You don’t usually go to festivals for the food. Case in point: I volunteered at the Great American Irish Festival at the Herkimer County Fairgrounds and spent about 12 hours there on Saturday.
You go there, in my opinion, for the music. The great, great music. The GAIF is one of the best things about CNY (pardon my acronyms). In just six years, the festival has blossomed into one of the premier Irish music festivals in the country. More than 50,000 visited the festival this past weekend, and they were treated to some 50 performances by 27 bands.
Enter the Haggis, from Toronto, played a powerful set filled with emotion and energy that rocked the tent. Barleyjuice and Rathkeltair were terrific, and I saw the most virtuosic performance by a musician in a long time when I watched Dave Gossage of the band Hadrian’s Wall play the flute and tin whistle. It was stunning.
The best thing I can say about the food? I stayed local when I bought my beer — Utica Club. I thought that might be a mistake. I haven’t had a UC in a long, long time. But it was OK. It tasted good. The brewmasters up in Utica, makers of all sorts of fine Saranac beers, don’ t have to hang their collective heads over Utica Club.
The longest food line I saw? The line for Greek and Mediterranean food. I should have learned from that. Not to say there weren’t samplings of Irish food available, a shepherd’s pie here, and corned beef there.
But what did I go for? Chicken riggies. I like chicken riggies, and I especially like the chicken riggies offered by Mario’s in Oriskany Falls.
These chicken riggies were not from Mario’s, but rather from a trailer with a name on it that I forget. Average at best.
I did much better with dessert. A huge funnel cake, a k a fried dough, or if you’re in the Midwest, an elephant ear. I’ve decided that if I have to be called to my maker, it could happen halfway through a funnel cake with me collasping into the uneaten half, face covered in powered sugar. There are worse ways.
A pretzel rounded out the food. Wow, I didn’t eat much. But I did have time to make these obervations:
— The GAIF organizers deserve a huge amount of praise for how well they run the festival, the bands they are able to attract, and the low admission prices they set.
— There are at least 1,213 ways to use the word Irish on a T-shirt, hat, or blanket.
— If you’re going to get a tattoo that covers half your back, don’t let your uncle’s son, who wants to be an art major one day, design it because it would be good practice and build up his esteem.
— Smoking anywhere, even outside at a fairground, is horrible.
— The people who play Irish music are some of the most enjoyable and nicest folks you’d want to be around.
— Music played well can do wonders for the soul, and can make the world seem right again, at least for a while.
— There is a new Irish bar in Utica called the Celtic Harp.
— I can’t wait for next year’s version of the GAIF.