The good vibes flowed as freely as the beer at the Guinness Fleadh yesterday at Suffolk Downs.
The 11½-hour, Irish-centric music festival got off to a glorious start and only improved as sunshine, blue skies and good cheer prevailed.
First-rate musicians on three stages and an Irish village full of crafts and vendors made for a satisfying day-long hang for the 30,000 attendants.
The sole bummer was the last-minute cancellation by Van Morrison due to illness. Though some were disappointed, only a few turned away, with most figuring the two dozen other acts, including Elvis Costello, Hootie and The Blowfish, the Saw Doctors and the Dropkick Murphys would suffice.
Costello not only sufficed but capped the day brilliantly with a 90-minute set that spanned his career. From his first song "Radio Sweetheart" to his brand new cover of Burt Bachrach's "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," featured in the new Austin Powers film, Costello played it all with the virtuosic aid of pianist Steve Nieve. Crowd pleasers included "Watching the Detectives," "Pump it Up," "Alison" and his bitingly satiric "God's Comic." He even threw in a bit of Van Morrison's "Jackie Wilson Said" for good measure.
Other terrific performances came from the immensely jubilant Saw Doctors who gave out Women's World Cup updates during their anthemic set. Feisty fiddler Eileen Ivers and clarion voiced alt-folkie Beth Orton also scored.
Temporary Guinness tattoos, hacky sack games and spontaneous eruptions of Irish step dancing were the order of the day. As the sun went down and more brew was imbibed all activities took on a weaving quality.
The most humorous outbreak of step dancing came during the grinding Celtic punk set by Boston's own Dropkick Murphys, who provided a late night shot of adrenaline.
Although lead singer Darius Rucker had issues with a heckler in the crowd, party rockers Hootie and the Blowfish scored with their own hits and a jukebox worth of covers including Stone Temple Pilots' "Interstate Love Song" and Santana's "Black Magic Woman."
It may have taken three years — the Fleadh began in New York in 1997 — but the organizers chose a great Boston site in Suffolk Downs. The expansive infield of the track made it possible to enjoy the marvel that is 81-year-old bluesman John Lee Hooker on the main stage, Boston rockers Raging Teens on the Village Stage or traditionalist Liam Clancy on the Cablevision second stage with no sound overlap.
Regarding missing headliner Morrision, many took the attitude of Derek Richards, who said, "It's one of those you-win you-lose situations," the 28-year-year old from Salem said as he bopped to the midafternoon boogie blues of Hooker. "I wanted to see Van, but now I get to see Shane MacGowan," he said of another fabled Irishman on the bill in what was to have been a competing time slot.
More people seemed annoyed at the $8 burritos than anything else.
McGowan closed the second stage with his bouncy fusion of rascally skid row poetry and swinging Celtic rhythms.
In the "Pour Your Own Pint" tent, drawmaster Justin Despres explained the proper technique for drawing the dark stout. "You've got to tip the cup at a 45-degree angle and pour the Guinness down the side," said Despres, adding that it's important to do this "without the nozzle going into the beer, then after you've poured two thirds, let it sit for a minute and then top it off."
One man who'd clearly mastered the technique was Jimmy, or Jerry (it was hard to tell). He was disgruntled the beer wasn't discounted, "since I'm doing all the work."