With our upcoming performance at the brand new Lochrann's Irish Pub in Frisco this January 12th fresh on my mind, I started thinking about the days when Irish/Celtic pubs abounded in Dallas/Ft. Worth.
Seems like a long time ago, but it was only really about 8-10 years ago, the D/FW area was swarming with places where you could go to see your favorite Celtic music act and sample many pints of Guinness or Murphy's Irish Stouts. There were places like the Emerald Mist in Plano, the Celtic Quill in Dallas, the Pig and Whistle in Ft. Worth, and of course, the granddaddy of 'em all, the Tipperary Inn in Dallas. You could cozy up to a crowded bar or table, sit down with a bunch of friends and/or acquaintances you knew from the ren faire world and watch bands like the Blarney Brothers, Clandestine, SixMileBridge, Seven Nations, and others... including your favorite pirates, the Bilge Pumps. We performed at many of these places in our early years when there were a lot of these clubs around that were willing to hire large, loud bands that could pull in a crowd. Then, in what seemed like no time, the pubs either stopped hiring bands or closed down all together.
Well, to tell the truth, the fans happened, among other things. You see, many of these bands share the same fan base and many of these fans were the type that would show up, take up every table in the joint and then sip on a cup of coffee and a water all night. As a result, many bands that were viewed as "Ren Faire Bands" or had fans that were "Rennies" got a stigma surrounding them because their fans were labeled as cheap and no one wanted to pay hundreds of dollars to hire a band that couldn't bring enough paying customers to cover the cost of the band, much less make a decent profit. Not to say that's why all of the pubs disappeared, but it certainly contributed to it. We were one of the last bands to perform at the Tipp before it closed for remodeling (when it re-opened, there was no stage for performing any longer, though that has since changed), we were one of the last to perform at the Pig and Whistle before it closed it's doors, and were the last band to perform at the Celtic Quill before it shut down and became a gay bar. Though that last one is kind of poetic, actually.
The fans of the bands were willing to show up to support their favorite bands, but were unwilling to support the venue that was allowing their bands to perform by buying beer, drinks, and food from the pub. Many of them would opt to swing by McDonalds on the way there and suck on a water or coffee for 3 hours to watch their band perform. Pubs can't make a living that way. I've talked to quite a few pub owners while trying to get us gigs and gotten the riot act from many of them about how it made a lot more sense for them to hire a DJ or get a karaoke machine that costs them next to nothing rather than pay money for a band. Kinds of rips the life out the whole atmosphere of an Irish/Celtic pub, but that's the way times can get.
So for a while, there wasn't much game in town when it came to live Celtic music, at least not for large shows that took up lots of space on stage and had the big draws. That's starting to change now, as the Tipp is still around, along with MacHenry's Upstairs in Ft. Worth with its new location and larger venue (though it has temporarily shut down due to financial problems), and there is Trinity Hall in Dallas, not to mention various smaller pubs (though they are generally looking for small, 2-man background bands, not big shows). There have also been a couple of new places pop up recently like Lochrann's that are looking to bring back the bands and their fans. If we want these places to stick around and keep hiring live music, we need to support the pub as much as the band.
We have performed at the Tipp a few times over the last year or so as we try to ease back into the local Celtic scene and we have proven to them that we can draw a crowd that will also spend money, but that's still not the case in general for groups. So here's my call out to everyone, when you go to watch a band perform at a Celtic/Irish Pub, whether it be The Bilge Pumps or anyone, buy drinks and food from the house. Plan on making it an evening dining out and having fun with your band. Invite your friends that you know will buy food/drinks and clap and laugh and cheer and be entertained, because we don't want our pubs to close down or have their live music turn into jukeboxes or (shudder) karaoke.
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