A Very Different Kind of St. Patrick’s Day

Switchback with Billy Shelton of the Spaniels

By Paul Schneider

It’s St. Patrick’s Day! What better question to put to a couple of grizzled old Irish musicians like Brian FitzGerald and Marty McCormack, than “What does St. Patrick’s Day mean to you?”

In separate interviews, they came up with the same answer.

“I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way, but I always associate St. Patrick’s Day with the beginning of spring and the end of winter,” said Brian.

Later in the day, Marty offered: “In Chicago St. Patrick’s Day takes on a celebration that spring has finally arrived. That’s the way most people look at it.”

See? I guess you know and work with someone long enough, you start thinking like them. It won’t be long before they start finishing each other’s sentences, if they don’t do that already.

“There’s added meaning and inspiration that comes with the holiday, too,” Brian added. “It’s like you’re on your way into a new beginning. You’ve made it through the winter. It’s like a releasing. There’s a lot of high spirits that accompany St. Patrick’s Day because the day is full of celebration.”

“You don’t have to be Irish to have a great time with it,” Marty added. “That’s what makes St Patrick’s Day such a unique holiday. It’s all inclusive, like the 4th of July.”

For Switchback, the holiday usually means playing a lot of shows in one day (what else is new?). But this year, with the coronavirus rearing its ugly head and nursing homes and schools taking precautionary measures, the band will have played only seven shows this year – down from an original 21 scheduled.

“It’s different this year,” Brian said. “We’re used to going from 10 in the morning until 1 a.m. driving all over the place through all kinds of weather, through the snow. And all the potato dishes that get served. I remember one place offered like 20 different dishes.”

Coronavirus-induced dearth of potato dishes aside, Marty agreed that there’s a different vibe this year, and he is grateful to Tom Lounges Entertainment in Hobart, Indiana, who let the show continue at the venerable Hobart Art Theatre.

“Everything was changing by the minute,” said Marty.  “By the time we reached Friday, it felt that this was to be the last show for a while.  Even the audience picked up on that surreal feeling.”

Marty and Brian’s “musical dad,” the great Billy Shelton, 85, surprised them by making the hours-long drive to Hobart from Michigan. The audience spread throughout the theater to avoid social contact.  Along with Takeshi Horiuchi on the bodhran, Switchback gave it their all. 

“I thanked everyone for not only being brave, but for making the decision to attend with full respect to the gravity of the moment,” Marty commented. 

Martin Hughes, a fan from Dublin, requested “Danny Boy” as the encore; the audience supported this request.  Switchback collectively dedicated the song to first responders, caregivers and medical personnel. 

“It was a very somber ending to what is proving to be a very somber time,” Marty said.

As of this writing, all of Switchback’s shows are cancelled through the end of March. Stay tuned for further developments.

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