O'Malley Drops Politics for a Guitar


CHARLOTTE, N.C.—For one night at least, one of the busiest men at the Democratic National Convention set politics aside.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, flanked by his seven-piece band O'Malley's March, played a rollicking concert of electric Irish folk music late Wednesday night at BlackFinn Saloon in Charlotte.

O'Malley's March, a Celtic rock band, played a 13-song set, lasting well over an hour, that had a normally buttoned-down group of delegates, politicos, staffers and hangers-on dancing, cheering, and generally cutting loose.

At one point O'Malley, eschewing the week's uniform of dark suits for an un-tucked black button-down, had to turn down a shot of Bailey's Irish Cream offered by a female fan.

O'Malley played electric acoustic guitar, sang lead, strutted, shimmied and commanded his band like an old pro.

His performance demonstrated the charisma and magnetism of, if not quite an out-and-out a rock star, at least a popular two-term governor and possible presidential candidate who's been in a rock band for the last 25 years.

Among the pols in the audience was former Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, who quipped, "Some people say he's only running for president because he can't support himself in a band, but I would buy a ticket."

This was no Bill Clinton playing a few bars of saxophone on the Arsenio Hall Show, O'Malley is an accomplished musician with four albums to his name.

At one point, during an Irish jig led by fiddler Jimmy Eagan, O'Malley turned his back to the audience and played his guitar behind his head.

During "Wait for Me," a song he wrote about his great-grandfather's immigration to America, O'Malley dropped an octave and picked up an Irish brogue of the kind never seen on the campaign trail.

The six supporting members of O'Malley's March play electric bass, drums, guitar, fiddle, accordion, and trombone. The trombonist, Jared Denhard, also made cameos on low whistle, slide guitar, and bagpipes.

After the first song O'Malley complained that he was, "a little hoarse after these last few days at the DNC."

"You sound manly," Denhard retorted, which segued right into a version of the Irish folk song, "Man of the House."

An upbeat, electric version of the Johnny Cash classic "Ring of Fire" was a crowd favorite. As the song was wrapping up, the muted TVs behind the bar were showing an MSNBC talk show hosted by Washington Post political blogger Ezra Klein.

O'Malley, mocking Klein's reputation as a know-it-all wunderkind joked, "Yes we do know that was originally done by Johnny Cash, thank you Ezra for telling us that."

O'Malley dedicated songs to two people: his daughter Grace, and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who attended. Among other notables in the crowd were Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Rep. Steny Hoyer, Rep. Donna Edwards and MSNBC's Chris Matthews.

When asked what he thought of the band, Glendening probably spoke for most attendees: "I absolutely love it. Coming from a person with no talent, I absolutely love it."

Glendening joked that O'Malley's musical ability could come in handy in his next venture. "I tell you, when the showdown comes with the Cuomos and whoever else, he's going to challenge them to the bandshell and it's going to be over."

To the dismay of many, the show came to an end just after 2 a.m. when the bar had to turn on the lights and clear patrons out.

"I would like to extend bar hours," O'Malley said, but I'm not the governor here."

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