When it comes to St. Patrick’s Day in Lancaster County, there are only so many bands to go around.
The Ogham Stones know the circuit well, as they’ve been playing multiple gigs on the holiday weekend, often two or three sets in one day, for almost a decade. After a few lineup changes over the years, the group now features Amanda Paveglio on bagpipes and accordion, Neal Kreider on bass, Shawn O’Neal on drums, Matt Underhill on banjo and guitar, James Lipka on guitars and John Flavin providing lead vocals and bodhran. The most recent addition is Nina de Vitry on fiddle, replacing Mollie Swartz of Talk Alliance.
“Only in Lancaster can you have a long list of accomplished fiddle players,” said Flavin when we recently spoke over pints at one of his main haunts, American Bar & Grill.
We spoke about the Stones’ upcoming busy weekend, as well as Flavin’s Irish traditions and personal history. Not only can you find a complete list of the Ogham Stones’ St. Paddy’s day events below, but you can also read a Fly article from the vault on the subject from a quarter-century ago written by Flavin himself.
1. How long have you been playing with the Ogham Stones?
John Flavin: This will be our ninth St. Patrick’s Day, so we got our start in the fall of 2010. I was a bartender, and still am occasionally, but I love Irish music. The Pogues, Flogging Molly, Dropkick Murphys. A friend of mine, Jeff Anderson, who owns Angry, Young and Poor, slid me a CD one time and said “You’ve gotta hear these guys, they’re good.” I took it home and listened and thought, well, this is really great Celtic rock music, they must be from Boston or New York or something. It ended up being the Kilmaine Saints from Harrisburg. I was equally both dumbfounded and also, I took it as a challenge. I thought, Lancaster needs something like this. I set about putting the musicians together, and luckily, we’re blessed in Lancaster to have a fantastic rock scene with amazing musicians. I contacted Amanda, our bagpiper, first, because I already knew her. She was the piper at my wedding. Next person was our fiddle player Mollie Swartz, and as soon as she expressed interest, it all spiraled and got out of control. Pretty soon, people were knocking on my door to join the band.
2. At your Zoetropolis show, you'll be playing before a screening of the 1991 film "The Commitments." I take it you're a fan?
JF: Absolutely. It's funny, heartwarming and probably the most Irish film of all time. I’ve seen that movie a dozen times, but I’ll gladly flop down in a seat after the show to watch it again.
3. What’s the key to getting around on a day when you have multiple shows?
JF: This year, we have two shows on Saturday, and you look at the timing, we’ve learned to spread them out a little bit. Sometimes, we moved them a little too close and it gets hectic and tensions fly. We’re playing at ABAG from 4 to 6, and then we don’t play at Tellus360 until 10:30. And also, we like to meet people that haven’t seen us before when we can – and sell a little merch, if we can – and just talk. It’s nice to have a couple of hours to leisurely make our way to Tellus. When I’m done with a single set like we’re doing, I don’t want to stop. So knowing that I have another one that day is pretty cool.
4. There are probably a thousand different St. Patrick’s Day traditions; do you have any personal ones?
JF: Well, for the last nine years, definitely playing shows. I’m an American, born and raised, but an Irish American. I’m used to the ways that Americans celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, which is raucous and drinking and Americanized. I try to at least take a moment over the weekend to reflect on the Irish history and ancestry that I have. I’m somber … at least for a little bit. For about a minute.
5. What’s the "off-season" like for the Stones?
JF: We try to stay busy. Luckily, the niche genre of the music has a pretty dedicated following. We can schedule gigs throughout the year, and we’ll tend to see the same, base core of fans at each gig. Throughout the year, we’ll just throw up a show for no real reason, and we find that they’re pretty well-attended. We’re lucky to have broken into the festival circuit, as it were. There are plenty of Irish festivals and Ren fairs all year ‘round.
6. A little later in the month, you’ll be part of the “London Calling” benefit tribute show at Tellus. What’s your personal connection to the music of the Clash?
JF: I am a humongous fan, always have been. Two summers ago, I put together a little event called “StrummerJam.” It’s an international organization that encourages people to put on Joe Strummer-related events in August, the month he was born. I was really lucky to get a lot of dedicated, passionate musicians involved, including Mike Giblin, who is an astoundingly huge Clash fan and the person who runs the Giblin Foundation. Every year, they do a different charity event in honor of his deceased wife, Susan. This year, they’ll be re-creating “London Calling,” and as a bit of quid pro quo, they asked me to take part in this. We just started rehearsals last weekend, and I was blown away.
7. To an outsider’s perspective, bands like the Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly take up a lot of real estate as far as popular Irish music is concerned. What bands in the genre do you think could use more love?
JF: You’re right, Flogging Molly and the Dropkicks are always going to get that love, they’re the ones that are most active now still. I just saw Flogging Molly last weekend and they were awesome. There’s a lot of other bands over the years that I’ve though were really great. There’s a great band from New Jersey called the Skels. We’ve covered some of their songs, and people heard of us doing them and told them, and got back to us and said, “This is awesome!” There’s a band from Nova Scotia, Great Big Sea, we’ve done some of their versions of traditional songs, I always thought they were underrated. There’s always new stuff coming out, which is great. And like I said, it’s a close-knit community. Once someone hears about a new band, you’re welcomed into the fold with hospitality.
8. I know you have some songs up on Reverbnation now, but do you have recording plans for the near or distant future?
JF: We’re lucky that a lot of venues have been kind enough to make and give us our live recordings. We’ve definitely talked with a few venues about recording a whole two-hour set and seeing what we can make out of it. We’re always talking about going back in the studio. When we did our first CD, that was kind of a whirlwind. We got together ten weeks before St. Patrick’s Day four years ago. The recording time to the first gig of St. Patrick’s Day was all of about five weeks. Ask anyone, recording a CD in five weeks is a nightmare. I look back on it and I’m happy about it, but I also think, man, we could have done a lot of things better. So next time, it will be a little more planned out. We’re waiting for a theme or specific inspiration to strike, so we’re not just throwing songs on an album.
9. Do you have a favorite Irish pub in the city?
Lots of them, that’s another thing that Lancaster is really great. Since I consider the Ogham Stones a Celtic punk rock band, I’ll say where we are now, American Bar & Grill is one. It’s a favorite of ours not only to play, but we can walk in here and hear the Clash going into the Pogues into the Dropkick Murphys just playing over the radio. We obviously love Tellus, it’s a great place to go and hang out. We’ve done lots of great shows at Annie Baileys. Hildy’s is a great dive bar, not necessarily an Irish bar but it’s got the spirit of one. Someone will probably kick my ass for forgetting others.
10. Have you ever been to Ireland?
JF: Yes, twice actually. One of the in-jokes of the band is that the first time I went, I was 17 and went through a student ambassador program. One of the people on that trip with me was Shawn O’Neal, our drummer. So, sometimes people will ask how Shawn became our drummer and I’ll say, “Well, it wasn’t from drinking in Irish pubs when we were in high school.” I look back at the experience now and wish I appreciated it more than I did. In looking back, it was a life-changing experience. I’m coming up on 10 years from the last time. I loved being there, and the one thing you can always appreciate about Ireland is how friendly the people are. You can sit next to someone at the bar, and the next minute, you’ve got a best friend for life who will give you anything. Trying to buy a round of drinks in Ireland when they find out you’re an American, it’s impossible. They won’t let you do it. Now I have plans with my wife in September for our tenth anniversary to go see Ireland together.
The Ogham Stones play at Zoetropolis at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, March 15, at American Bar & Grill at 4 p.m. and Tellus360: at 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 16, and at the Stoner Grille at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 17. Find the band's full schedule and music here.