This year will mark the 40th anniversary of the Irish Congress of Southern California’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade & Festival. San Diego’s best Irish bands will converge on the Saturday, March 14, event, which features twin stages inside the huge Guinness-sponsored beer garden at Balboa Park.
Tony Munde is an event veteran and is in charge of the entertainment on the twin stages, which has become the festival’s epicenter.
“We’ll have two stages so when one band finishes their set we’ll go right into the next group of musicians, which means continuous music,” Munde says.
“The music will be traditional Irish as well as a newer, rock-format Irish. We’ve got some great artists such as Tony Cummins, The Shamrockers and The Fooks, so it will be good show for everybody.”
The parade starts at 10:30 a.m. at Fifth Avenue and Laurel Street and winds its way through Bankers Hill before ending at Sixth and Laurel in Balboa Park. This is where the Irish festival is located, and the party lasts till 6 p.m. The music kicks off at 12:45 p.m. with a nontraditional bagpipe set from the San Diego Firefighters and Emerald Society Pipes and Drums playing a raucous set of pop music on the grass in the beer garden. Then the Irish music begins at 1 p.m.
The festival will also feature Irish food and crafts as well as booths representing many of San Diego’s unique firms. The event is rain or shine and is accessible via a free trolley shuttle, which will transport revelers from free parking zones at the Air & Space Museum as well as the Veterans Museum. The theme for this year’s event is “Irish Building America,” which is a nod to the many Irish-owned businesses located in San Diego. The event enjoys huge support from Irish firms as well as the Irish government itself. This is in the form of sponsorships and grants.
Munde credits Guinness as having a key role in making the event a success every year.
“Guinness is our presenting sponsor and they’ve been with us for many years,” Munde says.
“They help us with the purchase of the beer-garden beverages we serve here. And it’s great to be linked to somebody like that. We also have sponsorships from companies like Green Leaf and we work closely with the Irish government; we get a grant from them each year. It’s the emigrants support program, which ties us into the Irish government and helps us focus on things that they would like to see in their Diaspora around the world. And it’s been a real rewarding experience meeting with those people and also getting some guidance as to how they’d like their funds to be used here in Southern California.”
The music festival will also feature a unique viewing area for nondrinkers or those younger than 21 so they can enjoy the Irish music as well. And if volunteering is your thing, there are plenty of opportunities.
“We are looking for volunteer servers, so if you feel like you want to come down and volunteer for a couple of hours, we’ll train you on how to properly serve under Alcohol and Beverage Control laws,” Munde says.
“You can come serve your friends and neighbors some great Guinness and Harp beer, so come on down and do that.”
The beer garden is definitely where the party is, and you can expect to see a sea of revelers in green attire singing and dancing to the music. Munde is familiar with these shenanigans and is used to seeing the Irish come out in guests.
“You’ll be surprised at the number of people without training that suddenly become Irish dancers in front of our stage on parade day,” Munde says with a laugh.
“I’ve run into coworkers, friends, bosses, a wide range of people enjoying the music and just breaking out into Irish dancing. And like we always like to say: On St. Patrick’s Day, we’re all a little bit Irish, and we’re all Americans.”
St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Irish Festival, Balboa Park, 2500 Sixth Avenue, stpatsparade.org, 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 14, free admission.