Photo by Lucy Rabbitte
Eddie Vedder, rock star and drinker of Guinness
The story of a graveyard, Guinness, and what happens when two music legends walk into a historic Dublin pub.
It was one of those fine gray days in Dublin where anything felt possible. Spits of rain, but enough brightness between cloudbursts to guide my visiting American friends, Erin and Ty, to Glasnevin Cemetery. A few miles north of the city, Glasnevin was Ireland’s first graveyard to bury people of all faiths, and over a million Irish men and women, including many famous freedom fighters, rest here. Our guide, Niall, takes us to the graves of those who built the Irish Republic—Daniel O’Connell, Maud Gonne MacBride, Michael Collins—all larger-than-life figures, but here, undeniably mortal. “We’re only human,” Niall says. “All of us.” Around 4 p.m., the showers turn on. It’s just the excuse we need to grab a pint at the pub. “We’re only human,” I repeat.
Sharing a wall with the cemetery since 1833 is the John Kavanagh “Gravediggers” pub. Legend has it that cemetery workers used to pound their shovels against the thick concrete wall to get a fresh pour of Guinness delivered to the grave site. The watering hole is dark and quiet when we enter, with a low, shiny ceiling and wood floors too worn to creak. For the sake of good conversation, the place forbids music and dancing and once even stopped a singalong by U2, The Chieftains, and members of the Dubliners after their lead singer, Luke Kelly, was buried next door. I push through the saloon-style door to the back bar and picture myself as part of a two-century-long parade of mourners and merrymakers who have all done the same.
The plank walls are two-tone, dark brown and cream, like the Guinness that flows through the hand-pulled taps. Dubliners, who have a sixth sense for distinguishing the great from the merely good of the black stuff, claim it’s the best in the city. We order three and slide into a long table beneath an illustrated guide to Dublin’s best pubs. No more than 10 minutes later, a man with a newspaper folded into his black jacket appears through the saloon door. I immediately recognize his blue stare, that reddish-white beard, and the shamrock pendant that sits just below his throat. He looks me straight in the wide eyes and nods a silent Irish hello. It’s Glen Hansard.
Now, this would be a stroke of luck for just about any visitor to Dublin, but for me, it’s nothing short of an Irish fairy tale. My husband, Kevin, introduced me to Glen’s impassioned music and live performance before I ever saw Once, the cult Irish film that earned the former busker and lead character an Oscar for the theme song, “Falling Slowly.” Since I first saw him perform in 2012, I’ve been falling for him. Kevin, who is arguably a bigger fan than I am and even looks a bit like Glen, spent our first five months in Dublin only half joking that Glen was the reason we were there. And now, he’s here.
Glen not only put us on his guest list, but he also welcomed us into his guest box, alongside friends and family and the artists and musicians shaping modern Ireland today.
The audience screams, picking him back up for his last, and I think best, three songs. In between, he shares stories about how his brother took him to his first Pearl Jam concert at this arena in 2000 and about the drinking adventure with Lisa O’Neill that inspired the Irish ballad “McCormack’s Wall.” He ends on a political note with “Vigilante Man,” which Woody Guthrie wrote in the 1930s about his New York slumlord, Fred Trump. “Like father, like son, man he’s rotten to the core,” Glen belts out. “Oh Trump, sent the sheriff to my door.” The crowd erupts. He closes with his bluesy migration-themed “Way Back in the Way Back When,” dedicating it to anyone who’s ever had to leave their home for a better life. It ends in a well-deserved standing ovation.
At the set break, we spot Lisa O’Neill a few seats over, and Sam, the mustachioed owner of Connolly’s of Leap in County Cork, two rows down. Glen not only put us on his guest list, but he also welcomed us into his guest box, alongside friends and family and the artists and musicians shaping modern Ireland today. I realize that even in this era of xenophobia and terrorism and Trump, there are good people doing good deeds who are going to get us through.
When we claim our seats again, Ciaran Kavanagh from the Gravediggers is in the chair to my right. We exchange a giddy hello; I know by now he’s a huge Eddie Vedder fan. The lights go down and a solo Eddie takes the stage, earning standing applause before even making a sound. He sits amid battered suitcases, a vintage tape recorder, and a rug on a set that looks like a basement and unleashes a whirlwind opening of five Pearl Jam hits—including “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter” and “I Am Mine”—mixed with covers of Cat Stevens, Pink Floyd, and The Who.
Once he’s fully fired up, Eddie starts making parallels between Ireland and his hometown, Seattle: “the Emerald Isle and the Emerald City,” he says, “two well-watered places that are so good for music.” Then he recounts his trip to the Gravediggers. I can hear Ciaran inhale. “There’s nothing like drinking the best pint you’ve ever had next to a graveyard to make you feel alive,” Eddie says in his velvety baritone voice. I turn to Ciaran; his bulging eyes tell me he could happily be buried in that graveyard right now. I could too.
The colossal 32-song set mellows out into a couple ukulele tunes before bringing the audience back to its feet for a speedy string quartet version of “Jeremy.” Eddie dedicates the song to Jeremy Corbyn, who pulled off a huge upset in the U.K. election, announced this morning. He tweaks the lyric “Jeremy spoke in class today” to “Jeremy spoke about class today,” and Dublin goes apeshit. I scan our section, and six seats away, Glen is singing along to his friend’s song, arms raised in a “V” just like all his Irish brethren.
The show ends an hour over schedule—for a rumored fine of 25,000 euros gladly paid by the headliner—with a powerful Glen-Eddie, Irish American encore. And then we’re back in the red-walled 1878 bar waiting for the two musicians to make their final curtain call. Eddie comes out first; he walks straight up to Ciaran. “Now there’s a face I recognize,” the legend says to perhaps his biggest admirer in the room. Kevin, mildly drunk and standing next to Ciaran, then regales Eddie Vedder with a rambling recap of his quest through city gridlock to get to the Gravediggers to meet his hero: Glen. “Well, I’m glad you met your favorite,” Eddie deadpans. “Me, too!” Kevin beams.
Finally, the Dubliner we’re all waiting for appears after one of the biggest shows of his life. He moves from table to table, checking in with friends, family, and fans. When he reaches our group, I throw my arms around him and thank him for the best night of my life. He turns to Kevin and surprises him with a brotherly pat on the back: “You made it.”
>>Next: What It’s Actually Like to Be a Rock Star on Tour
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