Alternative isn’t a word that springs to mind when I think about St. Patrick’s Day. For me -- and probably millions of other Irish-Americans -- the 17th of March has always been a day marked by traditions that border on the cliche. Corned beef and cabbage. Tin whistles. Rosemary Clooney. Bodhráns. The New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade. Green rivers. Arguments. Twentieth century traditions rooted in a world that exists today mainly in memory.
But Colm Ó Riain headlined a St. Patrick’s Day event at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco this past Monday that offered an alternative -- rooted in a different sort of history -- to the typical traditional St. Patrick’s Day fare.
A doubleheader, the evening started with a rock theme with Lucia Comnes and “Her Rockin’ Irish Band.” A S.F. Bay-area native with a flare for Irish-American rock-and-roll fusion, Lucia and the band got the crowd moving. (An impressive feat considering the fact that the average live-music audience in the Bay Area doesn’t dance. Ever.)
The tone of the evening literally changed however when Colm Ó Riain (and later his group) took the stage. A haunting violin solo influenced by both traditional Irish violin music and Afro-American influences literally made the sleepy teenagers in the gallery stand up and take notice.
Definitely and defiantly non-traditional -- although rooted in multiple traditions -- this was a more worldly less traditional and yet fundamentally Irish take on a very Irish-American tradition: The St. Patrick’s Day concert. (March 17th is, after all, the one day of the year any Irish musician in America is virtually guaranteed a job.)
Busy recording a new CD, Colm doesn’t have any upcoming showdates -- other than a brief slot (with his poet/scientist partner Pireeni Sundaralingam) at SF Jazz on April 4.