Friday, August 1, 2014

Its' Midsummer in Ireland. Must be Time for Madness.

Mid-summer in Ireland is not quite like anywhere else. We all relax for one thing (which is why you haven't heard from me in a bit). We all go to the pub more often (which is also why you haven't heard from me recently). We kick back, take a load off, light the BBQ, and pretend the rest of the world doesn't exist. Or, if we have enough dosh in the bank, we'll flee the country for other parts of the world and teach them how to kick back (unless we go to Spain in which case the locals have a much better understanding of Manana than we ever will).

It gets quiet over here. Really, really quiet. Enough to make a guy want to go bonkers. Enough to put some up to mischief.  You know, to shake off the boredom - that sort of thing. Which is what happens in Ireland during the summer. Many of us go stark raving mad. Unfortunately, there are those out there - completely innocent souls - who suffer the consequences of that madness.

Take Garth Brooks for instance. You know. The American country western singer. Years ago he gave a concert in Dublin. He was so welcomed by the Irish that he thought he'd died and gone to Heaven. I heard tell that he said back then that he'd be back someday. But then he decided to take a few years off to spend all the money he'd made in Dublin and we didn't hear much from him. Until a few months ago.

It seems that Garth decided to kick-start his music career after the decade-long interlude. And where better to start it than in Dublin? His people contacted the Aikens, a mover and shaker in the Irish music business, about organizing a few concerts here to launch a worldwide tour. Aiken, in turn, thought about contacting the Dublin City Council to organize the licenses for the events. Unfortunately he must have forgotten because...

And here is where a) it gets somewhat confusing and b) all hell broke lose.

Garth, Aiken et al wanted to hold the concerts in Croke Park, a massive stadium at which is played Ireland's favorite sport, Gaelic Football. In turn, Croke Park is owned by the GAA, the body that manages the sport. Croke Park happens to be located in a rather densely populated area of North Dublin. It's surrounded by residential houses. Which means that it has residents in them. You know, people like you and me that like to sleep occasionally. The stadium was sometimes used for concerts and some time ago the residents had complained: it seems that they didn't like music blaring through open windows at 3 in the morning nor finding post-concert detritus like vomit clogging up the gutters. So...sometime ago they had negotiated a deal with the GAA. They'd put up with the concerts but only if the GAA guaranteed that they'd hold only three concerts a year.

But the Garth Brooks steamroller was already fired up. Instead of first contacting the Council for the licenses, Aiken went instead directly to the owners of the stadium. On behalf of the Brooks machine, Aiken asked the GAA if they'd hold three concerts. They said yes. Then they asked for four. Yes again. Then, with their enthusiasm knowing no bounds, they asked for five. Again the answer was yes. The GAA, I'm sure, forgot entirely about the agreement they had with the residents. I'm not sure why. Money probably had something to do with it. (I can hear you say as you read this: "Really Tom? Money? Are people honestly that greedy? Duh....") But Aiken, as mentioned, had not yet approached the Dublin City Council for the licenses.

Instead, they started selling tickets. Subject to licensing approval, of course. And over 400,000 were snapped up. Dubliners bought 'em. People across Ireland bought 'em. People from as far away as Australia bought 'em. They also made flight and hotel reservations. Dublin businesses got caught up in the madness, now scheduled for late July. Five concerts? 400,000 people and perhaps more! Wow! Businesses bought all sorts of stuff in anticipation: Garth Brooks cowboy hats. Garth Brooks T-Shirts. For all I know, they bought Garth Brooks mechanical wind-up figurines that would sing and ask for the Pope's blessing at the same time. All of this stuff was delivered and stored in warehouses.They weren't the only ones to go mad with anticipation: taxi drivers, restaurants, local prostitutes - everyone was rubbing their hands in anticipation of a quick buck.

But the local residents weren't too happy. Not at all. By running five concerts, the Brooks machine was breaching the agreement made with the GAA. So they started to protest. They got airtime on TV, radio, and the Net. And those with any sense of justice realized that they had a point. A legal agreement is, after all, a legal agreement. And that's when Aiken finally approached the Dublin City Council for licensing approval.

And the result: chaos. The poor Council guy responsible for licensing realized that his hands were tied. He analysed and gnashed his teeth and prayed hard - and finally gave approval for three concerts. Not five. But three.

The shit hit the fan. Garth and company were not pleased. It was five or none at all. And the world went mad. Even our beloved Prime Minister, our Taoiseach, said it was madness. Radio call ins were filled for days with angry people expressing their views: all concerts should go ahead, said some, because the tickets had already been sold and if the concerts were cancelled the Irish economy would lose up to €50 million. That's a lot of Pints, let me tell you. Others said that the local residents were being steamrolled by big money interests. "Naw, really?" says I. The local residents, in turn, were sorry for the mess but that was the agreement. But at least they wouldn't have to clean up the puke with a mop and lots of cursing.

Brooks and Company, I think, felt that the Council would back down. He even said he would crawl on hands and knees to the Irish government to get the decision overturned, so deeply was he committed to Ireland. The mess even made it into the chambers of our beloved Irish Dail, the seat of government here. They debated it. Something had to be done. But what?

As it turned out, it was time for compromise. The decision stood unless another, sort of acceptable, agreement was made. The hot potato landed back in the Brooks camp: either take three concerts and be satisfied or... Well, we're sorry but that's an end to it. Garth tried to compromise. They worked with the Council who gave them a couple of what I believe to have been perfectly acceptable options: like having five concerts but holding a couple of them in the afternoon rather than all at night which would have driven the local folks crazy. But that wasn't good enough for Garth. The result is...

He's not coming. The tickets have been refunded. The hats and T-Shirts and wind-up figurines left in storage because the original manufacturers won't give a refund. The taxi drivers, restaurateurs, and ladies of the night deeply disappointed. Instead, Irish folks are making due with a variety of Garth Brooks look-a-likes who are making a pot load of money on all the free advertising. And conspiracy theories are running wild.

Who shot Garth Brooks in the back? The Council? The Locals? Aiken? The Taoiseach? I for one think it was all about summer madness. We go mad over here during the summer when we've not much to do. Garth Brooks was a perfect target, he and that big hat of his.

But it's not over yet. More madness is bound to continue as lawsuits fly. We'll hear about it, I suspect, until well after Christmas and beyond. Long enough to keep those who enjoy being mad happy. It's enough to make a curmudgeon like me smile.

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