Van’s show in Belfast, as astounding as it was, was merely the sandwich filling in a day filled with music. The first part of the day had been spent on the bus driving through co. Down, listening to Van’s music of Ireland (or so it seemed), watching the scenery go by. Each of us on the bus got something different from the day’s experience – I could hear people singing, people talking, people laughing, and some, like me, soaking up this moment in the landscape of Northern Ireland, passing us by outside our windows. So, of course, if Van is singing in your ears and you’re in the moment, it’s prime territory for the words to speak to you in a way you haven’t heard them before. I’m a big fan of when that happens, so I was a huge fan of the musical layer on the bus that set the stage for Van’s show. My sense after the show, talking to the fans, was that once again today, we all had got something different from the experience. Once again I am delighted to see how music mimics life, and how Van’s music mimics ours (but that’s a topic for another day). It was a huge concert for me; I was definitely in the moment.
From one music venue to another. After the show, we headed over to the Hudson on Gresham. It was a long-enough walk that a cab wouldn’t have seemed out of place. We walk. And fortunately fall into step with the gang following Ivan through the streets of Belfast. I didn’t get to spend any time with Ivan, but the group that did were treated royally, a charming man who added flavor to the Roots of Van Tour. Sammy has arranged for the top floor of the Hudson to be ours exclusively for as long as we want to keep it open. The bonus is the Manatees – Shana’s band – are going to put on a little show for us. Now how cool is that? These guys are good, and I’m especially taken with Jason Crosby, who plays a mean keyboard and then on the side plays an even meaner six-string fiddle, which is the instrument of choice for the set at the Hudson. And doesn’t Bridget have something to smile about! The Manatees have invited her to sit in tomorrow night post-show at the Harbourmaster in Dublin. We all go home with smiles on our faces.
As day follows night, we’re up early Saturday morning, to catch our third bus in as many days – this one bound from Belfast to Dublin. On balance, we were a bit on the subdued side, maybe a little grumpy – last day blues and all – but after the bus got rolling, Bridget picked it up a notch, playing a few tunes on her fiddle, joined by Jimmy Leslie, the guitarist in Shana’s West Coast band. The constant theme of the Roots of Van Tour: It’s all about the music. Wherever you find it.
The general collective grumpiness won the day, though – peaking somewhere around wrong turn number three, searching for the Manatees’ hotel near the airport. Kudos to the bus driver – heckled mercilessly from the peanut gallery – for getting it done. Next stop Dublin. First stop, on the north side of the river, and a bunch of us hop off, leaving the rest to head into city center south of the river. Bridget and I catch a cab ride with Wim and Kat, who are heading in the same direction as us.
We’re famished before dinner and opt to grab a bite to eat instead of heading over to Mulligan’s for the pre-preshow. We do make it to the Harbourmaster, which is dockside on the north side of the river. And conveniently a straight walk to the O2 when it’s time to head over for the show. It’s a wide thoroughfare, with tram tracks running down the middle. Three trams must have passed us by, all crammed to the gills with concert goers. You kinda got an early sense that tonight’s show was going to be a party, not the cerebral affair of the night before.
And so it was. I didn’t notice a sign in the lobby saying the bar would close down at 8:30 and I wonder if you can’t be making requests like that in Dublin. In Belfast you could, though. And I think that speaks to the two different shows we got. Van played to his audiences. The Belfast audience got to listen to song endings that went off into nothing, but here in Dublin they liked the big bang endings. Our seats are farther back tonight, but center, so I can see Van full-on, all night working the band, conducting every note, and truly, they did sound better tonight. They still sound like a new band, though. I suppose that’s because they are, with Paul Moran on keys (and trumpet and organ) being the longest-standing member in the band. Like last night, Shana had an opening set and then returned to the stage for a duet with Van on “Sometimes We Cry,” but tonight, he also brings her out to finish the set with “Stand By Me” and “Gloria.” I would have enjoyed “Stand By Me” a lot more if Shana’s mic had been turned up, but nonetheless, it was a nice moment of father and daughter together on stage. I couldn’t help juxtaposing tonight with the Rainbow ’73 show, where we saw a young Shana out there performing with her daddy up on stage. And the world keeps going ’round.
Van knows his audience well – he gives them a show they love. No one goes away unhappy, and I know there were a lot of locals who have had to wait a long time to see Van perform, so they were ready for him.
But the music’s not over just yet. It’s back to the Harbourmaster, where Fred Durette and the owner have masterminded a room to ourselves, with an area set aside for the band. The Manatees took the opening set, and as good as their word, they invited Bridget up to play with them. Like a proud mama, I had my finger on the record button the whole time. Thanks, Bert, for coming to my rescue. The band’s ripping version of Ophelia got the place hopping. Shana and members of her West Coast band arrived in time for a second set that included a medley of Van covers. Bridget sat that set out but was invited to join them for the the final set – Shana’s magnificent version of “Moondance” you’ve not heard the likes of before. It was all about the blues – she knows what Van fans want to hear – down and dirty for the fans instead of the pop she did up on the big stage for the paying crowds. She is mighty talented and has a huge voice. And a big hand for Peter Thompson, whose sax playing oozes soul.
Then all of a sudden, it’s over. The band’s set is done, people are getting their coats on. It’s time to say our goodbyes – to each other and to the the whole shindig, which started four days earlier on the train from Connolly Station up to Sandy Row. I wouldn’t have missed this one for all the tea in Chiney – a big thank you to Bob Croll, Maurice Kinkead and Fred Durette for making The Roots of Van Tour happen – keep ‘er lit, boys!