Sunday, June 20, 2010

Steppin' Out in Ireland

Last week I had the great honor of spending a few days with Irish artists and radio producers.  I'd been invited over to Dublin by the independent Irish producer organization AIRPI, to talk about my own background in radio, the Third Coast Festival, the American radio landscape, and to hear some of their work. While I was there I got to meet with a bunch of Fringe Festival artists too. It was a short trip, but a full one. A very full one. A very short, full, and excellent trip. Read on for proof/highlights:

1. Talking to the 70 aforementioned Fringe Festival artists who came out to learn about the Dublin Fringe Festival's RADIOACTIVE collaboration with RTE (sort of like Ireland's NPR,'s actually supported by the government.) Basically non-radio folks will try their hand at making short radio stories, which will then air on RTE's digital channel. I was asked to play some interesting work / inspire them to give it a go. I DO love playing radio for a captive audience!

2. Spending nearly 15 hours over the course of two days yakking, listening, debating, and deconstructing radio docs and features in every which way, with  around 25 Irish producers. Hearing docs about potatoes (!), traditional songs of the traveling people, a horse-racing dynasty, a street musician, a woman who communicates with the dead (and bellydances), and more. Learning more about life as an independent Irish producer - the challenges, the opportunities, and the importance of community.

3. Saturday night out at the Patriots Inn, where the discussions continued over many beers. And where a nice woman walked around with a tray of sandwiches around her neck. And where I made it clear that no, I wouldn't be joining the karaoke activities - that I "don't karaoke." Or wouldn't, unless there was the opportunity to sing one particular song - a pledge I'd made years ago. Was quite certain the Patriots Inn would not, in a million years, cough up the song. (You see where this is going, don't you?) Cut to a few drinks + a tequila shot later, when I heard something that sounded like..."Shapiro" and..."windy city" coming from the other room. By which I mean the room where people were taking turns belting out song after song after song into the sweaty microphone controlled by the venerable karaoke emcee who was patiently repeating my name and city of origin, and scanning the audience, ready to cue up the next song. Have you ever noticed how much people enjoy saying "Chicago?"

Yes, my excellent Irish hosts had done the favor of signing me up, and requesting THAT song. Lo and behold - anything is possible in this great age, every song is findable on the internet, karaoke-ready. I should have known/figured. By then it was too late to refuse, and it didn't seem like that bad an idea to sing Joe Jackson's "Steppin' Out" to a room full of jolly, intoxicated, encouraging Irishmen and women. In fact, it seemed like a great idea. A really great idea. Apparently I didn't do half bad, and was especially good at drumming up audience participation. Who knew?

4. The after-Patriots Inn adventure, bravely embarked upon by myself and two others, and involving a guy named Kevin who lived nearby,  a stuffed cat, Zimbabwean currency pinned to the wall, and American classic rock. Those are about all of the details you need. Or don't need.

5. Watching Zenyatta swoop in from last place to win her seventeenth straight race, via the live streaming feed on my laptop. (1:30 am Dublin-time.) Nathaniel was watching too, back in Chicago. We were typing at each other the whole time. Romantic, I know!

6. Stopping in at Road Records before heading out to the airport on my last morning, and picking up some new music - This Is the Kit's Krulle Bol, and a beautiful, Rachel's-esque record by a band called Sending Letters to the Sea.

7. Watching Temple Grandin on the flight back home. And weeping, which I think made the sweet Irish man sitting next to me, who was heading home to Idaho,  a little bit uncomfortable. He was very gracious about this, and told me it "looked like a very good movie." I wept because it's a touching film, and because I'm emotionally vulnerable when 35,000 feet up in the air, and because I'd gotten very little sleep in the past four days. But this seemed like too much to explain.

So that's my trip to Dublin, more or less. Keep an eye on the Third Coast website for some feisty Irish documentary work, and keep an eye right here to find out whether or not my Patriots Inn karaoke experience was a one-off, drunken anomaly, or the beginning of a new era in my life. I'd put money  on the former...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Believe you me, there's an epic blog entry in the 23 hour flight delay I encountered on my way to Dublin last week. But c'mon - heard one travel delay story, heard 'em all. And we really didn't have anything on the volcanic ash-delay victims...ours was a small problem with an engine generator. A fine reason to ground the plane, sure, but it didn't stop me from feeling supremely annoyed about spending an entire day as a "distressed traveller," spending "disruption vouchers" on free crappy airport food, and killing time by comparing fellow passengers' clothing choices from the first to next day. This was an experience better moved on from, than rehashed here in excruciating detail.

Except for the one listening-relevant observation: the guy in the row behind me, traveling with his wife, who wore two stunning-ly bad t-shirts over the course of those 23 hours. The one he wore on the day we were supposed to fly to Dublin featured a stick figure plugging its ears (?) with the caption "Funny how you think I'm listening to you." No...not funny. On the day we actually flew to Dublin, the same guy showed up in a beige t-shirt, sporting this gallant sentence: "SHE SAYS I NEVER LISTEN. OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT."

Does this man wear a different awful t-shirt every day? I'm glad I'll never know.

And why am I sharing this non-story with you? Because it's like he was using the word [listen] in vain, somehow. Or in gratuitous stupidity. And so I took great offense, admittedly partially inspired by frustration with the situation we were in, stuck at O'Hare, distressing out further as the hours crept by. And because travel horror stories inspire an aching compulsion to share the details with whoever will listen. Or something like that.

Next up - actually interesting stuffs about my new radio friends in Ireland. Stay tuned...