Iowa Irish Fest – Better Than Lollapalooza?

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Any reports of a ticklish musical extravaganza taking place this weekend would surely have to be referring to Lollapalooza, featuring Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, Kanye West and a multitude of other bands across eight stages and three days in Grant Park, Chicago. Not necessarily. Those looking to get their musical taste buds tickled for a little bit cheaper than $205 for a three day pass or $80 for a day simply had to travel to Waterloo, Iowa.

For this hot summer weekend, you would have been forgiven for thinking you had traveled deep into the heart of the Emerald Isle when in reality you hadn’t strayed farther than the Lincoln Park area of downtown Waterloo. The event was Iowa Irish Fest ’08, a ticklish combination of music, dancing, food, drink and Irish culture, costing only $5 for a day pass or $10 for the entire weekend.

Big deal, you say. Probably just a group of drunk middle-aged Iowans awkwardly tapping their feet and clapping to the fiddle and guitar of a couple of average local musical groups. Not even close. Headlined by none other than the highly acclaimed band Gaelic Storm, the festival was a rare opportunity to see a great lineup of groups, including the world famous Trinity Irish Dancers, The Killdares, The Young Dubliners, Cherish the Ladies and many others, practically for free.

From 6:30 to 8pm on Opening night, Gaelic Storm enchanted the crowd at the Miller Lite stage with their typical high energy set full of rollicking pub sing-along numbers and sets of reels and jigs. Gaelic Storm first rose to prominence as the “party band” in the 1997 film Titanic. You remember, when Jack and Rose go downstairs on the ship to experience “the real party.” Since then, the group has gone on several world tours, and their 2006 album Bring Yer Wellies reached #2 on the Billboard World Chart. They have a huge fan base worldwide.

Securing Gaelic Storm for the event was a major success on the part of the Cedar Valley Irish Cultural Association and president Jim Walsh: “The Irish in Iowa have done such a fine job of melding into their communities that we felt it was time to draw them back out a bit and show them off to their neighbors and as many visitors as we could,” Walsh told the Tickle City Award Committee through the event website.

In addition to the music, the festival featured a wide variety of vendors offering interesting Irish clothing and cultural memorabilia for good prices. The food and drink also featured incredible deals, especially the drink tickets, just $3 for a choice between Guinness, Harp lager, Smithwick’s and several American varieties. The choices proved to be too much for event-goer Jelal Younes, who became flustered and eventually ordered a Lemonade. He was then almost chased away from the park for doing so.

Other highlights included the Tickle City Award Committee’s meeting Gaelic Storm frontman Patrick Murphy after the show: chatting briefly before getting Murphy to laugh uncontrollably upon seeing the Committee’s shirt, which read “Save the Ales” with a picture of a large glass of ale. Murphy eventually signed the shirt.

Attending the Iowa Irish Fest, a great fall budget move by the Tickle City Award Committee, has freed up funds of $195 by not attending Lollapalooza. The Committee is currently in talks about where those funds should go, with the two front-runners being baseball cards and advertising for various Tickle City Award themed events that will take place this fall.

Iowa Irish Fest ’08, you are tickle city!

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