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Abandoning sun rays for scuba

BY CAROLINE BERG | MARCH 11, 2010 7:30 AM

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The lore of spring break’s mass student exodus depicts Iowa City as a one-week ghost town.

However, the Englert Theatre, Yacht Club, and Dreamwell Theatre contend that the town celebrates when the university is not in session, too.

“People have the impression that spring break in Iowa City, everyone clears out, especially to escape from such a harsh Iowa winter,” said Pete McCarthy, the Yacht Club general manager. “But really, we get in a good crowd … We don’t rely completely on the student population.”

On March 17, the Yacht Club will host its annual “St. Patrick’s Day Massacre VII” honor-the-Irish celebration. A bountiful tap of green beer will begin at 7 a.m., and die-hards are challenged to survive 19-straight hours at the bar. In three years, 12 people have completed the marathon, and their photos are posted on the venue’s “hallowed” wall of fame.

From 3 p.m. until 2 a.m., the Yacht Club will host eight bands with musical styles ranging from reggae to rock to Irish kilt dancing to the satirical “bearded ginger wookies” genre.

“We put [Mint Wad Willy] first [on the lineup] because the members always tend to get drunk pretty fast,” McCarthy said about the “bearded ginger wookies” band.

He said he is about as Irish as the Yacht Club staff gets, which is 100 percent. If the he gets enough whiskey in his system, he said, he’ll recite plenty of exaggerated stories. Perhaps he might even reveal the McCarthy family crest tattooed on his back.

One place sure to be the site of storytelling is the Englert Theater, which will present Gaelic Storm at 8 p.m. March 19.

“I think we just hit a horse,” said Steve Twigger, the Gaelic Storm guitarist, while driving through Washington, D.C., on tour last week.

The five-member Celtic/world-music band made a quantum leap 13 years ago, going from pub-entertainment nomads to loosening up Kate Winslet in its steerage romp in Titanic. Since then, the group has experimented with African drums, Irish bagpipes, Celtic fiddle, trombones, and Cajun-style accordions to top Billboard charts, has been featured on two EA Sports Games, and has installed its “Kiss Me I’m Irish” track on a 2008 Hallmark greeting card.

Gaelic Storm will release its ninth album this summer, Cabbage, and play some of the album’s songs at the Englert. One of Twigger’s favorite ditties at the moment is “Here Comes Chucky Tim,” written about the real Chucky Tim the band met in Ohio.

“He’s got one of those big, bright smiles,” Twigger said. “Every time you come upon Chucky Tim in the corridor or the hall, you’re guaranteed a good time … You gotta be drinking when you’re with Chucky Tim.”

Rounding out Iowa City’s lineup of spring-break opportunities, Dreamwell Theatre will commence its second “Season of Taboo Bijou” with performances of Blackbird. Opening at 7:30 p.m. March 19, two actors will unfold the story of a minor, Una, who has an affair with an adult, Ray.

“It’s really a compelling piece,” Blackbird director Angie Toomsen said. “What’s challenging about the play is that people might have expectations of how a girl involved in such a situation must have felt … but people who have been abused don’t always experience feelings that go by the textbook.”

Toomsen said the actors had to undergo a whole gamut of feelings and enter into risky emotional territory to transform into their characters. The result, however, the director described as dramatic, beautiful, and surprising.

Iowa City may not have palm trees and white sand beaches, but the alcohol, dancing, foreigners, and drama will be available this spring break.


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