Tennessee Irish Dancers, Irish Fest, Vine Avenue, Knoxville, August 2023
The 2023 Irish Fest started with a bang or stormed into town — either of which may sound like a good thing, but the bang was thunder and the storm a literal one. Scheduled to begin at 4:00 pm, that precise moment the heavens opened, and winds and rain howled through the streets of downtown. Not hospitable for humans, but worse for cameras, I made the game-time decision to save both person and equipment. It’s a luxury of living downtown that a trip to an event doesn’t involve a commitment to take a trip, so waiting out a storm is a possibility.
About 6:00 pm the skies cleared a bit, and I walked up the hill to the spot around the beautiful and historic Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. Along the way I learned the storm had yielded some mercy in that the evening was significantly cooler than would otherwise be expected in August in Knoxville.
I’m not sure if the festival started on time, but my late arrival meant I missed a bit. I started by enjoying the always lovely Nancy Brennan Strange and Friends. Their finale of “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” set the bar high for the night.
Good crowds (which grew over the next hour or so) thronged around the tables for the silent auction which included everything from whisky to stuffed animals. Irish coffee (and otherwise coffee) sold to the side while people sized up the goods. Outside, families enjoyed Irish dishes such as Shepard’s Pie, Corned Beef, and Bangers. For those less inclined to be Irish for the day, hot dogs, hamburgers, and grilled cheese was served. Beer, wine, and ale kept the situation fluid, while bottled water and soda were only $1. The last time I was at an outdoor event a bottle of water set me back $6.
While I missed the Pipes and Drums this time around, there were demonstrations of Gaelic Games, including hurling (not from the alcohol — the stick and ball version). Also featured, Tennessee Irish Dancers showed that the old dances continue to thrive and entertain some of the youngest of the American Irish. Elsewhere, the dancing by the children during virtually every performer provided its own sidelight and highlight. It’s always about the kids.
The night ended with a great one-two punch. First, Four Leaf Peat worked their magic, with Chad Beauchaine proclaiming from stage, as he is wont to do, that the band is the “best traditional Irish band” in the area. After a beat he adds, “because we’re the only traditional Irish band” in the area. That said, they are very good, and audiences have loved them for almost twenty years. Chad said the band was almost old enough to drink.
They also dedicated the poignant “Hector the Hero” to Sinead O’Conner who recently died:
Oh rest thee, brave heart, in thy slumber,
Forgotten shall ne’er be thy name;
The love and the mercy of Heaven be thine;
Our love thou must ever claim
The night ended with a small version of a bagpipe (maybe someone can identify it from the photo) played beautifully by Tracy Jenkins who was accompanied on guitar by Gil Draper, guitarist for Four Leaf Peat. I got a little bagpipe in, after all.
Even with the rain-shortened version (for me, at least), it was a great spot to be on a surprisingly cool August night in east Tennessee. Here are all the photos, along with a little video of the event.