Written and Photographed by Eric Sperrazza
When you think of any great metropolitan area of Pennsylvania, be it Philly, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, or Scranton, in your mind, you can see hard-working men and women bustling about, work trucks blaring WMMR or Rock 107FM and earning their day’s wage by keeping the city, and everyone in it, running. But that is separate from the metropolitan areas. Our country was built and run by the Pennsylvania working class, providing steel, coal, and crops to the rest of our nation for decades. The success of our entire country during the industrial era rested solely on the shoulders of the unsung heroes of Pennsylvania!
Every year, Dropkick Murphys tour a few select dates and cities, marching onward to Boston, where they finish with a performance on St. Patrick’s Day. The concerts (And the limited-run merchandise!) are a thing of lore. A four-week run filled to the brim with Doc Martens, scally caps, men in kilts, spilled beer, and camaraderie as far as the eye can see. The stops are all in familiar cities (Orlando, Charlotte, Atlanta, etc.), but towns like Stroudsburg and Reading are their usual haunts when they come to Pennsylvania. I am from the Philadelphia suburbs, and I usually sigh and prepare to drive up 76 or the blue route in traffic to get there. Lately, however, I’ve begun to believe this is purposeful—a gift they give us, intentionally and meaningfully.
This year, fresh off the This Machine Still Kills Fascists tour, DKM immediately embarked on the annual St. Patrick’s Day tradition with the renowned tour stopping in Wilks-Barre, Pennsylvania. Ahead of the day, they announced that the openers would be American Folk Singer Jesse Ahern and Australia’s favorite Irish sons, The Rumjacks. With slight changes to the set list, from city to city, it was tough to gauge what to expect of the night, but it was evident in the Mohegan Sun Arena that a powder keg of energy was seemingly about to go off.
Ahern first kicked off the show with a street-folk sound and a conviction in his voice of someone singing of personal experience in the trenches, not unlike the muse of Dropkick, Woodie Guthrie. It is evident why he has opened for Dropkick Murphys through the US and Europe. A lot of DKM’s songs are Union Rally songs, music for the working man, and even covers of Guthrie’s Union cries, all with their signature gang chorus. Ahern fit in nicely with their recent acoustic tour. But I could not help but feel Ahern was misplaced. The St. Patrick’s Day Tour is usually a high-energy experience, and Ahern was your quintessential one-person folk show. There was some interaction with the crowd and a random Skynyrd joke that didn’t quite land but a passionate and gritty clinic in modern-day Americana. Ahern wrapped up his set with a brilliant cover of The Clash‘s Combat Rock album classic, “Straight to Hell.”
The Rumjacks rolled in next on the bill and wasted no time turning the St Paddy’s Energy to a solid ’11.’ Much like Dropkick Murphys made a piper in a punk band en vogue, The Rumjacks lead singer, Mike Rivkees, utilizes a vintage tin whistle with expert marksmanship to accentuate the song and add that folk feels to their set. Similarly, Adam Kenny delivered a hardcore performance on his banjo, just as fierce as any guitar or bass at a rock show. Their set list was a high-tempo stroll through hits like “A Fistful of Roses,” “White Caps,” and “Hestia.” The band encored with their biggest single,” An Irish Pub Song.”
At last, Dropkick Murphys exploded onto the stage. Immediately, Ken Casey stalked the stage from coast to coast and looked as excited as ever to see the crowd of fans before him. Conspicuously absent was Al Burr. Shortly before the St Patrick’s Day Tour kickoff in 2022, the band released a press release that Burr was taking time to care for his sick mother and would sadly not be on tour. Burr continued his sabbatical through the This Machine Still Kills Fascists tour in the fall of 2022, as well. Not to say that Casey could not handle the double duty of the vocal work. He owns the stage and engages with the fans, all while keeping the tunes coming. It looks exhausting, but Casey does it effortlessly with a smile from beginning to end. There is just simply a balance between Casey and Burr when they perform that plays a part in the overall experience.
The set kicked off with “The Boys Are Back” and delved into a deep dive of vintage Dropkick songs like “Barroom Hero” and pressed on with tracks from the This Machine Still Kills Fascists LP like their first single, “Two 6’s Upside Down,” “Dig a Hole,” and the recently released single, “Cadillac, Cadillac.” The band gave out fan-favorite concert staples like “Rose Tattoo,” “Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya” and “Shipping Up to Boston.”
What was a genuine surprise was a cover that I had never heard DKM perform in all the years of covering the band – AC/DC‘s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.” It was a venerable tour de force of sound that rose the people up off the ground and 45 degrees towards Casey’s microphone and beckoning hand. Al Burr once said, “Dropkick Murphys is essentially the fault of The Ramones and AC/DC.” This performance proved that point. The only way it could’ve been any better was if Angus Young and the ghost of Bon Scott had joined the band onstage.
The night ended with the crowd sing-along encore, “Kiss Me, I’m Sh*tfaced.” And with that, the house lights came on, and, for many in the crowd, St Patrick’s Day had officially kicked off on a snowy Tuesday night in the Pocono Mountains. I already knew that the likelihood of me hearing “The Dirty Glass” without a woman on tour with them to duet with was slim to none. But I wanted to get some of my favorites from the new album, like “All You Fonies” and “Ten Times More,” on the night’s setlist. I would’ve also loved to have heard “Smash Sh*t Up” and “We Shall Overcome.” But my takeaway was more meaningful.
With the Mohegan Sun Arena lit, I looked around at the stragglers waiting for the chaos to dwindle before making their walks to the parking lot. I noted that their fanbase has three categories: The punk rock fans that followed their early work, New Englanders/Irish Americans, and the world’s workers. (The Unions, The Police, The Fire Departments, Laborers, Pavers, and Machine Operators.) These are the men and women whose very soul Dropkick Murphys speaks to with their fiery workers’ rights anthems and their support of local Unions. These three sectors of fandom come together, arm and arm, singing along with a band that put them in the same room and made them a gang of equals from mere cars full of strangers just hours before.
That may be why Dropkick Murphys makes its annual St. Patrick’s stop in Pennsylvania, seemingly out and away from the fair-weather fans and weekend warriors. If you are there, it is because you want to be there. You need to be there.