Local Irish band Extra Stout is in demand for St. Patrick’s DayWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
With its wide repertoire of Irish songs and a name lifted straight off a bottle of Guinness, Extra Stout is a band in extra demand around St. Patrick’s Day.
“It’s when we play the most and when people are most interested in hearing Irish music. They’re more tuned into the Irish experience,” said lead guitarist Tom Troy. “It’s a very busy time for us. It’s our time of year. We plan for it. We practice for it.”
“Everybody wants us on St. Pat’s,” agreed Ellen McCarty, who manages the band and provides backup vocals, mandolin and tambourine. “We have six gigs in three days. We’re very busy.”
“We celebrate St. Patrick’s month,” said banjo player Marty Brogan. “The excitement is ratcheted up. We tend to go a little farther afield over the rest of the year — more rock and country, miscellaneous folk rock stuff — but in March, we ratchet up the Irishness. I enjoy that. It’s always fun, but it’s more fun to play more Irish music.”
Songs that involve crowd participation are popular, said bassist Tom Moeller.
“Anything they get to sing along to is good,” Moeller said. “I like the drinking songs the best, the ones with humor in them. ‘Paddy Murphy,’ ‘Mary Mac’ — those are two of my favorites. Those always get the crowds going.”
Other crowd favorites include “Devil Went Down to Georgia,” “Black Velvet Band” and “The Irish Rover,” band members said.
St. Patrick’s Day crowds are noticeably more attentive and energetic then crowds at other times of the year, Moeller said.
“A lot of times you’ll be playing a bar and it’s easy to become background noise, but this time of year, people are out and they want to hear the Irish music,” Moeller said. “It’s a lot more fun to play for the crowds who are really getting into it.”
Lead singer Mike McCarty, who also plays rhythm guitar and bodhrán, an Irish handheld drum, agreed.
“We played St. Pat’s one year at The Blarney and then we played two weeks after and it was two totally different crowds,” Mike said. “On St. Pat’s, they were singing and drinking; two weeks later, we could have been background music.”
Adding fiddle player Renata Burgett in 2011 has allowed the band to expand its repertoire even further, adding instrumental jigs and reels.
“She’s a fabulous addition,” Brogan said. “It just opens up a whole new area of music we couldn’t really get into before.”
“It kind of infused a little extra energy in the band,” Mike added.
Instrument swapping regularly occurs between songs.
“That is the fun part of it, trying different things,” said Troy, who plays mainly guitar, but also picks up the concertina, harmonica and even drums for one song.
The group released its debut CD, “Fiddler’s Green,” in 2002 and followed up with “It’s About Time” in 2006. The group is currently working on its third album. Extra Stout contributed a track, “Christmas in Killarney,” to the “Holiday Wishes 2” CD benefiting Make-A-Wish Foundation and is working on a song for the upcoming Red Cross benefit CD, “Red, White and You.”
The band plays a few originals, including “Darby Town,” written by Troy, “Leaving” written by Brogan and “Cavanaugh,” written by original member Ernie Fisher, who died in 2011.
“I would say half our music is traditional Irish folk music and the other half is more recent folk music and also pop music and our own music,” Troy said.
All six members have Irish roots.
“The music is pretty much an expression of joy and stems from our common heritage. We try to get everybody [in the audience] to participate. It’s sharing the joy,” said Brogan, who grew up in an Irish neighborhood in South Toledo.
“I lived next door to my Irish grandmother on Western near Broadway. In the ’50s it was still an Irish neighborhood,” Brogan said. “Everybody in the neighborhood [had an accent]. I did. I never realized until I moved to the Old West End and the other kids said, ‘You talk funny.’”
Among Brogan’s favorite songs to play are “I’ll Tell Me Ma,” “The Belle of Belfast,” “Galway Girl” and “A Nation Once Again,” a rebel song from the 1920s.
“Music is pure expression,” Brogan said. “You don’t have to pick the right pencil, the right word. The emotions are right out there for everyone to absorb.”
Before Extra Stout officially formed, most of the current members would get together about once a month at Manos Greek Restaurant or DeSimone’s.
“We’d just get together and play whatever we felt like playing,” Mike said. “Then the opportunity came up to play at an Irish festival and I knew some Irish songs, Marty Brogan knew a few, Tom Troy knew a few and we just combined what we knew and came up with a band. Our first performance as Extra Stout was at Mickey Finn’s for St. Patrick’s Day 2000 and we’ve been doing it ever since.”
Losing Ernie Fisher
Moeller joined within the first year and Burgett joined in 2011, but everyone else has been there since the beginning. Fisher, who played 12-string guitar, died of cancer July 4, 2011.
Moeller said one of his most memorable shows was shortly after Fisher died.
“We were playing one of the songs he wrote and the first time we played it with Renata, it just sounded so good with fiddle in it,” Moeller said. “I thought to myself, ‘He would have really liked to hear that, his song done so well.’ It’s called ‘Cavanaugh,’ a song about an old sailor on the Great Lakes.”
Burgett once traveled to Ireland, where she studied traditional Irish folk music under a former “Lord of the Dance” musician and toured the local music scene. She also fiddles for an Appalachian folk band and plays violin on Sunday mornings for the University of Toledo’s Corpus Christi University Parish.
“There’s a saying: A violin sings and a fiddle dances,” Burgett said. “When I was 9, I didn’t know starting this instrument would get me exposed to so many different opportunities. I wouldn’t have dreamed of playing for the Make-A-Wish Foundation or playing with an Irish band or playing ‘Devil Went Down to Georgia’ at the art museum. [Music is] just a blessing and opens so many doors.”
Extra Stout has played as far as Fort Wayne, Ind., to the west, Saline, Mich., to the north, Findlay to the south and Sharon, Ohio, to the east.
“I love the performing, getting out in front of people and having everyone enjoy our music,” Ellen said. “When people clap and sing along, when people know our songs and sing them back to us, when people get up and dance, it’s a lot of fun. It’s just very enjoyable.”
Mike cites as one inspiration John Connolly, who hosts “Echoes of Ireland,” a Sunday radio show on 1230 WCWA; Connolly plans to play a one-time-only show at Manhattan’s on March 17.
“There was always Irish in Toledo, but he paved the way for bands like us to get a foot in the door and play,” Mike said.
Upcoming performances for Extra Stout include 8 p.m. March 15 at Irish Eyes Heavenly Pub, 3324 Secor Road; 1 p.m. March 16 at McCarthy’s Pub in Port Clinton; 7 p.m. March 16 at the Toledo Walleye game at the Huntington Center; 12:30 p.m. March 17 at the Ancient Order of Hibernians St. Patrick’s Day Party, Knights of Columbus Banquet Hall, 4256 Secor Road; and 4-7 p.m. March 17 at M.T. Loonies, 6648 Lewis Ave., Temperance.
“I said we’ll go for as long as people want to hear us and when they stop calling we’ll know it’s time to stop, but we still get calls,” Mike said. “We’ve had some good times doing it and hopefully we’ll be able to continue for a while.”
Michelle Bork, owner of M.T. Loonies, said Extra Stout is a regular performer.
“They’re a fun group,” Bork said. “They do a lot of Irish drinking songs and also have some comedy. They’re entertaining. They don’t just sing the songs. They put a lot of fun into it.”
Having been together 13 years, Moeller said the band is like family — and some of them actually are.
“We fight and argue like a family and we get along and party like a family, too,” said Moeller, who is a nephew to the McCartys. “We enjoy each other’s company. We might get in an argument, but then we’re toasting a beer five minutes later.”
Troy said he’s proud to play a part in keeping Irish music alive through Extra Stout.
“We all grew up listening to Irish music and maybe learning a few songs,” Troy said. “Now we’re kind of doing our part to keep it alive and expand it a little bit with some of our own music and our own arrangements of the songs. We’re proud to be able to play that part to some extent.”