Since 1980, Ground Zero for Irish music in Savannah has been Kevin Barry's on River Street. New Yorker Vic Power opened the public house, with its multiple stages and Gaelic theme rooms, as an emulation of the favored hangouts of his youth.
In an Irish pub, the musicians aren't background sound; they put on a show. And when they're good — which they always are at Kevin Barry's — they draw the audience in.
Never a dull moment, as me sainted grandmother used to say.
"It's Vic's theory that if live entertainment and good conversation, and a good choice of adult beverages is not enough for you, then you can go somewhere else," says Carroll Brown, who's been doin' the entertainin' there since 1994.
St. Patrick's Day, as you might expect, is a big deal at the Pub. This year, it's a triple pookah-whammy, with Brown and two of his fellow River Street regulars, Harry O'Donoghue and Frank Emerson, performing together Friday night, and all afternoon and evening Saturday and Sunday.
"With three voices, we can really get a lot of power behind a song," O'Donoghue says. "That's one of the things I look forward to the most."
A native of Ireland, O'Donoghue is the only member of the green threesome to maintain a residence in Savannah (Brown's from Charleston, while Emerson makes his home in Virginia).
He came to the United States in 1987.
"I made my living for years working the Irish pubs around the country, from Houston to New Orleans to Los Angeles," O'Donoghue says.
"And they're just not there any more. People don't want to pay the money and expenses to get people like me. And back then, there were a lot more people like me, it seemed."
Emerson, who's been appearing periodically at Barry's since just after its debut, agrees that things have, indeed, changed.
"I think people's politeness and courtesy has gone down with the advent of cell phones," he says. "I've had people sitting in the audience, and I see the lights of the cell phones — people are texting and talking all the time when I'm playing. And it's enough to drive you a little bit nuts."
Emerson, Brown and O'Donoghue are longtime pals and boyos. They made a collaborative CD 13 years ago, A Christmas Postcard.
In 2007, Emerson and O'Donoghue were among the pub-music collaborators on a book called Clean Cabbage in the Bucket and other Tales From the Irish Music Trenches, a collaborative anthology of reminiscences and stories.
On Saturday and Sunday, the three will perform before, after and along with the Savannah-based Irish music group Seldom Sober.
Expect a lot of good humor — sometimes, but not nearly always, on the bawdy side — and fine musicianship on story-songs, love songs, singalongs and paeans to the Great Shamrock Isles.
Hoist yer glass; tt's the American version of St. Patrick's Day. And these are three guys who know what they're doing.
"There are people who come here to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, but geographically they couldn't find the island with a map," laughs O'Donoghue. "But hey, at least they're embracing it — it's a party. Let's rock on."
Kevin Barry's Irish Pub is at 117 E. River St.