From Killarney to Coleraine, Galway to Wexford, the good pubs dot Ireland like a galaxy of stars. Some aren't much, just a tap and a crapper, but they all have music, tunes of rebellion and sadness and joy woven into the wood like knots.
Members of The Drowsy Lads have played there, in Kilrush and Dunboyne and Annascaul. They don't book gigs on their trips from Columbus. They just bring their instruments into dimly lit pubs and offer a song, an audition and a show all at once. Some sessions last all night, locals and a bunch of bearded Yanks sharing songs and pints in a room smelling of the sweet, dry peat used to stoke the fires.
"In pubs over there, people listen to the music," said Phil Franck, a Drowsy Lad who also plays with Yankee-Celtic Consort, another local Irish folk band. "If you play an instrument, people will keep their conversation down. If you sing a song, you can hear a pin drop. The worst, most raucous drunk will be shushed."
Starting Friday, when people become desperate for Irish music, bands like the Drowsy Lads, Yankee-Celtic Consort, General Guinness, Knot Fibb'n and The Kells will bring the Emerald Isle's rich heritage to a thriving scene in Central Ohio.
A continent away and centuries after some songs were created, even those who couldn't tell a pennywhistle from a pint of green beer will be drawn to music that sounds foreign yet feels familiar, like talking to an old friend. They'll sway to "Welcome Poor Paddy Home," laugh along bawdily with "Close Shave" or lament the changing times described in "The Thirty Foot Trailer."
"Irish music is, more than anything else, something you play because you love it," said Pat Byrne, who has booked the genre for 14 years at his family's pub in Grandview. "You get the feel from the bands that they truly enjoy it and they're playing from their hearts."
For centuries, Irish music has inspired faith, soundtracked rebellions and sustained a people through oppression, famine and war. It has celebrated weddings, feasts and the simple joy of standing in the wind by the sea. The rich lyrics and accompaniment describe highs, lows and that peculiar limbo where life happens most often.
"There's certainly enough variety out there," Byrne added. "It's not the same old songs being repeated over and over. It's constantly changing to keep it new and fresh for everybody."
Each band in town puts its own stamp on timeless tunes - some adding step dancing, others using modern instruments next to Irish standbys such as the bouzouki, uilleann pipes and bodhran.
"These songs have been around so long, so we try to find a way to do them that they haven't normally been done," said Hilda Doyle, who fronts Ladies of Longford, a contemporary Celtic band that employs older material. "I think that's why Irish music and culture have survived, because it's so adaptable."
Its survival at times was a trial by fire.
Irish instruments were banned at times by the British government, and traditional forms were later neglected in favor of music considered to be more sophisticated. For centuries, folk songs were passed down informally among musicians before being compiled, notated and recorded by nationalist collectors who proved that traditional music mattered.
Today, musicians carrying the torch across the world enjoy a wealth of audio and video recordings that help to translate Irish music's technique and essence to new audiences.
"I always thought, 'Oh, old guys do that,' but it's something that can be very youthful and lively," said Josh Franck, who plays accordion and sings with the Drowsy Lads. "A large crowd of people singing along together - it's such a thrill."
If you can't get the day off on Tuesday, you've still got plenty of chances to hear traditional Irish music for St. Patty's Day.
What: The Drowsy Lads
When: 9 p.m. Friday, March 13
Where: Claddagh Irish Pub, Brewery DistrictWeb: thedrowsylads.com
What: The Kells
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, March 14
Fado Irish Pub, Easton
What: The Ladies of Longford with Craig and Kara Markley
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, March 14
Where: Byrne's Pub, Grandview