The rolling countryside surrounding East Durham.
By Larry Kirwan
For twenty years I knew exactly where I was going to be on Memorial Day Weekend.
This was highly unusual for Black 47 because though our schedule was always full, it was rarely predictable.
Still, the six musicians and two technicians of the band had much need of stamina for we usually spent Friday and Saturday among the green hills of East Durham, while Sunday and Monday took us to the deep Southside of Chicago.
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Old dogs for the hard road we departed New York City early Friday for two reasons – to miss traffic and secure the best musicians’ rooms in The Blackthorne Resort.
I always enjoyed the drive up the Thruway, for these would be our last easeful hours until Tuesday.
Once we were given our room keys by the ever welcoming Rita, I’d begin my rounds.
Hellos to Bob Handel and his two sons, Dale and Roy, then I’d make my most important call – into the kitchen for a visit to the late, lamented, Ginger, Bob’s wife.
With one warm appraising glance she could tell me exactly how the last year had treated me better than any doctor, wife or mother.
For that matter, it was not unusual to find various members of the hardboiled Black 47 crew in deep conversation with her around the kitchen table at all hours of day and night.
The large bar/dancehall of The Blackthorn would be full on Friday night.
Our job was to keep that audience totally engaged for the cream of Irish bands would be playing in the many other excellent resorts.
As we only played original music this called for maintaining a sustained sense of drama – easier than you might think since we never played the same set twice.
If we didn’t know what was coming next then how could the expectant revelers?
I always spent Saturday afternoon trekking around the local back roads, inevitably visiting the ruins of an overgrown cottage flanked by a stone wall that could have been transported direct from the Aran Islands.
Had the original inhabitants moved west, or cut their losses and returned home?
Such musings vanished at 9 p.m. when we’d take the stage at the East Durham Irish Festival.
As headliner you’re expected to draw crowds from New York City to Albany – not just for vanity but for admission receipts, and to provide customers for the many vendors, the lifeblood of any festival.
We were now in the thick of the weekend, strutting our stuff on the big stage.
However, there would be barely time for pictures, autographs, hugs and kisses before we would again hit the packed Blackthorne for an in-your-face audience more akin to CBGB’s in the 70s than the gently rolling Catskills.
I loved those second gigs. New songs, new energy, all thought gone, back to basics, the reason you got into Rock & Roll in the first place.
But we would already be in a rush against time for our flight to Chicago would leave at 8 a.m. from LaGuardia.
Our tech crew would go into high gear. Pack the van, round us up, get on the Thruway, speed down to our West Side storage, load off amps, drums, and out to the airport, bleary-eyed, but full of cranky attitude.
If possible then, pass out on the plane, hopefully get picked up at Midway and be whisked off to the Holiday Inn; but sleep was dangerous, better retain last night’s intensity, for by the time we hit Gaelic Park that evening, what seemed like the whole South Side of Chicago would be expecting the show of their lives.
And what a sight – a moshing, propulsive crowd, teetering on the edge of alcoholic anarchy hurling themselves over the barricades beyond eager to join us onstage.
No sleep yet though for the party would be raging back at the Holiday Inn with fans from all over the Midwest who had traveled far to greet us.
What did we talk about? Who knows – who cares! It’s all a blur now. One year bleeding into an abandoned other!
And yet, a happy Memorial Day Weekend to my many friends in the green hills of East Durham and in the concrete fields of South Side Chicago.
I haven’t forgotten you. You’re still the best!