Monday, October 06, 2008

Aye, We'll Go

Towards the end of the summer just past, I went to Irishfest in Milwaukee with the Gees. It was a day of enormous fun, filled with music and dancing and more high kicks and reels than you could throw a pint at. We saw Rising Gael, we saw Solas, was saw Monto, we saw Gaelic Storm--all fantastic groups. The company was excellent too--yes, including Bruce.

This was Sunday, the last day of Irishfest. It's been my experience that the last day of a festival tends to, well, suck. Things are winding down, people starting to turn their eyes toward home, even starting to pack up a bit. Not at Irishfest. People here were still raring, drinking, partying as though the outside world were a figment of the collective imagination.

Sunday night, once the last band has played, they have what they call the Scattering. Every musician remaining, every dancer too, gathers on a single stage to play a set of tunes. Every person remaining on the festival grounds gathers to hear them--one last hurrah, before we all go home.

Such a gathering might not work save for Irish musicians--that is, getting literally dozens of them onstage and expecting everyone to play the same thing--but the Irish musical tradition is such that there are literally hours' worth of tunes that any Irish musician most likely knows.

They did some reels, a few traditional songs, some more reels with some dancing. How those lads and lasses had room to dance on that crowded stage is beyond me, but they managed it with aplomb. Finally, the woman who was leading the pack announced, "We're going to do one last song that everybody knows--'Will ye Go, Lassie?'"

At this point, I thought, "Oh, great." I thought this meaning no disrespect to the venerable song; but every group who might be even remotely Irish has a version of this song, and in my experience they have largely sucked.

I should have known better. With that many great musicians onstage, I think it would have been possible to do a good version of "Strangers in the Night." Okay, maybe that's pushing it.

And as the band--the horde--began to play, I began to realize just why everybody does this song: it's a gorgeous song. With a lilting melody and simple lyrics, it recreates the feeling of a warm summer afternoon with nothing to do but rove the mountains and pick wild thyme.

And everybody knew the song, and everybody joined in on the chorus--and for those of us who didn't know, we learned it.

Will ye go, lassie, go?
And we'll all go together
To pick wild mountain thyme
All across the blooming heather...

And suddenly there was an explosion, and it was not our hearts thudding in our ears but the sound of fireworks, and they lit up the sky behind us, and we were enclosed in our own perfect little world, singing together in perfect unity. And, for just a moment, we seemed to float above the ground and the sound became not that of earth or any of her realms but of Faerie, of the undying lands that mortals can never know. And I thought that maybe this was just the barest splinter, the barest shiver of Heaven.

Then, the song ended, as all things must on this earth; and as all things must on this earth, the gathering broke and scattered, and we became people once again.


NOT Freddy Jones said...

[claps] Wow. That was, uh, /good/. I'm impressed. Really impressed. Nice job with those last two paragraphs. Good way to end it, too.

Ethan said...

Thank you. It usually takes me 8 or 9 paragraphs to work up to a couple paragraphs like that. ;)