As mayor, Martin O'Malley has had little trouble turning his local political panache into impressive performances before national audiences.
But as the frontman for a Celtic rock band, O'Malley has never seen his brand of Irish music face the ultimate venue: an audience in Ireland.
The mayor's seven-member band, O'Malley's March, was to arrive in Ireland this morning to begin its first tour of his ancestral homeland. First stop: Dolan's Warehouse, for a sold-out show in front of 500 people in the city of Limerick.
The mayor's four-day personal vacation to Ireland fulfills a dream he and the late Paul Levin had for the band since they started it in 1988.
"It was something we had always wanted to do," O'Malley said.
Levin's untimely death more than two years ago kept the two from making the trip, and it was nearly scrapped again this week after the killing of Baltimore police Officer Brian D. Winder last weekend. The change forced O'Malley to cancel some shows, but he plays four shows through Wednesday.
"There's no convenient time to go," the mayor said. "Yet, at the same time, time is short and there's no telling how much longer I'll be able to do this: play music."
In Ireland, O'Malley's March will perform many of the songs that they have used to entertain audiences throughout Maryland. In a recent tuneup for their Ireland tour, the band performed at Ryan's Daughter, an Irish-themed restaurant in Belvedere Square.
O'Malley said the band will also perform songs from their "smash hit" fourth live CD, which includes the band's original songs and covers of classics like Danny Boy and Kelly the Boy From Killane. He also plans to roll out the Battle of Baltimore, a song about how Baltimore residents repelled the British army and navy during the War of 1812.
"It's sure to be a popular song in Ireland," he said.
Even without a sold-out first show, O'Malley's March seems sure to attract a popular following. It doesn't hurt that O'Malley is importing an audience.
Actually, Mick O'Shea, former owner of the Charles Street bar, is leading a tour of nearly 50 people to Ireland who will accompany O'Malley's March at its shows.
"We have a built-in audience ... so at least when we start we won't be embarrassed," O'Malley said. "The fact that we're traveling with 50 other Baltimore people was an added incentive for the venues."
So, too, is O'Malley's title.
Although it is not an official trip, the mayor of Limerick is scheduled to greet the mayor and his band today and plans to attend the show with an entourage of his own, said Dolan's Warehouse owner Mick Dolan.
"It's going to be a packed house," Dolan said in a telephone interview from his bar in Ireland. He said his facility provides three venues for bands and that O'Malley's March is filling the largest.
"He's a great singer, a mix between Shane McGowan and Christy Moore," two popular Irish singers, said Dolan, who knows the mayor from his visits to Baltimore for its Irish festival. "I think it's great music."
Dolan said local radio stations have been playing songs by O'Malley's March in anticipation of the band's arrival.
"He's in all the papers here," Dolan said. "He's been on every radio show."
From Limerick, O'Malley's March will head to the city of Galway for a performance tomorrow. The band then departs from the west coast and heads to Dublin on the east coast for two shows.
Trevor Dietz, the booking planner for Eamon Dorans tavern in Dublin's touristy Temple Bar district, said his pub typically hosts indie rock bands, not Irish music. O'Malley's March plays there on Tuesday.
"I heard [O'Malley's] CD," Dietz said. "I'm not into traditional music myself."
But he said he expects a good crowd because the pub has been advertising the show as featuring "a mayor from an American city," Dietz said.
"It's quite unusual for us to hear a mayor playing music," he said.
Despite the bar's use of his title, O'Malley made it clear that he will not be conducting any official business overseas and that no public money is being spent on his vacation.
"It's vacation time and it's my hobby," he said. "We're not making any money. We'll be lucky to break even."