Home sweet home 

Transplanted Rock folk give every Irish Descendants show a hometown vibe

Who: The Irish Descendants

Where: Maxx Fish

When: Tuesday, March 16

Sure, being a member of one of Canada’s top Celtic music bands sounds like it might be a lark. According to Con O’Brien, frontman for Newfoundland’s The Irish Descendants, it can be just that.

But there’s one downfall – missing out on the best party in Canada every year.

St. John’s is where the Descendants hang their hats. And according to O’Brien, St. Patrick’s Day in Newfoundland, a place that maintains strong cultural ties to the island across the Atlantic, is nothing short of a two-week event.

He remembers pre-band years, being a headstrong young man lining up at the first pub at 9 a.m. with a mental checklist of all the different locales he had to make sure to hit before the sun rose on March 18.

Then there were the early years of the Irish Descendants, from 1990 to 1992, years during which O’Brien says the band was in such high demand in their home town they played 33 sets in four days.

But now, with the recent release of their ninth album, We Are the Irish Descendants , and numerous national and East Coast music awards under their belts, O’Brien and his bandmates are in high demand throughout all of North America.

An ambitious touring schedule brings them to Whistler on March 16, a day before they hit the Commodore in Vancouver for St. Patrick’s Day 2004. That’s about as far from St. John’s as you can get.

The last St. Patrick’s Day O’Brien says he remembers spending in St. John’s was way back in 1992.

"I do miss the camaraderie," he admits. "We miss out on a lot of the fun. It’s a balancing act; it’s a necessary evil for us to be travelling."

But a gang of Newfie minstrels can find little patches of home all across this country. Up in the oil patches of Northern Alberta, in the suburbs of Southern Ontario, all throughout B.C. and so on, there are communities of Newfoundlanders displaced by an ever-weakening fishing industry. For the Irish Descendents and other touring Newfoundland-based acts like their friends Great Big Sea, this phenomenon makes almost every show a hometown show.

Nothing beats the energy of a hometown show – the arms-around-the-shoulders camaraderie, singing along to songs everyone knows – the shows that make strangers into friends.

But O’Brien says the situation can also be kind of sad.

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