A toast to Ireland 

Lift your glass, gather your friends and gulp a giant swig of beer. It’s Irish Fest Toast Contest time! Whether you offer a blessing, some sparkling wit or old-fashioned wisdom, Indianapolis’ finest amateur toast-enthusiasts have been competing over the past few weeks for two free airline tickets to Ireland, in celebration of the annual Irish Fest. Here’s your last chance to let your flabber-jaw free. Two more preliminary rounds take place this weekend for original and pre-rehearsed Irish toasts.

Playing host to many of the contests, including the Fionn MacCool’s pub toast this Saturday, Indianapolis-based Síocháin, the Gaelic word for peace, simultaneously rocks and serenades with a harmonic blend of Celtic melodies, Irish and Scottish traditional music. Fueled by the vocals of Claudia Campbell (keys and bodhran), guitarist and bagpipe-extraordinaire Rufus Campbell leads the band’s live performances as the group’s “senior,” while Cory Carleton offers driven bass beats and local expertise. On demon fiddle, mandolin and vocals, Nathan Klatt brings a fiery presence to the stage, and drummer/vocalist Bryan Meyers keeps the rhythm section solid.

“Each member has individual style,” Rufus says. “Nathan comes from an urban, hip-hop background, and he interjects it into our music sometimes, but we try not to divert too much from traditional music.”

Born of Scot-Irish heritage, the Campbells decided to pursue the music of their ancestors after one of their daughters joined an Irish step-dance company. They joined with three of the members of Indianapolis acoustic rock outfit Ashworth, and in less than two years, Síocháin has opened for national acts such as Gaelic Storm. The foot-stomping, audience-interactive band will release its debut live album, Disturbing the Peace, a locally-produced project, during this year’s Irish Fest.

Original tunes, as well as covers of traditional songs such as “Lannigan’s Ball” and “The Irish Rover,” keep Síocháin’s shows upbeat and uplifting, especially among spirited locals with spirits in hand and a toast in their hearts.

“It’s fun to watch people get educated about Irish music,” Rufus says. “It’s not just ‘Danny Boy.’ There’s much more depth to it.”

That’s exactly what the Third Annual Irish Toast Contest celebrates: Irish culture, traditions and humor. Participants sign up the night of the contests, which will take place at 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 8 at MacNiven’s, 339 Massachusetts Ave., in Indianapolis, and at Fionn MacCool’s, 8211 E. 116th St., in Fishers.

Guest judges base scores on oration, creativity, subject matter and crowd applause. Each pub then crowns its champion, which will compete during Irish Fest weekend for semi-finals on Friday, Sept. 15 at 8 p.m. and the overall finals on Saturday, Sept. 16 at 8 p.m. on the O’Brien Automotive Stage. The two airline tickets to Ireland will be awarded during the toast finals.
“Once people understand the potential prize, they prepare for it and get serious,” Rufus says. “Some people write poetic toasts and tie in friends and things that are familiar to them. I usually have a Guinness in hand.”

The Irish Festival takes place Sept. 15-17 in Military Park in downtown Indianapolis. For more information, visit www.indyirishfest.com. Check out Síocháin at www.siochain.net.

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