Christmas Comes Early

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This past weekend, for an early Christmas present, I gave Kathleen a weekend getaway to Ennis in County Clare, in the west part of the country near Shannon. I had been to Ennis for a conference a few weeks ago, and knew Kathleen would enjoy wandering the town while we finished up our Christmas shopping.

On the way to Ennis, we took a quick detour to the Cross of Spancilhill, the location immortalized in the old Irish song “Spancil Hill”, one of my favorites. I can’t say there was a lot to see in Spancilhill (it’s just a country crossroads), but nonetheless it was very cool to visit and see the area that’s been sung about for 150 years.

We got to Ennis and checked into our digs, the Old Ground Hotel, a former manor house in Ennis. It was ideally located right in downtown Ennis, close to all the shopping and the county museum. We enjoyed a few hours of checking out the town, then had a great Indian dinner.

The real highlight of the trip, the reason for going to Ennis this particular weekend, was a Saturday evening concert by Josh Ritter. Ritter is a singer from Moscow, Idaho who hasn’t really hit it big in the United States yet. We discovered his music when I found a couple of his CDs at the library here in Tramore. He’s been very successful in Ireland, and after seeing his show we know why. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen another concert where the performer was so clearly having so much fun. We saw the show in a not-quite-full 500-seat theater at the Glor Irish Music Centre. After a brief (and not-too-impressive) opening act, Ritter and his 3-man band put on a show that lasted about an hour-and-a-half. We’ve found going out for live music here in Ireland is a lot of fun, as the crowds generally really get into the act, singing along and sometimes dancing. This show was no exception, and I think the crowd entertained Josh Ritter as much as he entertained the crowd. His tune “Kathleen” was a particular hit for at least one member of the audience. :) For an encore, Ritter came back to the darkened stage by himself and sang an acoustic, un-amplified version of “Here at the Right Time”. It’s the first time I can ever recall hearing “Shush!”-ing at a concert, but after everyone was properly “Shush!”-ed, you could have heard a pin drop as he sang the mournful tune. Then he brought the whole band out for a couple more tunes to end the show.

After the show, as we filed out, I asked Kathleen if she wanted to get a CD signed. We decided this was probably the last chance we’d have to see Ritter play a show this small, so we got some CDs and got in line - along with 85-90 other people! We stood and watched as Josh signed ticket stubs, posters, CDs, t-shirts, and even cell phones. We were both absolutely floored that he took a couple of minutes to chat with each and every person waiting, asking them questions and really engaging with them. He had a handshake, hugs and kisses for everyone, and posed for countless pictures. A couple of musicians in line offered him copies of their own CDs, and he got wildly excited, asking them about their music and how they enjoyed the show.

When Kathleen made it to the front of the line the pattern continued. He asked all kinds of questions, wondering why we were in Ireland, etc. Before they were done, Kathleen had learned that Josh’s grandmother taught at Gallaudet, the deaf college in Washington, DC where Kathleen got her master’s degree. I was standing back with the camera, and when Kathleen mentioned my name Ritter looked up, thanked me for coming to the show (twice), shook my hand. While all this was going on he was busy signing CDs for us - one of which, we discovered later, he signed “To Kathleen and Dennis - you two look great together.”

So, clearly, we’re two new fans on the Josh Ritter bandwagon. We suggest you hop on, because if there’s any justice in this world Josh will soon be as popular in the States as he is here. He puts on a great live show, and his music, both tunes and lyrics, is beautifully written. Check out his web site where you can view some videos and listen to some tunes. The Center for American Progress performance on his Gallery page is especially powerful.

A New Fan!

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