There’s something special about the Irish Austin community, a diverse group of music lovers and folks with a fierce commitment to keeping it local. On St. Patrick’s Day, at festivals and block parties across town, that spirit is very much alive.
It's no surprise that St. Patrick’s Day in Austin is defined by homegrown, music-filled traditions and celebrations. While some outsiders may try to set up shop and bank on "St. Patrick's Day fever," locally run, long-standing events held at old-school Austin/Irish bars and pubs are the most popular ways of celebrating — along with shots of Jameson Irish Whiskey.
One of those flagship events is the St. Patrick’s Day Austin Festival, a local favorite for nearly 15 years. The festival is committed to traditional fare and authenticity — you won't find leprechauns ... or green beer. "Austinites tend to know a thing or two about beer," says organizer Donnelle McKaskle. "So you will never be served something as unpalatable as a 'green' beer ... that’s a dead giveaway that you do not know much about the Irish culture — or Austin for that matter." Instead of green beer, expect plenty of Jameson on hand for specialty beverages like Irish coffee and boilermakers.
And, true to the Live Music Capital of the World, there plenty of Irish music on hand. Music, in fact, is the driving force behind the fest. The lineup (which includes a headlining act from Ireland and the Inishfree Irish Dance Company of Austin) is heavy on local Austin Irish musicians.
Award-winning Austin Irish musician Chris Buckley — who happens to be "one of the best Irish fiddle players you will find this side of the Mississippi" — plays the festival every year with his band, the Tea Merchants.
Much of his success is owed to the Austin Irish community — and its music-loving pub scene. In 2001, he spent his first night in Austin jamming at an Irish music session at one of downtown Austin's iconic Irish pubs. And on that first night down on Sixth Street, he hooked up with a few musicians and started his first Irish band in Austin.
Buckley still plays with one of the musicians he met that night. "We’ve been in three bands together," he says of Charlie Branch. "When you find that magical combination of people to work with, that makes it that much easier."
Luckily for Austin Irish musicians — and Austin Irish music fans! — those sessions are still happening down at that same pub on Sixth Street — so you can see the magic for yourself. You can also catch the magic at on March 17, the biggest day of the year for Austin musicians like Buckley (who will play six gigs throughout the day).
"In Austin, St. Patrick’s day is the greatest day of the year to be an Irish musician ... we’re totally rock stars on that day, and I totally soak it up," he says.