If Fremont really is the Center of the Universe, from the looks of things Friday night, the High Dive houses a good portion of the Irish contingent, and a boisterous, thirsty crowd with a taste for everything from Irish Death Ale to Irish coffee assembled for the venue's triple bill of shanty singing folk bands from Portland.
Six piece Renegade String Band started things off with their lively, uptempo bluegrass, effortlessly trading instrumental solos like a jazz sextet throughout frisky covers of Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, and Black Keys tunes. Lead by front woman Jessica Jariss' bold, rootsy vocals, the band played a generous set and had a few fans dancing by the stage, but the venue was so crammed everywhere else my boyfriend and I left for a drink at a nearby bar hoping the crowd would thin out by the next act.
The floor had opened up slightly when we stepped back in for Casey Neill and the Norway Rats, a fiery folk-punk outfit and Portland supergroup whose roster boasts members of the Decemberists, Lucinda Williams Band, The Eels, and The Minus 5 (though Friday night's band was an abridged lineup featuring Jesse Emerson on bass, Chet Lyster on guitar, and drummer Joe Mengis). Neill's steady, resonant vocal style falls distinctly between Michael Stipe and Jay Farrar, his songs lending comparisons to fellow PDXers the Decemberists and the Celtic-punk vibes of the Pogues, and the band rolled through cuts from 2010's Goodbye To The Rank and File, the title track from 2012's forthcoming All You Pretty Vandals, and Neill's unofficial drinking anthem "Riffraff," which had the house heartily belting out its refrain.
DIY jugband Sassparilla closed out the evening with an old-timey brew of dobro, harmonica, washboard, drums, and a homemade bucket bass. The sound was jumpy, bluesy, and rich, and the crowd was slapping thighs and thumping right along. Glasses were clinked, some beer was spilled, and there was lots of rowdy talk, but like any good Irish bar--or Irish bar in training--worth its weight, neither band nor patron seemed to care about anything as much as a good time.