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Thursday, March 9, 2017 12:03 am

Early Irish music

The cast of Cotton Patch Gospel performs the acclaimed musical at the Hoogland Center for the Arts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.


With St. Patrick’s Day falling on a Friday in 2017, our celebration of all things Irish and Celtic stretches for more than a week. Since the long-running St. Patrick’s Day Marching Band Parade held downtown always happens on the Saturday before March 17, the parade this year falls on March 11 (the earliest date it can be), making next year a special one with the parade actually occurring on St. Patrick’s Day proper. This year’s event is a weeklong activity.

A few months ago I received some backstory information about the parade in a late-night conversation at Norb Andy’s (investigative reporting with a Guinness). My conversation partner revealed that his father, along with several other Springfield citizens of Irish descent who were mostly lifelong members of St. Patrick’s Parish and students at the parish school, started the parade idea. The city, as in the folks at City Hall, weren’t all that thrilled about the notion and didn’t support the event much in the early days, to say the least.

To this day, the parade is staged through private donations and the organization behind it all is run by volunteers interested in keeping the thing going for the sake of family heritage. Along with the middle- and high-school marching bands that participate, anyone with the gumption to make a float or just march in the parade is invited to apply at Of course, registration for this year is complete, but you have plenty of time to come up with an idea and apply for the 34th annual St. Patrick’s Day Marching Band Parade in 2018.

Before, during and after the parade, music is everywhere, live and otherwise. The newest downtown watering hole, 411 Bar & Grill, is off the route on Washington street just about a half-block west of Fifth street, but they’re celebrating their inaugural St. Pat’s Day with a blast. Bands start at the crack of noon and continue for 12 hours with Square of the Roots kicking it off, Casey Cantrall and the Bad Mama Jamas at 3 p.m., Skibbereen at 5 p.m., John Brillhart & Friends at 7:30 p.m. and Purple Stardust from 9 p.m. until midnight.

Over at Bar None and right on the parade route, The Emerald Underground hits the stage from 1 to 4, then heads over to Lime Street Cafe for an evening performance starting at 8:30. Usually the busiest band in town over the St. Pat’s period, you can catch TEU playing their brand of “Celtic Fusion” at Lime Street Cafe next weekend as well, with the full band on Friday and a “lite” version on Saturday. George Rank’s continues a live music and festive feast tradition with McKinney & Hennessy, that Irish folk duo of Rick Dunham and me, playing all the hits from 2 to 5 after the parade. Then we pack ourselves up and hoof it to Petersburg for a 7 to 9 performance at Hand of Fate Brewery where Dr. Ugs serves up the food.

If you’re looking for an addition or alternative to the Irish onslaught, there’s a cool show at the Hoogland this weekend (March 10-12) called Cotton Patch Gospel. The musical, based on a book by Clarence Jordan that portrays the Gospels happening in rural Georgia through country music, is directed by our very own Ken Bradbury and contains songs written by the late Harry Chapin. A slew of the finest folk and acoustic playing musicians in central Illinois, including Mark Mathewson, Barry Cloyd, Greg Floyd, Nathan Carls, Bradbury, Carrie Carls, Danny McLaughlin and Rob Killam bring the play to life on stage.

See you at the parade and around the town.

Contact Tom Irwin at

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