How's it goin' there everybody,
From Cork, New York, Dundalk, Gortahork and Glenamaddy.
Here we are in the County Clare
It's a long, long way from here to there.
There's the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher,
the Tulla and the Kilfenora,
Miko Russell, Doctor Bill,
Willy Clancy, Noel Hill.
Flutes and fiddles everywhere.
If it's music you want,
You should go to Clare.
Lisdoon, Lisdoon, Lisdoon, Lisdoonvarna!
Everybody needs a break,
Climb a mountain or jump in a lake.
Some head off to exotic places,
Others go to the Galway Races.
Mattie goes to the South of France,
Jim to the dogs, Peter to the dance.
A cousin of mine goes potholing,
A cousin of hers loves Joe Dolan.
Summer comes around each year,
We go there, and they come here.
Some jet off to . . . Frijiliana,
But I always go to Lisdoonvarna.
~Christy Moore “Lisdoonvarna”
The weekend of the Chicago Phish shows is difficult to capture. For good reason, the lyrics to Christy Moore’s “Lisdoonvarna” spun around and around in my head. Chitown was a city overflowing with music and festivals, food and drink, people from all over Illinois and nation, high spirits and summery. Every neighborhood, it seemed, had some sort of block party celebration. It’s as though that long winter finds release in the few peak weeks of July.
Besides Phish, there were two major concerts at Wrigley Field: Billy Joel on Friday night; Blake Shelton on Saturday night. The Pitchfork Music Festival featured scores of acts including the likes of Beck, Speedy Ortiz, Sharon Van Etten, St. Vincent, DJ Spinn and Grimes. On the smaller, neighborhood scale, there were events like the Clark St. Fair, Mackinac race, Sheffield Garden Walk, Taste of River North, Chinatown Fair, Blackhawks convention at the Hilton Chicago (featuring the Stanley Cup), and all sorts of other notables.
The multitudes, they flocked in throngs
To hear the music and the songs.
Motorbikes and Hi-ace vans,
With bottles - barrels - flagons - cans.
Mighty craic. Loads of frolics,
Pioneers and alcoholics,
PLAC, SPUC and the FCA,
Free Nicky Kelly and the IRA.
Hairy chests and milk-white thighs,
mickey dodgers in disguise.
Mc Graths, O'Briens, Pippins, Coxs,
Massage parlours in horse boxes.
There's amhráns, bodhráns, amadáns,
Arab sheiks, Hindu Sikhs, Jesus freaks,
RTE are makin' tapes, takin' breaks and throwin' shapes.
This is heaven, this is hell.
Who cares? Who can tell?
(Anyone for the last few Choc Ices, now?)
~Christy Moore “Lisdoonvarna”
Coming from rural Maine, all of this seemed a bit overwhelming. Staying with friends up in the lakefront neighborhood Roger’s Park, I was meeting people from every facet of my partner’s life, while friends of mine from childhood and graduate school were blended into the mix. There were barbecues, bike rides, beach walks, late night laughter sessions and plenty of beers. The Phish concerts, themselves, were wedged in between all of this mayhem, and it was difficult to make sense of it all. Thus, in true travel fashion, I simply let go and allowed the events to unfold.
The celebratory feel continued all the way to Northerly Island. After what Phish had accomplished the previous weekend, the Chicago stop was a victory lap of sorts. Much like the Randall’s setting, there was little chance for a lot scene to emerge, and phans mostly walked down the museum campus peninsula south to the music venue. Those who didn’t walk were taking advantage of the few parking spaces or bicycle powered rickshaws which deposited passengers mere yards from the main gates.
As an out-of-towner, I was marveling at the oceanic lake and the wide open spaces Midwesterners seem to enjoy. Each bar, restaurant, apartment, house, park seemed to extend well beyond the norm to which my New England sensibilities are accustomed. The music venue, too, was larger than life. Staring north to the Chicago skyline as a stage backdrop, the lake looms to starboard. Back on the lawn for Friday and Sunday nights’ shows, my impression was that there was ample room to move.
One of my favorite aspects of a festival or festival-like space is the festival scale sound. Yes, there is room to move and groove, but the delay towers combined with an enormous array of speakers allows for deep bass, a bottom which digs into the earth below the feet and rattles inner chest cavities. Chicago had this and then some. At the Friday night show, a generous portion of first set songs–twelve, to be exact–helped them dial the sound, too. We enjoyed the grass beneath our feet, the sky overhead, and the company of old friends. What more could we ask?
The Golden Age second set opener reaffirmed my feelings that this is a Golden Age, and the Mango Song and Wombat made me smile. We were in the zone, no doubt, and radiating bliss, making connections with phans 25 years younger. What a blessing it is to stitch the generations. I spoke to a young phan who had lived in my home state of Maine and was en route to Colorado via the home state of Illinois, and we boogied together with ease. What is age, anyway? Here, in this occasional community, we are all on the same page together.
Saturday and Sunday were devoted, primarily, to Roger’s Park and dear friends. It was wonderful to be hosted in such a fun town, and my only twinge of sorrow came with the “Stop the Killing” posters and the lurking threat of random violence. It made me think that everyone could benefit from an infusion of the positive dance party vibe. 99% of Chicago seems to be on board with that mindset, and that other, violent 1% can really put a damper on things. Nevertheless, biking around a city, hanging on a dear friend’s back porch and eating farmer’s market tomatoes never seemed as natural as it did that weekend.
Perhaps it was this social aspect of the Chitown visit that stood out the most. It only served to enhance the entire musical experience. Sunday, after a barbecue where various social networks were merging over Baggo, beers, brats and lovingly marinated flank steak, the concert seemed an extension of the loquacious Chicago block party. Having lost my peeps for the second set, I was able to meet a variety of pholks game to boogie on. And it is this aspect of music and occasional community which sticks with me. It is the “social bonding on a larger scale, among members of a social group” (Bicknell 106).
It is the loss of self into a collective joy. Yes, we will return to our own corners and cabinets soon enough. In those few collective moments, though, we can speak without words. We can dance our emotions. Why not extend The Wedge? "Take the highway to the Great Divide. . . ." We can celebrate just being together. It is difficult to let go, too, and end up in that space. Standing on the lawn of Northerly Island that Sunday, where one song flowed into the next, when the peaks came in waves, everything was right with the world. I watched the mast lights of anchored sailboats dance knowing that I would meet my posse again. We would have time, and I couldn’t help but think of Joy (though they didn’t play it), “This is your song, too.”