Community celebrates St. Patrick’s Day


Miriam Faux on piano accordion, Jerome Colburn on penny whistle, and Shane Rhoades on banjo plays as Emerald Rum, an Irish folk band, at The Blind Pig on Sunday. The band will play on Tuesday at the Embassy Tavern in Urbana at 7:30 p.m.

By Mary Beth Versaci

Money. The environment. Eggs and ham. The color green brings to mind a long list of things, but at this time of year, it is commonly associated with the holiday of St. Patrick’s Day.

While University students have already enjoyed their traditional unofficial celebration on March 6, the Champaign-Urbana community prepares to make merry Tuesday on “Official.”

The sounds of Irish folk music will be heard at 7:30 Tuesday night at the Embassy Tavern in Urbana. Emerald Rum, a group formed in 2005, features Irish music described by members as “traditional pub fare.” Their performances, or “sessions,” feature more of a relaxed atmosphere in which audience members are encouraged to participate.

“An Irish session is not supposed to be a performance,” said Shane Rhoades of Tolono, Ill., who plays the banjo and mandolin.

He said in a session, the musicians learn from songs that other band members know.

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    “It’s a communal thing,” Rhoades added. “There’s not a lot of pressure to perform.”

    Miriam Faux of Urbana, the group’s newest member, agreed with Rhoades.

    “We love the community,” she said. “We have a session, and we play music. We have people who want to be here.”

    “It’s not so much a performance as much as participation.”

    Faux, who plays the piano accordion, joined the group after seeing it perform at The Blind Pig. She talked to the other band members who invited her to bring her piano accordion along to one of their sessions. Before she came to Champaign, she had played in a country dance band.

    Fellow group member Jerome Colburn has been playing Irish folk music since 1993. His instruments include the penny whistle and concertina. Before playing at The Blind Pig, he said the group used to perform at Mike and Molly’s in Champaign. This is where the members received the inspiration for their name.

    At Mike and Molly’s, there was an upstairs room where the band would perform. The group painted it green, making it an “emerald room.” This led to the group calling itself “Emerald Rum,” he said.

    Mark Whitney of Champaign said that this type of music has been playing for some time in the town of Champaign.

    “My grandmother sang all these songs,” he said. “Some songs she would sing were from the time of Queen Elizabeth. My mother’s side always had this idea that we should respect that heritage, including those kinds of songs.”

    Many audience members were at the performance at The Blind Pig Sunday because of their appreciation of Irish folk music.

    “It reminds me of being back in Ireland when I visited,” said Lauren Eichmann of St. Charles. “It’s nice to hear again.”

    She said she doesn’t really have any plans for Tuesday, but she might go out and celebrate with friends.

    Hunter McDaniel, graduate student, said is not planning any major celebration, but he will probably do something for the day.

    “I’ll definitely be out getting my pitcher of Guinness on Tuesday,” he said.

    While the band plays Irish folk music, only two of the five members are actually Irish, said Kate Rhoades of Tolono, who came to watch her husband perform.

    “They all just love playing the music,” she added.

    While she herself is not Irish, she said the holiday of St. Patrick’s Day is still a “fun one to celebrate.”

    She added that they mark the day by following some of its traditions.

    “We wear green so we don’t get pinched,” Kate said. “We make corned beef and cabbage or potatoes.”

    Colburn usually celebrates St. Patrick’s Day by going to mass and having a traditional corned beef and cabbage dinner. He said that while his wife is not of Irish ancestry, they still enjoy participating in the holiday.

    However, despite the involvement of the Champaign-Urbana community with this holiday, the University campus seems less than enthused.

    Agnieszka Tomczyk, freshman in LAS, said that if she was in Chicago she may attend one of the parades, but she was not planning anything this time around.

    She added that she never really participated while she was growing up either.

    “Not unless I was at school, but at home, not really,” Tomczyk said. Kate McNeese, freshman in Business, said she would probably wear green and attend her dormitory’s St. Patrick’s Day party, but her celebration will not extend further than that.

    She said she has an 8 a.m. class the next day.

    Dominic Casino, sophomore in LAS, also said school had something to do with his decision not to celebrate.

    “It’s a school night,” he said. “I’m not going to be stupid.”

    He said he never was a celebrant of the holiday.

    “Unless I accidentally pull out a green shirt, I’m not going to be celebrating,” said Ally Cherveny, freshman in LAS.

    Robin Kaler, University spokeswoman, said the University is not expecting any unusual or Unofficial-like activities on St. Patrick’s Day.

    However, Emerald Rum is ready to experience the community’s enthusiasm for the St. Patrick’s Day celebration.

    “There’s a love of this music year-round,” Faux added. “We focus on it at this time because it is St. Patrick’s Day, but we listen to it (throughout the year).”