No Green Beer for Me

How to survive St Paddy's Day in NYC by ex-Watercress frontman Dan Donnelly

I don’t want to be misunderstood. I love being Irish. It’s great to be seen as a loveable rogue and it’s great that no one hates us.

There aren't many countries that can claim to be as popular as the Irish. I love our tea and I think we make the best chocolate and crisps in the world. 

As a musician, I think that the Irish have made some of the best music, for many years.

From Luke Kelly to Van Morrison, Thin Lizzy, U2, The Frames, Ash and Snow Patrol, there is no doubt that the Irish show real musical class. There are many great, unsung musicians and writers who make me proud of our country.

There’s something about moving away from your country that magnifies your patriotism. What I am trying to say is that although I love Ireland and Northern Ireland specifically, I can’t stand the tacky, stereotyped 'Oirish' impression that can be seen in New York. 

'Oirishness' is most often observed on St Patrick’s Day.

In comparison to the majority of people who turn out to celebrate St Patrick’s Day here in New York, I may as well be from Pluto. 

The world’s largest St Patrick’s parade is in New York. It marches up Fifth Avenue and afterwards, the participants hit the city’s many bars.

There they drink copious amounts of Guinness and sing The Fields of Athenry. By five in the afternoon they are wasted.

By the time a musician like myself arrives to play a gig at ten in the evening, they are barely human. All they want to hear when they see a guitar are rebel songs that they can all sing together in a rabble-rousing, football ground-like chant.

As someone who likes to play my own songs and doesn’t own a Wolfe Tones record, this is a nightmare.

That's why I try to avoid the parade, the surrounding area and most Irish bars on St Patrick’s Day, even though there is great money to be made.

Players and singers of Traditional Irish music, who don’t mind playing The Fields of Athenry, can make upwards of $1000 on St Patrick’s Day in New York.

My phone has been ringing since February, with bars enquiring if I know anyone who can play Irish folk; the minimum offer being around two or three hundred dollars a gig.

For me it’s not worth it, because I refuse to play rebel songs.

St Patrick’s Day is usually busy for me, due to the amount of unsigned bands whom I know that arrive in town on their way to Texas. 

In March the city of Austin, Texas holds the annual South By Southwest (SXSW) festival. It is a Mecca for bands, labels and media from all over the world.

On the way many of the Irish bands stop in New York for St Patrick’s Day.

Upwardly mobile bands such as Republic Of Loose, The Immediate and Cuckoo Savante have been in touch looking for help and advice on booking, backline, accommodation, and PA hire.

Word has spread and I am a middleman for bands that want to play in New York. This is why it is not uncommon to find my floor littered with Irish musicians in sleeping bags at this time of year.

It is also a good bet that I will be running around with my ear glued to a phone, sorting out transport and PA systems for friends. With my own gigs and new and old friends playing in town, I'm kept really busy.

At this time of year I do hang out with a lot of Irish people, and yes, we do drink and sing songs. However the beer is not green and the songs are our own.

It’s not that we have a disregard for the Ireland of old. We are just thinking of the next generation of songs to be sung and we hope that we are the ones who are writing them.