By Alicia Dziak

Most of us have heard the saying “Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day” but you don’t have to be Irish to enjoy the holiday, or the sense of community and camaraderie that comes along with celebrating the culture. While St. Paddy’s day is still a few weeks away, you can get a jump on the Irish cheer this weekend, when the Irish Wake Band makes its debut in Ellicottville on Feb. 24 at Finnerty’s Tap Room.

The Irish Wake Band got its start in 2015 kind of by luck. As the story goes, high school buddies Pat Stack and Steve Dillon grew up around Irish music. Pat’s father, Bernie Stack, led a local Irish band called the Blarney Bunch that entertained audiences for nearly 30 years, and by the 1980s, in need of a guitarist for a show, Pat offered up his friend Steve, who said had never actually played Irish music before.

In later years, the friends would get together with Bernie and some friends around St. Patrick’s Day and play at a little bar in downtown Niagara Falls.

In 2014, Pat retired from his day job as a 25-year veteran of the Niagara Falls Police force, and opened his own little pub, called Somewhere, in Youngstown, N.Y.  High on his list of priorities for this new place was throwing a St. Paddy’s Day party  in order to carry on the tradition of getting together with friends and family and playing Irish music, still led by Pat’s father. The tent added to the outdoor patio added a little space to the 50-person capacity space, but not enough to handle the 500-plus crowd that showed.

“So when 2015 came around, Pat and I knew we needed a bigger tent,” Dillon said. “With our combined experience in managing and hosting parties from our younger days, Pat being a club manager before turning police detective, and I hosting summer bashes for many years, we concluded that this would not a problem. But unfortunately, Pat’s dad, 83 years old at the time, still playing flawlessly like a master musician, began to not feel well, and Pat thought we may need to find other entertainment, since we would be busy running a much larger anticipated party.”

The friends searched endlessly, but every local Irish bands they could find was booked. “It was at that time I told Pat, we have no choice but to start our own band, and continue the tradition set upon us by his father,” explained Dillon.

“In order to overcome our lack of time, we knew we had to get accomplished musicians,” said Dillon. “Amazingly, we eventually found all of them in our own backyard. They were music teachers that taught our kids, they worked at the local music store, Lewiston Music, where we bought all of music supplies and instruments. It makes you realize that Western New York has just an amazing abundance of top quality musicians, it’s incredible.”

The Irish Wake Band was formed, made up of Stack on lead vocals; Dillon on banjo, mandolin and accordion; Ray Berry on mandolin, banjo and guitars; Dave Stayner on guitars; Tony Petrocelli on acoustic bass and bass guitar; Jennifer Pauley on violin and mandolin; Evan Keefer on tin whistle and bagpipes, Marc Perricelli on keyboards and percussion; and Joe Brennen on percussion, bodhran and drums.    

“Like all of Irish music, an Irish wake is a celebration of lost loved ones with a little Irish cheer, a send-off if you will,” Dillon said of naming the band.

While the Irish Wake Band usually limits its sets to shows in Youngstown, they will be making their first appearance in Ellicottville this weekend. Dillon, who regularly visits Ellicottville with his family, approached Finnerty’s recently with the idea to play there over the February break when Dillon says “there’s always a nice crowd.”

According to Dillon, owner Bill Finnerty was immediately receptive to the idea, and the show was scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 24.

Stack and Dillon say that anyone in attendance at their show can expect a party.

“If you’re there, you’re gonna be singing!” said Dillon. “There will be a lot of Irish cheer.”

They describe their music as fun and diverse, covering all genres of Irish music, from folk to pub songs to modern day. They cover songs by bands such as Great Big Sea, Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly, but also some traditional Irish songs that have been around so long the author is unknown. The music is also interspersed with storytelling, so guests can expect a bit of a history lesson. (Dillon and Stack are clearly very passionate about Irish history and attribute much of their knowledge back to Pat’s father.)

The show begins at 7 p.m. and will last a few hours. Stack is quick to add that “We’re having fun. We’re not looking at our watch!”

If you need another excuse to get in the door, Stack and Dillon noted that Finnerty’s will have a special Irish menu on tap, including traditional fare like shepherd’s pie, reubens and corned beef and cabbage.

End the mid-winter break on an Irish note, good times with good friends and great music! Finnerty’s is located at 5 East Washington Street in Ellicottville. For more info, visit Irish Wake Band on Facebook.