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Thanksgiving, Irish Style

Well, I am once again back in the U-S of A, land of the free, home of the brave and the country that celebrates an annual food orgy we call Thanksgiving. Many cultures have something similar. Those cheeky Canadians even call their big day the same thing on the second Monday of October. To be fair, folks in the Great White North started celebrating theirs nearly 50 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, so props for being original. The Chinese have the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, Koreans have Chuseok, Ghana celebrates the Humowo Festival, Israel has the Feast of the Tabernacle (celebrated by Jews around the world) and Liberians have their own Thanksgiving based on the US version, celebrating their freedom from slavery in America.

One place where Thanksgiving is NOT celebrated is where I spent this last week: Ireland. They have a tradition of an eating orgy every day called The Full Irish. (I'm wearing the extra 10 pounds to prove it.) They've also recently adopted the Black Friday thing we do, basically going straight for the jugular of holiday shoppers. But, I digress.

For the second time, I was invited to fly over for Ray Foley's Naked Breakfast Show on Dublin's 98FM. The morning crew there, Ray Foley, JP Gilbourne and Muireann O'Connell always present top-drawer shows every weekday, but on Black Friday they pull out all the stops for the Naked Breakfast. Breakfast because that's what they always call the morning show (as does most of the world outside the US) and Naked because they're all naked! It's Naked because everything is live. The music, news and sports, traffic, jingles and...yes, the announcer (me) are ALL 100% live.

This year's extravaganza was simply spectacular. A much bigger, more plush venue (The Royal Dublin Society Concert Hall), performances from Gavin James (just toured with Sam Smith) a wonderful Irish X-Factor "boy band" called Hometown, really excellent interview guests Irish X-Factor stars Rachel Stevens and Una Foden, Dublin football heroes Darragh MacAuley and Cian O'Sullivan, former Irish radio and TV mega-star Noel Edmonds and a panto super-star turkey named Dustin! (I'm not sure I can explain it – the Irish get it) There was a full-blown gospel Choir, a brass band and some incredibly gifted commercial VO people all combining to make a very engaging and entertaining show, both for the audience in the RDS and the listeners in Dublin.

One of the better aspects of the show was the return of last year's "house band," Key West. In the past year, this merry little band of buskers (street musicians) have racked up a number one album, number one song, a tour of the UK and even bigger plans for the coming year. Mark my words: Kav, Glover, Sam, Harry and Jimi are going to be names widely known in the US one day soon.

After we did last year's Naked Breakfast, we saw them again, performing on Grafton Street in Dublin the next day and they were really spectacular. Aside from all the wonderful hosts, guests and announcers (Ha!) on this year's Naked Breakfast, they were in many ways the glue that held it all together.

Knowing that we were going again this year, my wife Jan and I were able to plan ahead, come several days early and see some of the amazing places in Ireland that we'd heard about all our lives. I am already busy putting together a short movie about our travels to see the Ring of Kerry, Castle Blarney (yes, we both kissed the stone), Killarney, Cork, Galway, the Cliffs of Moher, Cobh (where the rescue efforts for the Lusitania came from), Limerick (yeah, we heard a few) and even Tipperary. (If you don't know about Tipperary, it's a long way there.) Look for that sometime in the next week or so.

One of the unexpected pleasures was getting to smell burning peat. Chances are, most of you reading this don't know what I'm talking about, so a brief explanation: Over the last few centuries, before natural gas or liquid petroleum became widely available, only the well-to-do Irish could afford to burn coal for heat. Most people there burned dried peat moss from the many bogs across the country. It has a unique, savory smell that for some is overpowering. But our tour guide for the Ring of Kerry said that most Irish folk feel that, "a warm bowl of soup and the smell of burning peat creates the ultimate feeling of home." He added that most people either love it or hate it. I definitely fall in the "love it" column. It doesn't smell like anything I've ever experienced before and I hope to enjoy it again.

The trip was not without drama. As we pulled into Killarney Monday evening, a baggage handler hoisted my backpack into the back of our bus, followed by several other, very large pieces of luggage. When we got to our room at the International Hotel, I discovered that the iLok dongle that holds all of my software licenses for Pro Tools and the associated plug-ins was smashed beyond repair. When I connected with the manufacturer, they were very polite when they told me my only solution was to send them the damaged dongle and they could replace it with all the licenses intact. On a holiday weekend? Through international mail? Not gonna happen soon enough for me. I had several client stations waiting for VO sessions. My alternative was to purchase a new dongle and they could temporarily transfer the licenses to it, pending the return of the original. Guess what you cannot buy, at ANY retail outlet in Ireland?

When I explained this in an email to my clients, I got an unexpected reply from Sonic Surgery, an outsource production house in Cork that does work for my client there, Red-FM. Brendan Bourke, the main producer at Sonic, hopped in his car and drove up to Killarney (2 hours with traffic) and gave me an unregistered dongle he had laying there in his studio. In gratitude, we offered to buy him a lavish dinner there at the hotel, but he wouldn't hear of it. He had a quick coffee and jetted after paying it forward in a very generous way. Brendan is truly a hero in my book, going way above and beyond for a fellow producer. This man is golden in my book. I don't know if I will ever be able to repay him directly, but somewhere down the road I will pay his generosity forward myself and I am certain that he will reap the karmic reward.

There are two other people who deserve a special bit of recognition:

First, our main tour guide through the wilds of Ireland, Norman. What a beautiful, patient and kind man! Everyone we met on our journey, both fellow travelers and local Irish were wonderful, but Norman is a peach!

And saving the best for last, I MUST say something about our host for this incredible journey, Adelle Nolan. She had to put up with SO much in organizing and assembling the Naked Breakfast. Decorum prevents me from outlining much of it, but she was simply amazing...again. She and her husband Andrew brought their 3 children on our first day in Dublin to join us for dinner at our home base hotel. We instantly felt completely at ease. I know she could be the promotions director at ANY major market US radio station, if she didn't love home so much. And she does. She is Irish, through and through.

Oddly, I didn't even think about missing our Thanksgiving feast at the time. We had so much to feast on (non-culinary, thank you) at the time, the idea of turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie didn't even cross our minds.


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