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Friday, September 19, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 63.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Who needs U2? A guide to Irish music in Madison: Sean Michael Dargan

Sean Michael Dargan is a one-man musical dynamo, singing and playing electric guitar across Madison with his trio and as a member of The Kissers. Along with a trio of albums behind his belt, he can also boast more than three decades of experience as a highland bagpiper. Fans can find him and his pipes on the Capitol Square busking at the Dane County Farmers' Market, and at various venues around Madison.

Sean Michael Dargan has a busy holiday weekend, and will be playing the pipes at the Shamrock Shuffle, the St. Patrick's Day Parade, Brocach, Claddagh, and with The Kissers for a reunion show at the High Noon Saloon on the big night itself. The Daily Page queried him about its plans for the holiday and all things Kelly green. Here's what he had to say.

The Daily Page: What are your St. Patrick's Day plans?
I will be playing my bagpipes nearly all day on March 17, as well as sporadically during the five days beforehand. Gigs of note include the Shamrock Shuffle Benefit Run, at the opening and the mid-way point; Madison's St. Patrick's Day Parade; mid-afternoon through dinner on the day itself at Brocach pub; and, roughly dinner time Friday through Tuesday at the Claddagh pub.

I will also be playing electric guitar, and some pipes, with The Kissers at the High Noon Saloon on Tuesday, March 17 from 8:30 p.m. to close. We will also play two other shows that week: Saturday, March 14 at Nighthawk's Tap in La Crosse and Wednesday, March 18 at UW-Rock County in Janesville.

How is the St. Patrick's Day crowd different from those at other shows?
I don't know that the crowd is particularly different on/around St. Pat's -- just bigger and more ebullient. To be quite frank, people almost always respond dramatically to bagpipes -- either strongly in favor or opposed, but almost always strongly -- whether it is a holiday or not. During the spring/summer/early fall, we pipe at the farmer's market in front of the Brocach, and we are typically the busiest of the buskers... of course we are also by far the loudest buskers, too, which never hurts!

What is your favorite St. Patrick's Day memory?
Many are memorable, but perhaps the coolest -- for a number of reasons -- was in 1996 when I opened for the Clancy Brothers at the Colonial Theater in Fredericksburg, Virginia, my college town, and for years my home. I had grown up listening to my dad's Clancy Brothers' albums, and they had certainly informed my singing and acoustic guitar playing at an early stage. My dad sends me a note every year reminding me how I blew 'em off the stage, in his opinion, largely I imagine, because I was young and sober, and they were quite old and quite drunk! Anyway, the fact that it's my dad's favorite gig of mine -- he's seen hundreds of my gigs, if not more! -- makes it extra special for me, too!

Do you have any St. Patrick's Day traditions?
I don't drink much or often, but on St. Pat's I'll typically have a Guinness or two -- they are delicious! -- and if properly arm twisted, a shot of Bushmills in honor of my proud Irish heritage! Otherwise, I really like playing and making people happy, so I try to maximize my gigs that week!

How did you get started in Irish music?
I gravitated to the bagpipes at a ridiculously early age because my dad was the bass drummer in a bagpipe band in Philadelphia -- so bagpipes were a constant -- and I just thought they were the coolest things in the whole world! My mom made me a tiny little kilt, and they got me a tiny set of "doodle pipes," and I marched along with their band as their mascot. I watched the pipe major and mimicked him as precisely as possible, and that really seemed to help me pick it up for real, once I started taking lessons a few years later. It was essentially the Suzuki method for bagpipes, I suppose!

Anyway, that is why I got into it, and I imagine that anyone who likes bagpipes is drawn, perhaps not as obsessively or completely, to the same things I was: the sheer volume of the instrument, the striking visual of a man in a brightly-colored outfit and a skirt, and the martial overtones of a group of pipers and drummers playing and marching together down the street in a parade. It's just a damn cool thing to behold!

What do you think is the allure of bagpipers? Why are we so fascinated by kilts and plaid?
Funny you ask about pipers: even though there are lots of pipers in Ireland, most people associate the Great Highland Bagpipe -- the big, loud instrument that I play, as opposed to the small pipes or the Uilleann pipes more typical in Irish folk music -- with Scotland. That said, many people associate Scotland and Ireland so closely that it's sometimes one big, happy, Celtic music mess in their head. I'll get some smart alecks asking, "Aren't bagpipers Scottish?" and I'll reply "Well, I'm an Irish piper, so there you go!"

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