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Irish Rovers Roaming In With Raucous Show

The phrase, “Wasn’t that a party?” takes on a new meaning for this tour.

That’s because the party may finally be over for the Irish Rovers, who are billing this tour as their “Last Hurrah” farewell tour.

Yes, the Irish Rovers are thinking of hanging up the old tin whistles after 30 years. Maybe they will and maybe they won’t - farewell tours have a way of turning into second annual farewell tours - but if they do, they can be secure in this knowledge: It was a rollicking good party while it lasted.

This group has played Spokane 13 times (!!!) since 1973. By the simple process of extrapolation, we can figure that over 30 years, the Rovers have played - well, thousands - of concerts around the world.

Almost everyone knows the Irish Rovers from two songs: “The Unicorn,” a whimsical song written by poet and cartoonist Shel Silverstein; and “Wasn’t That a Party,” the raucous celebration of good times written by folksinger Tom Paxton.

These are their only two chart hits. “The Unicorn” reached No. 7 in 1968 and “Wasn’t That a Party” reached No. 37 in 1981.

But their appeal reaches beyond those two songs. They are the world’s official Irish good-time band, despite the fact most of the members have lived in Canada for more than 30 years. All of them emigrated to Toronto from Ireland while in their teens. Now they all live in Vancouver, British Columbia, or on Vancouver Island.

Only one member, Wilcil McDowell, spends most of his time in Ireland. He owns a pair of farms in Antrim, Northern Ireland.

All of the members of the group were boyhood friends in and around Toronto. Group leader Will Millar landed a job hosting a children’s show in Calgary, and the other members - Will’s brothers George and Joe Millar, Jimmy Ferguson and McDowell - soon followed.

They formed the Irish Rovers in 1964, and headed for San Francisco. That’s where you went if you were an aspiring folk group in the mid-‘60s. They landed a gig at the famous Purple Onion folk club and soon signed with Decca Records.

They have been recording since. They also hosted a weekly variety series in Canada in the ‘70s. And they have even opened a chain of “oldcountry style pub restaurants” in Canada.

But mostly they have toured. They are famous for the raucous fun of their live shows, where audience participation is essential.

Here’s an excerpt from the Spokane Chronicle’s review of that first Spokane concert in 1973, at the old Fox Theater: “The show runs the full scale of Hibernian emotions - from lilting gaiety and absurd nonsense through sentimentality, nostalgia and pathos.”

And here’s a review of their most recent Spokane concert, in 1991 at the Opera House: “The Irish Rovers didn’t stroll onto the stage; they bounced onto it, and they bounced their way through a 90-minute set. … Make no mistake, the Rovers do a family show, so the audience ranged from little girls in their best dresses and Sunday tights to grandma and grandpa out for one of those rare opportunities to hear entertainment that won’t pin your ears to your head.”

Not much has changed in the Irish Rovers’ act, but then again, the audience wouldn’t want it to.

xxxx The Irish Rovers Location and time: Opera House, 3 p.m. Sunday Tickets: $18.50, $15.50 and $12.50

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