Songbook to the 2011 Colorado Irish Festival
Songbook to the 2011 Colorado Irish Festival
By A.H. Goldstein Tuesday, Jul 5 2011. The Westword
Christian Blochinger remembers stopping his band's tour bus on a rural Missouri highway in 2006 and flipping on the blinker. He'd been driving in the wrong direction on the isolated and narrow road, and he was turning left to switch course. "This was a county highway that was intersected by side streets," Blochinger recalls. "I put my blinker on and looked behind me." That's where the recollections of that day end for the drummer and leader of the Celtic rock band Potcheen. A few moments later, a FedEx truck barreled into the side of his 1983 MCI Crusader and pushed the bus off the highway.
Blochinger was driving Potcheen's tour bus with another band as passengers; he was ferrying the rock group Savage Henry to dates on its first Midwest tour, a planned six-gig stretch that included an appearance in Lee's Summit, Missouri. When the police arrived at the scene of the accident, Blochinger says, the other passengers, who were injured but still conscious, told the troopers the driver was dead.
But the bloodied, unconscious Blochinger, still strapped into the driver's seat, wasn't dead. "I ended up breaking my collarbone, my shoulder blade, four ribs, my nose," Blochinger notes. "I had a slight hairline fracture in my wrist and eighteen stitches in my head. I had a major concussion, as well." As Blochinger attempted to recover from a laundry list of injuries and a ruined tour bus, he enlisted drummer David Derby as a temporary replacement so that Potcheen could keep its commitments. "I didn't have insurance," he says, "so I had to heal up on my own. I racked up $150,000 in medical bills. My truck got repossessed from my driveway."
After four months of being laid up, Blochinger took off his splints and returned to his drum stool in time to play on the main stage at the Desert Rocks Festival in Utah. By then, he had also replaced the ruined tour bus with another fifty-foot, 37,000-pound MCI Crusader, a 1980 model he named "Bonnie" after a famed pirate.
The basic story of perseverance and survival is one that's played itself out countless times in the history of Potcheen, which Blochinger founded in 2003. The outfit has demonstrated the same sort of resilience over the course of its nine-year existence, as more than forty different musicians have shuffled in and out of its ranks and the format has shifted from traditional Irish tunes to classic rock to somewhere in between.
Through it all, Blochinger has been at the helm, handling everything from squabble mediation to booking duties to tour management. Not surprisingly, he has no shortage of horror stories from the past decade, from musicians throwing hissy fits over muddled sound to dramatic breakups between dating bandmembers to confronting a bazouki player about his unwillingness to wear deodorant. "Being a bandleader," he insists, "you have to address that. Whenever somebody whines about something, that's when I want to smack them in the face. I only lose it about once or twice a year."
Even as he recounts the most stressful aspects of his role in the band, Blochinger maintains a friendly and approachable tone. There's no denying his affability, a quality others see as key to the band's longevity. "He's got a gift of gab, as much as we make fun of him for it," says guitarist Neil Zimmerman, who's played with the group for the past four years. "The bottom line in the world of business is that people like to do business with people they like. He comes across as very likable, especially when he's talking to booking agents."
Zimmerman, who also plays as one half of the local folk/rock duo Pairadeux, says the gregariousness covers a deep commitment to the band, a focus that's allowed it to survive. "It's his baby, and his dedication to keeping it alive despite the obstacles," Zimmerman observes. "The bus accident was a nasty thing, but he's like a football player. He plays with pain."
The stress of it all is a constant test of willpower and patience, Blochinger admits, but the 6' 3", 200-pound son of German and Argentine parents has found a sort of personal mission in playing old Irish songs and pirate rock. His perseverance has deep roots that go back to a childhood spent in New Jersey, far from the mountains of Cork and Kerry.
"When I was a freshman in high school," says Blochinger, "I was 5' 1" and 65 pounds. I got shoved in more garbage cans and lockers than I can remember. Every team my twin brother and I were on, we were always the worst players. For some reason, he would quit and I would stay with it." That same dogged persistence has kept him at the helm of Potcheen for nearly a decade. "I don't like to quit anything. It's the way my brain is wired. I'm an idiot," he says, laughing, adding that he's threatened to write an autobiography titled Herding Cats in a Parade. "I just believe in what the band can do. And I believe that the bands that make it are the ones that don't quit."
Blochinger likewise hasn't quit on the band's commitment to its Celtic roots, an odd fit for a German/Argentine raised in New Jersey. The specialty seems all the more unlikely considering Blochinger's musical roots; an early fan of classic rock and jam bands, the drummer learned his craft playing Grateful Dead covers and extended percussion jams.
It was while hosting an open stage in Evergreen that Blochinger first heard guitarist Christopher Shelby, who played stripped-down versions of old Irish and European ballads.
Those performances exposed him to a deeper side of Celtic music, a history and power that seemed to underline every verse of folk tunes like "South Australia," "Whiskey in the Jar" and "Drunken Sailor." The songs' simple narratives and raw energy immediately appealed to Blochinger, who saw the music as a compelling link to the distant past.
"The first one I remember is 'Whiskey in the Jar,' and I still play that to this day," he notes of the 800-year-old ballad, a song that tells the story of a highway robber who's waylaid by the betrayal of his own beloved. "A lot of the songs were pirate songs. They were songs about drinking, or drinking and being a pirate.
"What's more fun than that?" he adds, smiling.
From there, Blochinger delved into the history behind the music: romantic stories of Irish sailors hitting ports in western Europe as pirates, combining careers as plunderers and ballad singers. "Ireland, that's where a lot of the most famous pirates were from," he asserts.
Blochinger and Shelby enlisted a bass player and formed the first, bare-bones version of the group. The trio called itself the Potcheen Folk Band. The title came from the Gaelic word for Irish moonshine, a spirit celebrated in the folk song "The Rare Old Mountain Dew."
"The more I looked at it," he recalls, "the more I realized that Celtic music was the original music that was put in a band format. It became bluegrass, country and R&B. We were finding that we could play a metal bar or a jam bar or a country bar. It was the first time that I was in a band that we could play any genre, any club, and everyone was digging it."
As Potcheen grew and different players circulated, Blochinger worked to expand the scope of its style. The speedy, rocked-out approach to Irish music refined by the Pogues and later adopted by bands like Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys played a large role in the band's repertoire, but so did rock standards, originals and poppier tunes by bands like the Proclaimers.
"I have my own song that I wrote called 'Pog Mo Thoin' which means 'Kiss my ass,'" Blochinger points out. "We just mix everything. We'll do a little Flogging Molly," he adds, noting that he's met and played with Nathen Maxwell. "We do bluegrass, we go to zydeco, go to an Irish song and then flip and do the Isley Brothers." It's an all-of-the-above approach, one that's drawn musicians who are new to Celtic music, just as Blochinger was when he heard those first ballads at the open stage.
"'Whiskey in the Jar' is 800 years old," Zimmerman points out. "It's been done in 9,000 different ways. We do a very upbeat version of it, and I think it's cool that it's survived this long."
"There's an utter simplicity and purity to it," he concludes. "It's about whiskey, it's about love, it's about rebellion. They are the same basic elements that appealed to people 700 years ago."
Potcheen Nominated "BEST WORLD BAND"
Potcheen has been nominated in the 2010 Westword Music Showcase as "Best World Band"
you can go to: polls.westword.com/polls/den/musicshowcase/
Rock Your Vote! Coming up with the list of featured acts at the sixteenth annual Westword Music Showcase — which takes place on Saturday, June 19, 2010, in more than a dozen venues across the Golden Triangle — was an incredibly daunting task given the lineup we had last year. But somehow we pulled it off, and then some, booking Ghostland Observatory, Superchunk, Dirty Projectors, BoomBox, Neon Indian, Single File, Tickle Me Pink, Oh My Stars and Jonathan Tyler & the Northern Lights.
And we haven’t yet announced the local acts that will perform this year. We’ll be pulling those right from this ballot, our list of the very best performers in town in 39 categories. To compile it, we asked luminaries from every facet of the Denver scene to submit a list of the acts that had made the biggest impression on them over the past year. And now that the ballot has been assembled, we need your help in determining the winners in each of these categories. The deadline for all ballots is June 21 — which means you can cast your vote after hearing the bands at the Showcase.
See you there!
Ballots are due on Monday, June 21. Only one ballot per voter; ballot stuffing can and will be detected. Check no more than one band per category, or type your own choice in the space provided.
Potcheen Rocks Scruffy's Birthday Party
by Michael Thompson, Denver Celtic Music Examiner, February 2010
It was a great evening of Celtic Pirate Rock as Scruffy Murphy's Pub in LoDo celebrated their 5th Birthday. Few small businesses last this long, and with Irish pubs dropping like flies lately, this one has proven its staying power.
Scruffy Murphy’s Irish Pub, located in Downtown Denver just minutes away from Coors Field, is the perfect place to grab a pint or enjoy some traditional Irish pub fare. With 16 draught beers, a cozy atmosphere and outgoing staff, Scruffy’s is an authentic piece of the Emerald Isle right here in Denver.
It was even better Friday evening with Celtic rockers Potcheen to get the crowd on their feet and moving to the music. Potcheen is the ultimate party band and they really showed their stuff at this party.
Potcheen is the Irish word for moonshine, the raw whiskey that comes from an illicit still, and this music is as raw and real as it gets. The band plays pub standards, favored by every Irish band to hoist a pint, but they play them with energy, enthusiasm, and expertise. From Christian Blochinger on drums, Manuel Nuñez on bouzouki, Laura Quam on dynamite fiddle, Melissa Ivey jammin' on guitar, and smokin' bass from Ryan Waller, every one of these people is an accomplished musician. Together they hold crowds in the palm of their collective hand with some of the finest Celtic rock you're ever likely to encounter.
Happy Birthday to Scruffy Murphy's, one of Denver's best Irish pubs, and kudos to Potcheen for making the evening special!
Grace, the Original Potcheen Vessel
Our tourbus "Grace" met her demise March 3, 2009 in Lee Summit, MO when a Fed Ex Semi struck her and broke her back. Although the driver (drummer Christian B) was injured, everyone else made it through with minor scratches.
The bus was totalled but we survived the harsh and tossing seas like a band of pirates! Happily, a new pirate ship was commandeered and her name is "Bonny". We just returned from a successful West Coast Tour and she was a trooper!
A big thanks to our wonderful sponsor PocketShot. They have given more help and love to Grace than anyone. Potcheen couldn't have made the road if it weren't for the fine people at PocketShot!
Potcheen:Best band at the Colorado Irish Festival
Potcheen was the best band at the Colorado Irish Festival
— Denver Celtic Music Examiner | July 25 | 1:51 PM
There was an incredible array of fine Irish music at the Colorado Irish Festival this year, but in my opinion, local Denver band Potcheen outshone them all. It's astounding that I can say that, when such big name bands as Gaelic Storm headlined the festival, but frankly, I think they've left behind their traditional Irish roots and moved into an Irish-flavored mainstream rock vein instead. Of course, that's what attracted over 40,000 people to the festival, and the biggest crowd at any festival concert for their Saturday performance. Nothing wrong with that, it's just not my pint of stout.
By the way, for those traditional stout fiends like me who wonder why the festival has served Coors products the past couple of years instead of the customary Guinness, the answer is the same. Over 30 thousand pints of beer were consumed at this year's festival, making it the largest seller of Killian's Irish Red in the U.S. for 2009. If you can get thirty thousand people to petition Guinness to make a better offer, give it a try.
Now Potcheen is no more traditional than Gaelic Storm, with their electric guitars and drum kits, but to me, they hold the essence of good Irish music, and package it in what they call “pirate-punk-folk-rock.” And their audience obviously agreed. While the Elders were holding forth on the main stage, Potcheen still managed to pack the pub tent with screaming fanatics, who danced and sang and joined in the fun with manic fervor and energy. Everyone from little children to their parents, middle aged and older couples and everyone in between was up and dancing by the end of their performance. For sheer mind-blowing audience interaction, these people are second to none.
The Elders were amazing, Brother was astounding, McPeake rocked the crowds, Eileen Ivers helded them enraptured, and Gobs O'Phun had them rolling in the aisles with laughter, but Potcheen just blew them all out of the water. Make sure you see them play whenever you get the chance.
Our Drummer is home Safe!
Christian is home safe!
Hello Everyone. Thank you all for your good thoughts & prayers! We really appreciate the support from you all. Just an update to let you know that Christian has arrived home safe & sound. He looks like hell, but he's as much a wise-ass as ever, and we are sooooo glad and relieved to have him home. The gig last night opening up for the Young Dubliners was a great success. David Derby ROCKED on the drums and the house was packed. The Young Dubliners put on an AMAZING show and if you've never seen them, highest recommendations to do so when they come to town again. The condition of Grace is unknown, but we will keep you updated on things as we get more info. Rock on, friends!
Bus Crash in Lee Summitt, MO.
Thursday, March 05, 2009
Hey folks, as some of you know, our band leader and drummer Christian and our beloved bus, Grace, were in an accident with the boys from Savage Henry on Tuesday in Missouri. We just want you all to know that WE ARE OK! Christian However was the only one with serious injuries and was taken to research Medical in Kansas City..
We are sending out good thoughts and prayers to all the boys, and we were told that Christian will be home safe and sound sometime next week..
ALSO, we will be playing ALL of our upcoming gigs this weekend! Christian's long-time friend (and life-saver!), David Derby, will be filling in on the drums for us. Please keep Christian in your thoughts & prayers. In the meantime, we are pulling together and SOLDIERING THROUGH! Check back with us frequently, as we will have NEW TRACKS from our upcoming album up today, as well as any available updates about the accident. THANK YOU FOR ALL YOUR CONCERN. Love, Potcheen
Metromix Story: Potcheen: Irish Moonshine Never So
Who the Hell is Potcheen?
It’s not every day that you get hijacked by a bunch of scallywag pirates and live to tell the tale, but that’s exactly what happens when you jump onboard the pirate ship Potcheen, or rather its large green bus.
Potcheen is Denver’s premiere Celtic Pirate-Punk-Folk-Rock Band (try saying that one twice..or even once after you’ve had a shot or two of whisky). The band’s name means “Irish moonshine” brewed high in the hills of ole’ Ireland.
The band formed in 2003 and has been through some changes over the years, but one thing that hasn’t changed is its fearless captain. When he’s not out fighting off salty wenches you’ll find Christian Blochinger managing the band, singing a little shanty, and most importantly, behind a massive drum set even Bill Kreutzmann would be proud of. I was fortunate enough to get some one on one time with the legend himself.
When did you start pounding those drums, and why drums?
Blochinger: I started doing percussion when I was about 20, but didn’t get into full-fledged drumming until 12 years later. I saw “String Cheese Incident” and was inspired. That’s when I also bought a drum set for my son. It was something we were able to do together. I’m self-taught and I play by ear.
One thing people really know you from is that big, green tour bus of yours. And I understand it has a name…
Blochinger: Her name is ‘Grace’ and she’s named after the pirate Grace O’Malley, the only female Irish pirate. I got the idea to get a bus after living in New Jersey. Fans out there didn’t want to drive all the way to New York to see shows. So, a local band I knew bought a bus to take fans back and forth. Saves on gas, people can drink without worrying about driving home it is a great idea…I decided to do the same thing for our Colorado fans.
And Grace has quite the presence at the St. Paddy’s Parade...
Blochinger: We play on top of the bus every year during the St. Patrick’s Day Parade downtown. You’ve never lived until you’ve played on top of a moving bus in a parade lined with 80,000 people. Eight cases of Guinness, 20 strippers and a band on a bus playing to the entire city; who else can say that?
Writer’s note: Christian just had Grace converted to run on vegetable oil which is way better for the environment and no more big gas bills.
What’s one of the craziest things that ever happened to you before or after a performance?
Blochinger: Our first St. Patrick’s Day performance ever was at a house in Arvada. After the show, we were loading up and a gang war erupted all around us. Three rival gangs. Everyone was fighting. I just tried to load up the drums as fast as I could and told everyone else to do the same so we could get out of there.
Tell us about your most memorable performance.
Blochinger: When we played in front of 5,000-6,000 people in New Mexico opening for Los Lobos at the Taos Solar Festival
You’ve made a lot of changes in the band over the years. What is it that keeps you inspired?
Blochinger: I think the biggest joy I get in the world is playing, and playing for people. It’s about doing what you love, not about the money. Most people spend their whole life working in a cubicle waiting until they retire to get out and see the world. Why not travel and play music and see the whole world now? I’d rather have the adventure on the high seas.
Hop on the Potcheen bandwagon!
So there you have it all you land lubbers. I dare you to take the pirate adventure and jump on the bus next time Potcheen visits your neck of the woods. There’s no need to be afraid of this band of misfits. But, if ya don’t come away with a kick in your step and a nice jug of rum I might just have to make you walk the plank myself! ARR Mateys!
—Laura Kelley, Special to Metromix
Metromix interview link