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Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013

All About Ireland

Irish Fest brings music, food and culture to Milwaukee’s lakefront

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The seed of an idea called Irish Fest, planted more than three decades ago, has grown into the world’s largest Irish music and cultural festival. As in years past, Irish Fest’s organizers have worked hard over the last several months to develop and finalize a diverse roster of musicians and entertainers to perform at this year’s festival. On the job since September, Milwaukee Executive Director Patrick Boyle is delighted with the Irish Fest 2013 music lineup, extending his praise to the performers and the volunteers that make the whole celebration possible.

“Everybody has just done a great job this year,” says Boyle. “Along with old favorites like Gaelic Storm, the Red Hot Chilli Pipers and the Screaming Orphans, we have several new acts this year like The Willis Clan, an award-winning band of seven family members under the age of 21; Ronan Tynan, of the famous Irish Tenors; and Manran, a Scottish band that played at the London Olympics.” Also on tap is world-renowned Spanish bagpiper Carlos Núñez, the Dublin 5 and Creel—the house band at Raglan Road, the Irish pub at Disney World. “People will be thrilled with the new and returning artists. It’s a great lineup and an unbelievable festival.”

But Boyle is also quick to assert that the musical lineup is just one of the features that makes Irish Fest so special, referring specifically to the Dance Pavilion, the Cultural Pavilion and the newly revamped Cultural Village. Situated on the south end of the festival grounds, the 2013 Cultural Village will feature lectures and performances from a variety of educators and entertainers. Positioned near the Village Pub Stage, the Cultural Pavilion is scheduled to host exhibitions exploring such varied topics as “J.R.R. Tolkien’s Irish Connection,” “Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of Ireland” and the fascinating artwork of pre-Celtic Ireland. The Dance Pavilion will feature dance lessons, a baking contest and performances from Frogwater, Cream City Ceili Band, Myserk, Chicago Reel and the Nashville Ceili Band.

 

Spuds, Spirits and Shopping at the Lakefront

Assembled near the Dance Pavilion, the Lilliput Marketplace is one of two large marketplaces on the festival grounds. The other, Grafton Square, can be found near the Aer Lingus V.I.P. Stage. Together, the Lilliput and Grafton Square markets will house more than 90 merchandise and craft vendors. Combine those tents with the Irish Fest Store, the official Irish Fest poster booth and the six music marts scattered throughout the festival, and there are plenty of places to stroll and shop. Depending on the size of your brood, you may want to consider the Children’s Area. Open to kids 12 and under, the Children’s Area features two entertainment stages, Lilli-Putt miniature golf, Lego castles, a Leprechaun Village and an interactive Mr. Potato Head display.

Speaking of spuds, Irish Fest will once again welcome some of Milwaukee’s best restaurants, bakeries and pubs, allowing attendees to indulge in Irish classics like corned beef and cabbage, Guinness beef stew, chicken O’Leary and Irish soda bread, in addition to savory, culture-crossing alternatives like Irish egg rolls, Irish Reuben pizza and Irish nachos. And for those seeking a sweet treat or a morning pick-me-up, dessert and breakfast are also available. Offering up bread puddings, strudels, cheesecakes, cream puffs and cookies throughout the festival, some vendors will also be serving glazed morning buns, traditional Irish fry-ups and other breakfast items on Sunday afternoon.

Generous helpings of beer-battered fish and Bailey’s Irish Cream cheesecake aside, a visit to Irish Fest cannot be deemed complete without an Irish coffee, a cold beer or a shot of good Irish whiskey. The festival’s adult beverage selection includes wine, whiskey, an assortment of inspired cocktails and more than 24 beers on tap. Located on the south side of the grounds, The Jameson Lounge has proven itself to be one of the more pleasant places to enjoy a cocktail during the festival. This year, the Jameson oasis will be serving Paddy, Redbreast, Powers, Midleton and Jameson whiskey, as well as beer, wine, Bunratty Meade and specialty cocktails. Also available at the Jameson Cottage, the drink menu will include Jameritas, Bloody Molly’s (Sunday only), a Jameson and Ginger and a creation called the Celtic Breeze. A combination of Jameson and cranberry-apple juice, the Celtic Breeze should be a refreshing accompaniment to what promises to be an enjoyable festival.

Irish Fest runs August 15-18 at Henry W. Maier Festival Park. For a complete entertainment schedule, visit irishfest.com.

Emily Patti writes about food and culture for the Shepherd Express. She can be reached at empatti2@gmail.com.

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