Weston Irish Festival – 4.5 stars

The Weston Irish Festival is a fantastic three-day event that takes place in and behind two pubs: O’Malley’s Pub and the America Bowman Restaurant. For this review, I attended on Sunday as the event was ending, but it was hardly winding down. It was easy to find free parking a few blocks away, and we found great energy in the crowd and on stage. Although there are a total of three stages, the action is really outdoors in the medium-sized courtyard.

Even though we were in a residential area, not the country, they covered the ground with gravel and it was surrounded by lush green trees being slowly devoured by red ivy, so it felt quite natural, not urban, to be visiting. Jiggernaut had an amazing stage presence, with real-seeming Irish accents that made you assume that they were flown in from overseas. (I notice that their production company is based in Texas, but shh, let’s not tell.) Their catchy, upbeat tunes and excellent crowdwork had the audience clapping, standing, laughing, and cheering throughout.

In-between acts, as the bands were striking their set and the new band settingn up, instead of a lull in the music, the St. Andrew Pipes and Drums came out to play on the side stage! The following acts, Barleyjuice and the Screaming Orphans, gave good combinations folk music and pop, also gave us the impression that the festival is comprised of professional, touring bands, each of which is worth the trip, who play with rhythm and verve. We appreciated the flute and accordion, but like many groups The Elders needed more diction for us to understand them. Still we loved the fast jigs with electric guitar and violin.

I will confess that I am easily bored by musical numbers, but the outdoor setting and the energy of the crowd made it more interactive and engaging. I could speak with the people I was with, and even met some strangers. People in the audience represented all ages, some young, some families, some elderly, and there was lots of drinking but no one acting drunk or crass. So it was nice to enjoy an event not dominated, as I had feared in advance, by 20-somethings looking to get smashed. About a quarter of the audience stood in front of the stage, and the rest of us sat on ample chairs throughout the courtyard. Sadly, there was no escaping the permeating, pervasive cigar and cigarette smoke. If there was a “smoke here only” area designated, it wasn’t working.

Along the edges were vendors selling beer, pretzels, more beer, Italian sausage, jewelry, t-shirts with Celtic theme, and even more beer. Of course you could also go into the pubs to eat! Wait in line for an outdoor table, or get seated instantly (which we did) indoors. Surprisingly, at a time when they had a couple thousand guests, we got served swiftly and with extra care. The food was both hearty and delicious.

Outside, the audience clapped to the rhythm through half of the songs and a lot were dancing mildly and knew the words to the songs. It was loud but not so loud that you couldn’t have a conversation with your friends. In other words, the perfect outdoor concert. I am glad to give the Weston Irish Festival 4.5 stars, and find more information about the venue near Kansas City, Missouri, at www.westonirish.com.