At the age of 16, St. Patrick (just Patrick at the time) was captured from his home in Britain by Irish pirates. He escaped and made his way back to Britain, later returning to Ireland as a Catholic missionary. Not sure that he drove all the snakes out of Ireland as the myth states, but during the fifth century, he did spread Christianity throughout the emerald isle and helped the Celtic population convert from their traditional religious practices. He is the patron saint of Ireland and a much-revered historical figure. In Ireland St. Patrick’s Day is more of a religious holiday, whereas in the United States it is also a big party occassion.
In thinking about St. Patrick being kidnaped at a young age and taken to a foreign land, my sometimes creative mind got to wondering what would happen if St. Patrick was magically transported to Pittsburgh around St. Patrick’s Day. He would probably be humbled by all the attention on him. Being a man of the people, he would first seek out a less fortunate parish where people could use a boost, possibly in the post-industrial Mon Valley. After that he might be a little hungry and could possibly head for a fish fry at Holy Angels Parish in Hays. Or maybe he would be curious about the intriguing thing called a sandwich that the Primanti Brothers had developed their own version of.
St. Patrick would most definitely be the grand marshall of the parade in his honor. Having spent many years of his life in Ireland, he would probably want to imbibe an alcoholic beverage. He would no doubt be amazed that people were drinking a beverage that looked like it had turned bad, green beer. I believe St. Patrick would also want the people of Pittsburgh and its environs to be kind to one another and enjoy the days of drinking, music, and dance in his honor. Sláinte!
Christopher Maggio (CM) and Mike Vargo (MV) also contributed to the St. Patrick Days Pittsburgh 2020 Guide.
Saturday, March 7
As if there’s not already enough happening on a normal Saturday on the South Side, there is the Shamrock Crawl. Here’s the deal: buy a ticket ($20 prior to Saturday, $30 on game day), and you will get reduced prices on drinks, a special Shamrock mug, cover-free access to some of South Side’s best bars, food specials, raffle entry for prizes, and free pictures of the event. 2 – 10 p.m. For participating bars, tickets, and more information visit the Shamrock Crawl website. (RH)
The River City Brass Band is a top-notch orchestra whose mission is to showcase American music culture locally, nationally, and globally. They play various music programs throughout the year. A very popular series is their Celtic Connections concerts. This year’s is Celtic Connections IV and promises to bridge “the pond” with songs from Ireland, Wales, and Scotland alongside American country music. On the program are a diverse group of songs including “Highland Cathedral,” “Two Irish Jigs,” and “Country Roads.” Accompanying River City Brass will be Carnegie Mellon Pipes and Drums. The concerts will be held at various schools and at Greensburg’s Palace Theatre on March 7th and Carnegie Music Hall of Oakland on the 12th. 21 W. Otterman St., Greensburg. (RH)
Sunday, March 8
How true to its roots is the supposedly authentic Irish music and dance that we get? Maybe it’s best not to care, for as Louis Armstrong once observed, all music is “folk music”—horses don’t create it. The touring show Rhythm of the Dance, which has been circling the globe for the past 20 years and evolving as it goes, is a case in point. Produced by an outfit called National Dance Company of Ireland, the show features traditional Irish step dancers, and musicians with traditional instruments playing for the dances and songs. But there are many touches of modern showmanship as well, and it all seems to work out. Judge for yourself when Rhythm of the Dance visits The Palace Theatre for one performance only. 4 p.m. 21 W. Otterman St., Greensburg. (MV)
Monday, March 9
Are The Chieftains retiring? There’s been no such announcement. But the group’s current U.S. tour is called The Irish Goodbye Tour (maybe a sly joke, maybe not)—and though founder/leader Paddy Moloney may seem ageless, he’s 81—so devotees of Irish music should get tickets now for The Chieftains at Heinz Hall. Starting with a remarkable series of concerts and albums in the 1960s, The Chieftains have been a major force in propagating traditional Irish tunes and instruments worldwide. Just about every notable Irish musician or vocalist has performed with the band at some point: Van Morrison (for the beautiful Irish Heartbeat album), Sinéad O’Connor, Shane MacGowan, and many more. The Chieftains also have expanded their repertoire over the years, bringing classic Irish folk influence to music that ranges from Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” (with Ziggy Marley singing) to American country ballads like “Long Black Veil” (with Mick Jagger). And all the while they’ve been playing the true golden oldies of Ireland, such as “Brian Boru’s March,” named after the Irish king of early medieval times. Catch The Chieftains here with a surprise roster of local guests. 7:30 p.m. 600 Penn Ave., Cultural District. (MV)
Wednesday, March 11 and Thursday, March 12
The Strand Theater is the pride of Zelienople, and among the venue’s programming this month is Irish singing group The Celtic Tenors. The Tenors have been visiting The Strand since 2011. This year The Celtic Tenors are on their Irish Songbook tour. “Danny Boy” “Finnegan’s Wake,” and “Whiskey in the Jar” are several classic Irish songs they are likely to be performing. 119 North Main St., Zelienople. (RH)
Thursday, March 12
Are you up for exploring the mysteries of the cycle of life, death, and rebirth? There’s no more comical or musical way to do it than by attending a re-enactment of the good old Irish song “Finnegan’s Wake.” The song, from the 1860s, inspired James Joyce’s novel of the same title. It’s about a hod carrier named Tim Finnegan who suffers a seemingly fatal accident but revives when a brawl at his wake sprays whiskey into the coffin. Pittsburgh’s Donnie Irish Band performs the dramatic staging (which features a “live corpse”), and the fellows just might do a few more tunes as well, at Mullaney’s Harp & Fiddle. Festivities commence at 8 p.m. 2329 Penn Ave., Strip District. (MV)
Friday, March 13 Canceled*****
If you prefer a fun yet more dignified celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, then Club Cafe‘s ninth annual The Calm Before the Storm–A Night of Irish Traditional Music and Song with Mark Dignam & Friends might be the ticket for you. Mark Dignam was raised in Finglas, a North Side Dublin suburb, where he showed early aptitude as a singer. He moved to center-city Dublin at 18 and began busking on Grafton Street. He is now Pittsburgh-based and performs with his band, The House of Song. The tradition continues. 7 p.m. 56–58 S. 12th St., South Side. (CM)
Saturday, March 14
The Parade has been canceled by the City of Pittsburgh due to Coronavirus concerns.*******
If your neighborhood seems a little quiet the morning of March 14, it may be because over 200,000 Pittsburghers and visitors are downtown for The St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Having begun as early as 1869 and billed as one of the oldest and largest St. Patrick’s Day parades in the country, it includes bands, Irish organizations, Miss Smiling Irish Eyes, and just about every politician in Allegheny County. The 2020 Grand Marshal is Assistant Allegheny County Solicitor, Tim Finnerty, and Miss Smiling Irish Eyes is Stephanie O’Donnell. Members of the Queen’s court are Courtney McGinley and Kelly Bench.
This year’s parade theme, as always, is “A Just Peace in the North of Ireland.” Each year brings something slightly different, although who could forget the 1993 parade? It continued despite a blizzard, the worst that the city had seen in over 100 years. (Hopefully no snow this year.)
The parade begins at the intersection of Liberty Avenue and 11th Street, proceeds to Grant Street, and turns right onto the Boulevard of the Allies. Then it marches down the Boulevard to the parade reviewing stand at Stanwix Street and ends at Commonwealth Place.
Remember, anyone who wants to be Irish—is Irish—on St. Paddy’s Day! Parade starts at 10 a.m. Downtown. See our photo story from last year’s parade. (RH, CM)
Parade Day Bar Happenings
The day and eve of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade make a good time to have a taste of Ireland’s native waters. (Guinness, Harp, and Murphy’s brews are some good ones as are Tullamore D.E.W. and Jameson Irish whiskies.) Have an old Irish toast, such as “May you be in heaven a full half hour before the devil knows you’re dead,” in any of several happenin’ Irish pubs including Mullaney’s Harp & Fiddle, McArdle’s, Murphy’s Taproom, McFadden’s, Mullen’s, and Riley’s Pour House. For those who don’t imbibe or are designated drivers (thank you!), enjoy a McDonald’s Shamrock Shake, a soft drink, or a cup o’ hot tea. (RH)
One of the most popular spots to celebrate the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Day is Mullaney’s Harp & Fiddle. The pub will open at 8 a.m. and serve a parade day breakfast. With a tent connected to the pub, the celebration space is doubled. Irish bands and performers hold court all day and night in both spaces beginning at noon and going until about 1 a.m. Mullaney’s will be featuring the top bands on the Pittsburgh Irish music scene including: Donnie Irish Band, Whiskey Limerick, Tullycavy, Skipper O’Johnson Band, Mark Guiser, and Guaranteed Irish. Mullaney’s will also feature a big party on the actual St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, with the tent remaining and live music in both spaces. Lineup to be announced soon. 2329 Penn Ave., Strip District. (RH)
Think traditional Celtic music but with some extra beats per minute—that’s Bastard Bearded Irishmen. The local group is helping Pittsburgh usher in St. Patrick’s Day with its annual party at the Rex Theater. 2014’s Rise of the Bastard features 12 originals, like the throttling “Tomorrow,” as well as three traditionals, like “Three Drunken Maidens.” The band performed at the Thrival Music Festival in 2016. Its latest album is 2018’s Drinkin’ to the Dead. 500 Miles to Memphis and Brave the Sea open. 6 p.m. 1602 E. Carson St., South Side. (CM)
Normally wild geese congregate on the great lawn on the North Shore, but today the band The Wild Geese, who play idyllic, mostly acoustic Irish music, will perform on the South Shore at Hard Rock Cafe for a post parade party. Many people will flock there. 8:30 – 11:30 p.m. 230 W. Station Square Dr., Station Square. (CM, RH)
Tuesday, March 17 Canceled*****
When Pittsburgh punk band Carsickness quit making music, frontman Karl Mullen, drummer Dennis Childers, multi-instrumentalist Steve Sciulli, sax player Don Roehlich, and bassist Hugh Watkins formed the Irish folk-rock group Ploughman’s Lunch in 1993. Their discography includes the 1993 debut release Whiskey From the Field, followed a year later by Sodom and Begorrah! 1996’s Paddy’s Got a Brand New Bag saw the band signed to J-Bird Records. After much initial success Mullen, also a painter who sometimes uses tea in his art, left Pittsburgh. In 1999 Ploughman’s Lunch released a self-titled effort and in 2017 they regrouped to play one of the last shows at Bloomfield Bridge Tavern. They had so much fun they’re at it again. Pittsburgh notables including Mayor Peduto, Karla Boos, and Tony Norman will also give poetry readings. 7 p.m. Thunderbird Cafe and Music Hall, 4053 Butler Ave., Lawrenceville. (RH)
Thursday, March 19 Rescheduled to March 10, 2021*******
Read it slowly: Red Hot Chilli Pipers. Not Peppers. Pipers. It’s a Scottish bagpipe band that plays traditionals and rock classics, such as Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Seriously. 2019’s Fresh Air is the group’s latest album. Check out the Pipers at Jergel’s Rhythm Grille. 8 p.m. 285 Northgate Dr., Warrendale. (CM)
Photos of 2019 parade: Rick Handler
Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central and one quarter Irish.