I'm Irish, but I'm not a leprechaun. Yeah, I know. That's Whitey Ford's line, and I'm about as Irish as Antonio Banderas. Nevertheless, this past Saturday night, I had so much fun with a scrappy Celtic rock outfit called the Potcheen Folk Band -- drummer Chris Blochinger, guitarist/ vocalist Chris Shelby, bassist Dave La Mothe and fiddle player Michelle MacGregor -- that I'm actually considering changing my name to Davey O'Herrera. I guess three straight hours of "whiskey songs, rebel songs and general pirate debauchery" will do that to a guy.
Prior to last weekend, I'd never even heard of Potcheen. But I was so intrigued by the band's unique approach to marketing, which Blochinger had touted on a local message board, that I was willing to sacrifice an entire Saturday evening to experience it for myself. The act recently purchased a 1983 MCI Crusader 2 coach bus, which it has been using to transport fans to shows. Talk about a brilliant idea. Aside from the guaranteed draw, imagine the ability to provide fans and their friends with a way to come to a group's shows and drink like Bukowski (no doubt music to prospective club owners' ears) without having to worry about getting behind the wheel. There have been Rockies and Broncos shuttles for years, but as far as I know, Potcheen is the first band to offer this sort of rock-n-ride.
I met up with the band at the designated pick-up point in the Safeway parking lot at Evans and Downing around 6:30 p.m. After exchanging handshakes and pleasantries, Shelby collected a ten-dollar gas donation from each of the dozen or so fans who were gathered, and then we boarded the bus. Within minutes, we were headed north on I-25, on our way to Nederland. There was a distinct summer-camp party vibe inside the vehicle, which was adorned with four flags in the windows representing the heritage of the individual bandmembers -- all of whom were present except for MacGregor, who opted to drive herself to avoid getting carsick. As a Nirvana video played on monitors, folks happily filled their bladders with complimentary PBRs.
Not the smartest move, considering that the bathroom on the party wagon is off limits, at least for the time being. Fortunately, our merry rovers didn't have to wait too long for a potty/smoke break. Shortly after we made our way up the U.S. 36 corridor, Blochinger realized that he had forgotten to check the gas, so he pulled over onto the shoulder to assess the petrol sitch. Apparently, the fuel gauge hasn't worked since the group bought the bus (which, incidentally, cost less than your average SUV), and the only way to monitor the bus's supply is to shine a light directly into the gas tank.
Blochinger determined we had enough for the trip, and the magical mystery tour continued. Before I knew it, we were winding our way up the canyon. Well, "winding" is a bit of a stretch. We were actually crawling at about fifteen miles per hour. After what seemed like forever -- most likely because I hadn't taken the opportunity to answer nature's call when everyone else did, and my back teeth were floating by then -- we finally reached the 1st Street Pub & Grill in Nederland. The place was mostly empty save for a handful of locals -- and the captive audience.
Just then, it dawned me that the key word was "captive," which is what I was. I still hadn't a heard a note from these performers and had no idea what I was in for. If it sucked, I was stuck, committed until closing time. I knew there was no way I could talk any of my friends into coming to pick me up.
Luckily, Potcheen turned out to be awesome. With a sound akin to Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys, thanks mainly to Shelby's gravely, garbled vocal style, Potcheen transformed that quaint little mountain tavern into a rollicking Irish pub. Even more noteworthy was MacGregor's exceptional fiddle playing, which danced atop traditional arrangements with the ease and grace of Michael Flatley. Named after Irish moonshine, the band pounded out song after song about drinking. And the more it played, the rowdier and drunkier everyone got. "To all the people who came up on the bus with us," Blochinger said from the stage in his best Irish accent, "drink in moderation. We don't need you throwing up on the bus on the way home."
Potcheen continued its barrage for two more neck-breaking sets, tearing through at least thirty songs over the course of the night. It was a great scene, with folks locking arms and Riverdancing in front of the stage. The band outlasted just about everybody. By the end of final set, only a few of us were left. Around 1:20, after a rousing rendition of "Go On Home, British Soldiers" -- during which several people sang along with the lines "We're Irish!/And proud we are to be/So fuck your Union Jack/We want our country back" -- the group closed with "Drunken Sailor," which couldn't have been more apropos, especially considering what happened next.
As the band was clearing its gear from the stage, one of our drunken sailors was outside tangling with a local mountain man, whom he'd managed to provoke while the guy was sitting with friends in his back yard next to a bonfire -- presumably minding his own business. Moments after our guy mumbled something about "these people trying to test his strength" and "how he'd show them," a minor melee ensued, with the local yokel taking one to the chin.
Things were quickly diffused -- or so we thought -- when our brawling boy got back on the bus and Hillbilly Bob headed back to his shack. Then, as we sat inside, waiting for the Potcheen machine to heat up, Captain Insane-o returned, inexplicably wanting to fight the entire entourage. "Get out of here with your bus," he bellowed to no one in particular. "You're not welcome here. I don't like your bus, your music or the people you bring."
Apparently, I wasn't the only one impressed with Potcheen. As we headed back down the mountain, Blochinger told me that the manager at 1st Street wants to have them back sometime. It's going to be a while before the band can make it back, though, because Potcheen is booked until January. That means there will be plenty of chances for you to get aboard this Celtic caravan and have the time of your life. Word to the wise, though: If you go, bring Dramamine, and don't sit in the front. On the way home, I finally understood why MacGregor opted not to take the bus.
Let's just say it's not easy being green.