Report from the Beercup Fields, Part 1

It's Sunday afternoon, and if my interviews at last night's Shamrock Fest are any indication, the exurbs of Maryland and Virginia are well-populated with young, hungover white people.

Starting on the cars of the "SPECIAL" Metro trains added for the event, I encountered group after group of pale revelers sporting green polo shirts, low-cut green tops, green ball caps, green Mardi Gras beads, and shamrock-shaped pins, sunglasses, stickers, face-paintings, stocking-spangles and giant foam hats. Men outnumbered women, but every group was mixed, not to mention mixed-up as they negotiated the unfamiliar caverns of the subway. For not a single person I encountered lived in DC, or even in the contiguous towns like Silver Spring or Arlington. Instead I met nice folks from places like Hagerstown, Columbia, and Waldorf, Maryland; Virginians from Woodbridge, Alexandria, and points further out. Many people identified their place of origin as "Virginia, but not Northern Virginia -- that's not really Virginia."

Before I go further, let me reiterate that Shamrock Fest contributes heavily to SCAN-VA: Stop Child Abuse Now of Northern Virginia. It’s a worthy cause, and they don’t have to do it: most of the attendees I saw would have shown up without any mention of a charity angle. So kudos there.

A sort of pre-St. Patrick's Day bash, the event was held in Ballston for five years, filling several blocks with partygoers and overflowing into selected local restaurants. In 2006, they had 20 bands, and apparently around 15,000 attendees, which was too many for the streets to handle. Thus the 2007 move to the RFK Stadium Festival Grounds, more commonly known as the parking lot. The number of acts shot up to 50, if you include the DJs, dance troupes, comedians and other performers, filling nine stages for ten hours. Early estimates of attendance were at 50 to 60 thousand.

Sound nuts? It was. Imagine that many people -- enough to fill the stands inside, had the stadium been open -- roving the enormous RFK parking lot, penned in by chainlink fence, wearing various pseudo-Irish attire, and everyone carrying at least one plastic cup of beer. The atmosphere of determined jollity was thick and pervasive. Young women with shamrock deely-boppers shrieked in delight to find their friends in the crowd. Young men proudly displayed their burgeoning beer-bellies in clever T-shirts proclaiming “Irish Boys Do It Better,” “You Looked Better On Myspace” and all the vulgar variations on “Kiss Me I’m Irish.” The general vibe was like a well-lit frat party, with plenty of kegs but no cozy corners for snogging.

Only a few children appeared, dragging their parents to one of the handful of carnival rides or dancing to the endless wash of cover songs emanating from one stage or another. Even rarer than the tykes were faces with a hint of color not imparted by alcoholic flush. A small group of Indian-American men came through the gate together; some college-age circles had Asian members; but here in the heart of DC, all the black folk in attendance could have shared a cab home.

Diversity aside, these people were having fun. Amazingly, I saw not a single instance of vomiting, and everyone danced a lot, to the DJ sets in the tents, to the top-40 cover bands, and to the headliners like Flogging Molly.

By sundown the number of empty plastic beer cups littering the asphalt was like tulips in Holland; every step of every person either kicked a skittering missile along or crunched a cup into pieces. Mazeltov! And we had four hours to go.

Next: I actually talk about the music!


Anonymous said…
Where is part two??