Friday, December 12, 2014

Whistling gypsies at Burkhardt’s Pub

The Bog Carrot in 1993: John Whitacre, Mark Roliff, and Tom Perkins.
The Bog Carrot at the 2000 Warren Celtic Heritage Fair: John Whitacre, Tom Perkins, and Mark Roliff.
Published March 10, 2011
I put my violin to my chin and thought, “Four hours; that’s a long haul.” It was St. Patrick’s Day, and The Bog Carrot was embarking on its annual musical marathon at Burkhardt’s, a restaurant and brewpub in the Shops of Green south of Akron.
I learned of Burkhardt’s in the early 1990s when craft beers and brewpubs were sprouting all over the country nearly as fast as fast-food joints and drugstores with doors in the corners. Because the Irish and Scottish music I play are intimately associated with small family pubs in their homelands, I thought Burkhardt’s would be a good place to play, and I sent a band flier to owner Tom Burkhardt. Tom responded soon after receiving my mailing, and he offered our band a few experimental gigs with fresh beer as our pay. When he received favorable responses to our playing, he offered us real money to play on St. Patrick’s Day, the first time in 1992.

The Irish-American holiday for me in the 1980s had been one of green Budweiser and green plastic hats in noisy, crowded bars where the only thing vaguely approaching traditional Irish music was one of the Tin Pin Alley songs from the mid-1900s, so watching the crowd from the working side of St. Patrick’s Day was a new experience. I was a bit envious of all those people relaxing with their beers while I worked a four-hour gig after working all day at my day job, but I was proud that I played and knew traditional music well enough to be paid, and it was worth the work.
I became a bit of a snob when I first played traditional Celtic music, considering the Tin Pan Alley songs inferior to the real thing. Sometime in the early 1990s I joined a friend who was a college student at the University of Akron for a lunchtime concert of Tin Pan Alley “Irish” music, and he was surprised when I told him that the music being presented wasn’t Irish. Songs such as “My Wild Irish Rose” and “McNamara’s Band” are American compositions; traditional Irish music includes instrumental jigs, reels, hornpipes and slow harp pieces and a wealth of song, but most is unheard by the average American.
After a few years, however, I began listening again to two recordings that had been SPD traditions of my own in the 1980s — a cassette mix of Tin Pan Alley stuff and Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem songs that a friend made and a recording I found at the library called “20 Irish Favorites” by Barry O’Dowd and the Shamrock Singers — and I rediscovered the joy of those songs and remembered that good music is not limited to one country or era. My first choice is still the traditional music, but I like the other songs too.
The Bog Carrot played for many years on St. Patrick’s Day at Burkhardt’s, and we hosted a Celtic music session (called a seisiun in Ireland) once a month. At the seisiun we occupied a corner of the restaurant and drank homegrown ales, lagers, porters and stouts for free while we played. Our final St. Patrick’s Day gig was in 2000 at the Burkhardt’s in Medina, and leader Tom couldn’t attend, so that didn’t quite count. We disbanded later that year, and somewhere along the way Burkhardt’s folded too.
Its Green location closed first and is now the home of Menches Bros. I don’t know what happened to the Medina restaurant or to the Burkhardt family. The Warren Celtic Heritage Fair also folded that year, so I like to think that Burkhardt’s and Warren just couldn’t live without The Bog Carrot.
I have fond memories of those long hours playing and working on St. Patrick’s Day and of the more relaxing seisiuns, when any time I needed a break or a beer I could step away for a few moments. My good memories are represented by a German Burkhardt’s stein, a traditional stein with the raised artwork on the side and the hinged lid I took as partial payment on St. Patrick’s Day 1994, and this year for St. Patrick’s Day I’ll fill that stein with an Irish ale and remember my bandmates, good times with the Burkhardts and choruses of “The Whistling Gypsy Rover” —
“A dee do a dee do da day, A dee do a dee day-o, He whistled and he sang, Til the greenwood rang, And he won the heart of a lady.”

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