Where to begin, where to begin? It’s Saturday, June 30 in County Down, Northern Ireland. Today is bass player Marc Doten’s birthday. We flew out of LAX on Tuesday night, June 26th. Just a few short days ago but somehow it seems like an eternity. We’ve just made a critical decision to abandon four pages of directions involving scores of roundabouts and towns between here and Balla, County Mayo. Instead we’ll take the M1 south to Dublin to eventually go west on the M4 to our third gig all the way across this green land. The local roads are just too stressful and the double carriage way of the M1 feels much more like our familiar I-5. We need a break from driving our wide diesel van down the narrow narrow lanes stuffed with tractors going slow and big trucks and buses going terrifyingly fast. We’ll take the extra kilometers.
We’ve been staying in a hundred year old farm house on the outskirts of the little town of Rathfriland in between Belfast and Dublin. It’s a lovely place. Thick walls, flower wallpaper, comfy chairs and a coal fireplace. The owners are a sweet and charming blue eyed older farming couple who tend to their cattle in the surrounding barns and green lush pastures bounded by hedge rows. The husband was born in the room upstairs, a tale common to his generation. We’re reminded that Ireland, for all the glitter of the Celtic Tiger, is an agricultural nation, and a thriving one. The only real problem is the hot water. There’s hardly a drop. But we’ll soon learn that cold showers are typical in Ireland.
After a costly and cramped pair of flights from Los Angeles to London Heathrow to Dublin (which we’ll spare you the details of–suffice it to say that all flying is unpleasant and humiliating, unless you are on the other side of the first class divide), we were picked up at the airport by our kind host and tour booker Andy Peters for the drive north to County Down. We pulled into the farmhouse gravel yard around midnight on Wednesday; crushed with jet lag we stumbled through darkness to our beds. We awoke to the sound of cows mooing, a green and gray light streaming through the windows. Oh my, we’re really in Irish countryside. What time is it–11 a.m.? No, it’s not yet 7 a.m. Our internal clocks are confused but our spirits are beginning to soar. This is what we’ve been looking forward to for all these months. Our hosts have left the necessary staples for breakfast: tea, brown bread, milk. We make a strong pot and gather our wits. Then it’s time for a walk. We amble down the Cavan Road and take in the greenness. Heavy gray clouds drop small showers in brief bursts but it’s not really raining. Moss seems to grow on everything: slate roofs, stone fences, trees. Small fields alternate with cows and sheep grazing lazily. One field is home to a donkey, a horse, and a shetland pony. Perhaps the set up for Hawks Original Joke #7? Stay tuned for that.
After our early morning walk and breakfast we do our best to catch a little more sleep. We’ve got a drive ahead of us down to Skerries, an old touristy beach town a bit north of Dublin. In Joyce’s story “A Mother” from Dubliners, the ambitious mother brags to her friends about the trips her husband takes the family on there. After our naps, we inspect the gear, rehearse a bit, and load the truck. PL gathers his courage and takes the wheel. He’s the only Hawk insured to drive the vehicle and he’s volunteered to shoulder the heavy, stressful, and often blood chilling burden of driving us around the Emerald Isle. Rob W struggles to make sense of the directions while Marc Doten scans the map. Getting around is a three man job at this point. Will this get any easier? After a few missteps we find the M1 and head south. We pass through into the Republic without any sign or border post. Thankfully, the scars of the Troubles are healing and vanishing.
As we approach Skerries we can smell the sea and see the gulls. Apparently, a skerry is a rocky out cropping in the sea. There they are on the shore’s horizon, framed by gray clouds. Jagged gray and black limestone emerges from the sea, coated in green and yellow moss. It’s lovely. We’re looking for a place called Raff’s On The Corner. It’s a pub, a restaurant, a venue, a sports bar. Proprietor Jimmy Rafferty welcomes us in and shows us around. He picked up the place for a song after the Tiger’s crash and he’s trying out a number of angles on the property. A musician and singer himself, he shows us a video of him singing Irish songs in a bar in Washington D.C. last year while Obama sips a pint in the audience. Curiously, Obama and Raff are never in the frame at the same time. Is this for real? We decide it is. Raff takes us to our apartment upstairs. It’s grand, real rooms and beds for one and all. He feeds us well too. So far, so good Ireland. The jet lag is still with us, coming in waves. One minute you feel normal, the next you think you might fall over, and putting together a sentence seems impossible. We try to rest for a bit before showtime.
The show starts up around 10 pm but it’s still plenty light out. We’re far north and it’s eight days past the solstice. Tourists reminiscent of Joyce’s mother gather to hear the Americans. Then there are the tattooed guys in Thrasher shirts and a few drunken soccer hooligans. Everyone is so friendly it’s alarming. We of cold L.A. need to adjust to this potent welcoming kindness. We hold the jet lag at bay and get through our first set efficiently. At our short break people discuss the lyrics they’ve just heard. This is the land of word and song, after all. We hit the stage again. Jimmy Rafferty has advised us to salt our set with classic country covers, which we do with our typical reluctance. But we are rewarded with the sight of Marc Doten, who hates the Eagles with a passion reserved for Foreigner and drum machines, singing along to “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” Yes, Silverlakers and Echo Parkians, you heard it here first. Marc Doten is singing an Eagles song.
Jimmy Rafferty joins us, plugs in his guitar and sings solid versions of “Folsom Prison,” grabbing the lead guitar line, and Hag’s “Mama Tried.” He knows his classic country hits. He grabs his friend Billy to come up too. Uh oh. RW generously loans Billy his guitar, or perhaps he’s just glad to get to sit down for a few to rest his weary legs. Billy is a curly haired, elfin Irishman with a gold hoop earring. He straps on the guitar and it’s at his ankles. He cranks up the strap and RW cringes. It’ll take a month to get it back to that sweet spot. Damn. Billy launches into a ragged version of “I Shall Be Released,” but when will we be? RW eventually regains his guitar and mic. A few more Hawks tunes and our first gig is complete. Ready to crash, we thankfully just need to make it up the stairs. Sleep comes fast and hard.