Ireland didn’t earn its sobriquet the Emerald Isle on account of its gemstone mining industry; it’s a lush green place because it rains a lot there – averaging “about 151 days a year along the east and southeast coasts, to about 225 days a year in parts of the west,” per Wikipedia. So, it should come as no surprise that it would take more than a day of scattered showers to deter folks from attending Kingston’s 20th annual Hooley on the Hudson, hosted as always by the Ulster County Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH). Whether genuine Irish or merely wannabes, the crowds turned out on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend for the first live, in-person Hooley since 2019, eager to party.
Following a year when the free event was held virtually, on account of the pandemic, Hooley 2021 was a slightly scaled-back affair, its usual three stages reduced to two, both outdoors. Fans of the storytelling component of the Irish cultural festival, along with the quieter acoustic music acts normally hosted in the Barn at the Hudson River Maritime Museum, will have to wait until it’s safer for audiences to gather indoors.
The Feeney Stage, at the foot of Broadway, was the place to go to hear raucous Celtic punk and folk/rock. Folding tables were scattered in a circle, leaving a big space in the center for people who wanted to dance. The Little Creek Band sustained a high energy level for a set nearly two hours long in the early afternoon, churning out such traditional favorites as “Whiskey in the Jar,” “Black Velvet Band” and “The Wild Rover.”
Little Creek also gave a tip of the tam o’shanter to their Scottish cousins with “Mairi’s Wedding” – a theme of Celtic solidarity that was repeated over at the Bill Yosh Stage, in the square between the Rondout waterfront promenade and the pavilion, when the AOH Pipes & Drums played “Scotland the Brave” as part of their recital. Some Scottish moves also made it into the lively performances by the students of the Celtic Heels School of Irish Dance. The juniors stepped lightly as elves in their soft lace-up shoes, but the seniors in their stout clogs brought some resounding Celtic thunder to the portable dancefloor.
Both the mainstage and the entire event were dedicated this year to the memory of one of the Hooley’s co-founders. An English teacher at Kingston High School and the co-host for 37 years of The Irish Show on Radio Kingston, Bill Yosh died of cancer this past February.
Just beyond the Yosh Stage stood one of two beer stations serving draft Guinness, Smithwick’s, Harp, seltzer and bottled water. An enormous beer truck, along with most of the food vendors, were arrayed near the Feeney Stage, extending along the East Strand all the way to the Hudson River Maritime Museum. Cultural diversity was on display here as well, with food trucks from Reggae Boy, La Ruta del Sol and Niko’s Gyro sharing the street with the Irish menu available at O’Neilleo’s Traveling Kitchen.
On the West Strand, just past the “No Alcohol Beyond This Point” signs, crafts vendor booths were lined up, offering such wares as tweed flat caps, Scottish cashmere scarves, claddagh rings and silver Celtic knotwork jewelry. Among the many event-appropriate tee-shirts was one with the legend, “Kilt: It’s what happened to the last person to call it a skirt.”
Indeed, there were a few kilt-clad partiers in the crowd, in addition to the uniformed pipe-and-drum corps, plus many attendees garbed in green. Serious Celtophiles could sign up to take Gaelic language lessons or join a Gaelic football team at the booth run by the Dutchess County Gaelic Athletic Association. Nearby, members of the Ulster County Italian American Foundation were sharing information about their own upcoming cultural gathering: the Ulster County Italian Festival, coming to the same spot on the Rondout waterfront on October 10.
Whatever their ethnicity, the attendees were clearly glad for an excuse to get out of their COVID isolation pods, listen to upbeat music, eat great street food and have some fun.