL. Thousands of visitors watching Danú, Barachois (the entertainment hit of the weekend), Beginish and Sliabh Notes, Eileen Ivers, John Whelan, Jimmy Keane, Chris Newman and Máire Ni Chathasaigh, Different Drums and more. Big disappointments too, Robbie Hannon was rushed to hospital on the Friday night for an emergency appendectomy on Saturday, so the crowds were denied his pairing with Paddy Glackin. Luka Bloom was unable to perform due to problems with the INS and his performer's visa (Melanie O'Reilly was drafted in as a last minute replacement). Luka sends his apologies to his American friends, and asks for forgiveness, as he was a victim of red tape.

The Gaeltacht tent was the place to be for some relaxed early evening sessions lead by the accordion player Pat Cloonan. Other sessions happened in the Wine Garden area from 7:30 - 9:00 PM on Friday and 3:00 - 5:00 PM on Saturday and Sunday. The best sessions were after hours and $5 taxi ride away in the Park East Hotel. (How does a team with Ivers Doorley, Doyle and McCarthy grab you?). Keep an eye out for the local band Anam Ri lead by Asher Grey (flute, whistles and bouzouki). They are a fine traditional four piece that can on occasion step beyond the line and rack up some very exciting experimental music. (We've already commissioned a story on them for our Up & Coming section; so keep buying the magazine Milwaukee!).

The festival is big hearted, with the most emotional receptions being given to the final night's Scattering Concert and Saturday night's tribute to Tommy Makem on the occasion of his fifty years in Folk Music (which we will cover in detail, next month). Generosity too with Niall Walton, Managing Director of Walton's Music of Ireland announcing an annual Irish song scholarship. The annual grant of $1000 will be called the Waltons "Sing an Irish Song" Scholarship. (Milwaukee Irish Fest will administer the grant). The purpose of the award, according to Mr. Walton is to "encourage aspiring musicians/singers/songwriters to perform and create new Irish music and to strengthen and preserve Irish music in all its forms. The cash stipend will hopefully revitalize the Irish song tradition. Information on the new Waltons scholarship and applications can be obtained by contacting Milwaukee Irish Fest. Phone 414-476-3378, Email

Walton's also announced the re-launch of their famous Glenside label. The label started in 1951 and issued over 350 different recordings. Many now famous Irish artists such as Noel Purcell, Joe Lynch, Mary McGonigle, Delia Murphy, Din Joe, Charlie McGee and Brendan O'Reilly made early Glenside records. Many of the songs were played on the Waltons Radio Programme, which was sponsored by the label and ran on Irish National Radio (RTE) from 1952 to 1981. For a long time it was one of the few stages for Irish songwriters and recording artists.

Also announced at the festival were the first two recipients of the Paddy Clancy Scholarship for traditional singing, Vermont based Nicole Sherpa and Ashley Davis from Washington are on their way to study at the Irish World Music Centre at the University of Limerick this Autumn term.

I'd like to extend my personal thanks to all those bands, artists and organisations that helped us realise the CD sampler, which we had on our promotional stand in the cultural village. Kudos to Jane Anderson and Ed Ward and their team of volunteers, especially Veronica Ceszynski who was efficiency and amiability personified. Nothing was too much trouble, everything was possible, they went large on the Lakeshore and we (and another 130,00 folks) had a ball.