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It's the night before New Year's Eve in lower downtown Denver, and the city's party district couldn't be more dead. The streets are eerily free of thrillseekers and stumbling suburbanites, creating a ghost-town atmosphere that's heightened by acres of empty parking spaces and the locked doors of LoDo bars that closed early in preparation for the madness that will hit 24 hours later. But at Fado, an Irish pub located a foul ball from Coors Field, the night is brimming with excitement. The establishment's impressive Alice in Wonderland-meets-St. Patrick's Day interior is packed with giddy, Guinness-swilling revelers enjoying the rousing sounds offered by a five-piece called the Indulgers. As their shoes jig across occasional puddles of black beer, the celebrants shout in unison with the band before them: "Oh, my diddly boy! Oh, my diddly day!"
In some ways, "Diddly Day" isn't a typical Indulgers tune. After all, the members of the group--vocalist Damien McCarron, multi-instrumentalist Mike Nile, fiddler Renee Fine, bassist Chris Murtaugh and drummer Pat Murphy--are as serious about rocking as they are about getting their Irish up. But the ditty is indicative of the self-deprecating manner that's a big part of the act's appeal. "Typically, when people ask you what type of music you play and you tell them, 'We're an Irish band,' they say, 'Oh, that diddly-diddly-day stuff?'" notes McCarron, a Dublin native blessed with a manly brogue. "That's the kind of slagging you get. Well, we're not diddly-day music so much; we're kind of rock and diddly-day music. So we decided to write a song with 'diddly-day' in it--and the really intelligent people get it."
Many of the individuals in this category come from backgrounds not unlike McCarron's--but that doesn't mean Denver is home to a secret army of Irish immigrants. "Actually, statistics show that about 40 to 45 percent of all Americans have Irish ancestry of some sort or another," he says. "And if you look at Colorado, it's even higher."
There's plenty of other evidence to support McCarron's claim. Over the past year, a wave of Irish pubs have opened in Front Range communities such as Colorado Springs, Louisville and Breckenridge, and devotees of these increasingly popular stout houses have fallen hard for the Indulgers' energetic brand of Celtic rock. "We have seven or eight gigs a month penciled in for as long as we like," the singer says. "And we're actually making a couple of bucks. It's been great this year."
Good timing isn't the only reason for the Indulgers' rising fortunes. "Our music sells beer," McCarron points out. "When you get the people dancing to that beat, they have a tendency to drink more. So when the bar owner sees that their bottom line is expanding because of beer sales, they're willing to take care of you. That's what it boils down to. If we didn't sell beer, we probably wouldn't get any work."
Of course, alcohol isn't the only reason for the stateside pub renaissance--or even the most important one. "In Ireland, the pub is not a place to go and get hammered or whatever," McCarron admits. "It's the community center. You go to see your grandfather or your nieces or your dog or whatever. And that's the essence of it here, too. The Irish pub is the community center even more so in America than in Ireland, simply because that's all we have here as a starting point." Such venues also provide an alternative to the standard nightspots, he adds. "In LoDo, it's sports bars and sports bars, but a pub is different. Notice anything odd about Fadó? There's no TV set. And it's nice to go into a place and not see a television. What are you going to do if there's no TV? You're going to sit at the bar and have a conversation with somebody--a friend or maybe even a stranger."
When he moved from Ireland to Denver in 1991, McCarron spent much of his time doing just that. In this setting, he witnessed a slew of what he considered to be less-than-pedigreed Irish-style performers, but he didn't immediately respond by racing to the stage himself. "I was a punter first and foremost," he says. "I was a fan of music before I got into music. So I'm coming from the perspective of the fellow that's sitting in the bar watching what's going on. I understand their mentality. You have a few beers, you have a good time. There's not much to it, really. It's simple. And the music itself is based on entertaining each other as opposed to ourselves."
How so? "Well, if you look at a guy running down the field in a football game, he scores a touchdown and he spikes the ball. Well, he's entertaining himself, not the crowd. He's doing it for his own reasons--an egotistical thing, if you like. In America, a lot or people play in rock-and-roll bands for the same reason. They want to be able to say to the person in the supermarket, 'I'm in a rock-and-roll band,' but they don't necessarily want you to come watch them or anything. But Irish music is more of join-in kind of thing: 'Please clap your hands, please sing along. Please entertain yourself by using us as a conduit.' It's a cultural thing."