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March and more: Buffalo's Irish musicians prepare for St. Patrick's Day

Contrary to what some believe, Buffalo’s impressive wealth of Irish musicians are not seasonal employees.

Multi-instrumentalist Matt Sperber of South Buffalo's Crikwater has run into this assertion for years, but he and his bandmates don’t mind correcting the misconception.

“We constantly remind folks that Crikwater is a band that performs year-round,” said Sperber. “We’re not just a St. Patrick’s Day band, but we’re a folk band that is constantly exploring the incredibly rich and vast repertoire of Irish music.”

Dependent upon the date, Crikwater and others are playing their brand of traditional music—rooted in folk and bluegrass, and stitched together with evocative storytelling that’s spanned generations—for festivals, pubs and private parties. On those days and nights, it’s the same soul-stirring music that continues to move aspiring songwriters, poets and Irish ancestors alike.

But when the calendar flips to March, these musicians and their work steps under a brighter spotlight, providing the soundtrack of the season while cramming multiple shows in the same day. It’s an opportunity for fans and the uninitiated to appreciate the work, but it’s also a chance for musicians to expose listeners to sounds and rhythms ready to roil the spirit every day—clad in green or otherwise.

“We hope that people will walk away from our show having learned some new songs,” said Sperber. “Or at least [leave] with a new appreciation for the Irish musical tradition that will keep them interested in listening to this music throughout the year. “

Here are some of Buffalo’s finest Irish acts to get familiar with in March.

Crikwater

Meet the band (est. 2010): The quintet of Sperber, Liam Caulfield, Peter Zalocha, Charlie Coughlin, and Billy Lewis has made their bones with a diversified offering of original cuts and traditional favorites—all accented with enough harmony and instrumental mayhem to rile even the most reserved holiday celebrants.

Favorite place to play: Talty’s Tavern (South Buffalo)

Favorite song to play: “Whiskey, You’re the Devil” by The Clancy Brothers.

In concert: 3:30 p.m. March 16 at Molly Maguire’s (834 Abbott Road) and 8 p.m. March 19 at Buffalo Iron Works (49 Illinois St.), with famed Galway chart-toppers, We Banjo 3.

[Photos: See Crikwater in action at South Buffalo Night for Live at Larkin]

Southtowns-focused bluegrass band Emerald Isle is celebrating 20 years together.

Emerald Isle

Meet the band (est. 1999): Based in Hamburg and hailed throughout the Southtowns, the trio of Mark Panfil, Chris Panfil and Rich Schaefer vary their year-round bluegrass for rollicking Irish favorites rooted in the same genre. The result has packed pubs and halls throughout the season for two decades.

Favorite place to play: Talty’s Tavern

Favorite song to play: “The Mermaid” by Great Big Sea

In concert: 7 p.m. March 15 at JP’s Pub (1986 Lake View Road, Lake View).

Six-piece band The Leftovers will play J.P. Fitzgerald's on March 15.

The Leftovers

Meet the band (est. 2001): Known for its rollicking hybrid of traditional and rebel songs, the sextet of Pat Gerken, Tim Ellis, Greg Kent, Elizabeth Shea, Jerry Shea and Ryan Young have been a seasonal favorite inside venues as varied as Larkinville bars and South Buffalo school gyms. But no matter the locale, the band’s stomping vibe is certain to lift your holiday spirit.

Favorite place to play: JP’s Pub (Lakeview)

Favorite song to play: “Come Out, Ye Black and Tans” by Dominic Behan

Kevin McCarthy, a member of the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame, will play at the Irish Center.

In concert: 7 p.m. March 15 at JP Fitzgerald’s (4236 Clark St., Hamburg).

Kevin McCarthy

Meet the artist (est. 1985): Although he certainly has the name for it, the veteran musician and 2009 Buffalo Music Hall of Fame inductee doesn’t specialize in only Irish favorites.

But when the calendar turns to St. Patrick’s Day season, the Chip Strip regular (Local Kitchen & Bar, every Thursday night) goes green, with acoustic material ideal for post-parade crowds.

Favorite place to play: Buffalo Irish Center

Favorite song to play: “The Gypsy Rover” by Leo Maguire

In concert: 1 p.m. March 16 at Buffalo Irish Center (245 Abbott Road).

Penny Whiskey, based in Attica, plays Celtic folk music.

Penny Whiskey

Meet the artist (est. 2015): Though the Attica-based band has been around since 2004 (and some members were also together under genre brethren Kilbrannan since 1996), its current iteration of Kirk McWhorter, Jon Carlson, Paul Kneis, Dan Lelito and Paul Runfola have been united for years. That’s good for the scene, as their brand of folk-flavored Celtic offerings are an essential complement to the season.

Favorite place to play: Buffalo Irish Center

Favorite song to play: “Jug of Punch” by The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem

In concert: 5:30 p.m. March 17 at Sean Patrick's Emerald Isle (3480 Millersport Highway, Getzville).

Poor Ould Goat is an Irish quartet that will play at Dwyer's on March 17.

Poor Ould Goat

Meet the band (est. 2005): The quartet of Joe Bacon, Chris McGonnell, Brian Carney and Jeff Janikowski prides themselves on cycling through an impressive arsenal of traditional instruments—whether banjo, bodhran or doumbek—to roll through its style of Irish rock, reels and revelry.

Sing-alongs are optional, but its sound may make dancing unavoidable.

Favorite place to play: Woodcock Bros. Brewing (Wilson)

Favorite song to play: “Leaving of Liverpool”/”St. Anne’s Reel” by The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem

In concert: noon March 17 at Dwyer’s Irish Pub (65 Webster St., North Tonawanda).

The Reardon & Garvey Band

Meet the band (est. 2012): Buffalo Irish Center regulars Michael Reardon, Benjamin Garvey, Tim Hughes and Erik Wollschlager are dependable deliverymen of the subdued or stomping sounds of the season. Led by a folk-fronted style that’s foundational in the genre’s traditional presentation, the band’s ready to accent your holiday plans, wherever it takes you.

Favorite place to play: Buffalo Irish Center

Favorite song to play: “Finnegan’s Wake” by The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem

In concert: 9 p.m. March 16 at Jack Devine’s (4170 Southwestern Blvd., Orchard Park).

Plans for your St. Patrick’s Day weekend 

Along with finding live music across the region throughout the long Irish weekend, there are plenty of other things to do to start or further your celebration. Here are just a few suggestions as you continue to plan your emerald itinerary.

Parade(s) with the family

The city’s back-to-back days of marching starts with the 26th annual Old Neighborhood edition, set for the Old First Ward at noon March 16. The twofer concludes with the St. Patrick’s Day parade down Delaware Avenue at 2 p.m. March 17. Both give attendees the chance to bask in the regalia of the season, as well as plenty of spots for family friendly enjoyment along the way.

[Related: Is this the last year for the Old Neighborhood Parade? Maybe.]

Pints with friends

This is the time of year when tapped selections like Guinness and Murphy’s go from premier stouts to the only pints that matter. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of hospitable and Irish-named bars, pubs and taverns to take these orders. From Gene McCarthy’s (73 Hamburg St.) to J.P. Fitzgerald’s (4236 Clark St., Hamburg) to Doc Sullivan’s (474 Abbott Road), all are packed with events—and ready to pour some holiday rounds.

More music

There are plenty of places to hear live music. Live at O'Larkin will bring McCarthyizm and the Greater Buffalo Firefighters Pipes & Drums to Larkin Square from 5 to 8 p.m. March 15.

Williamsville’s Irishman (5601 Main St.) will host open-to-close Irish performances inside its heated tent from March 15 to 17; and South Buffalo’s Blackthorn (2134 Seneca St.) will feature neighborhood favorite Billy LaRusch for three days of shows under its own outdoor extension from March 15 to 17—and for no cover.

More everything

Finally, for those who like the one-stop shop, there’s the Buffalo Irish Center (245 Abbott Road). Aside from the usual buffet of Celtic culture available within the locale throughout the year, this weekend will offer revelers three days of music from bands like Crikwater (March 15), Penny Whiskey (March 16) and The Leftovers (March 17); step dance performances from Rince na Tiarna; and post-parade parties after each of the weekend’s marches. Admission for each day is $10, and proceeds support the program offerings of the BIC.

The Buffalo Irish Center, pictured during a recent open mic, is a bustling spot during St. Patrick's Day Weekend. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

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