March 17th is St Patrick’s Day, a grand, life-affirming celebration of togetherness and unity as everyone drops their nationalities and becomes Irish for a day by compressing the country’s proud traditions and noble history into the symbolic gestures of wearing green, eating corned beef and cabbage, and drinking. Certainly, there’s more to being Irish than that, but who has time to learn when they are only going to immerse themselves in a culture over the course of one evening in a bar?
However, no matter the level of interest, anyone who has spent time in an Irish setting can verify that music is as important to life as air itself. The Fenians, a talented quintet based out of Orange County, CA, proves that maxim traveling the country playing traditional and contemporary Irish music; they also make a yearly trek to the motherland with their fans.
A new tradition that they are creating is their annual St. Patrick’s Day concert at the House of Blues Anaheim, which I believe has now reached its sixth. This year’s show opened with young Irish dancers and Graceland Mafia. Unfortunately, I missed them both because I was participating in my own tradition that day: watching the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the greatest sporting event there is. It’s recognized as a holiday in the El Bicho household as we commemorate the young men who do battle by drinking alcohol and gambling on their exploits. This year was very good as Ladron de Tebeos’ prognostication skills failed him miserably to my financial benefit, but it ran until almost 9 pm.
The Fenians aren’t your usual Irish pub band. While they can recreate authentic Irish music, some songs have arrangements with a modern sound due to the inclusion of David Burnett’s saxophone, which I had never heard used in Irish music. Terry Casey is lead vocalist and mandolin player. He is a playful scamp on songs such as their “Token Whisky Song” and the classic “Whiskey in the Jar” while nimbly switching moods for somber selections. Guitarist Rob Williams has a deeper voice. He sang Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and a good song that I believe told a story about soldiers in the Mexican-American War.
Drummer Chris Pierce has the nickname “Animal” and he certainly looks the part. He is a longhaired, large brute of a man who defies expectations to those unfamiliar with the band by singing “Grace,” the most touching love ballad of the night. Burnett led a wonderful instrumental on the magic whistle, another instrument that is being added to my list alongside accordion, banjo and mouth harp that one cannot remain in a bad mood while listening to it. He played the flute on an up-tempo rocker that reminded me of Jethro Tull. Newest member Kenny Cosca rounds out the quintet on bass and got a little of the limelight as the band dropped in a bit of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.”
The Fenians understand the relationship they have with the audience and there is no separation between the band and their fans. They only play on stage to allow more people to see them play, but they act like they are on the same level. They appear to have as much fun, if not more so, than the audience. There’s always something special seeing a band play in their hometown in front of family and friends that have long supported them. The club was sold-out and everyone was in a great mood filled with the spirit and spirits of the holiday like a large group of friends gathered at a house party. If you don’t have a fun time seeing The Fenians play, the fault is most likely yours.
They have summer dates posted at their website.