St. Patrick's Day falls on a Saturday this year, but for some reason many events were nonetheless scheduled for the preceding weekend. Despite not possessing a drop of Irish blood (not that that ever stops anyone) we attended one of those premature celebrations, the Shamrock Festival, held at Washington's RFK Stadium--or, more accurately, inside a fenced-off parking lot next to the stadium. It was a fascinatingly ugly display of drunken humanity and poor planning. Five dollar drink tickets, redeemable for a cold glass of Bud Light and nothing else, were sold at booths far from where the beer was dispensed, which meant twice as much waiting in line. It also meant that, just to save some time, pretty much everyone was double-fisting the watered-down brew. We'd scold the countless concertgoers who littered the blacktop with empty cups, but the blame rests with the organizers, who seemed to think that one trash can per square mile would suffice. The dominant sound of the event, more than any drinking song, was that of sneakers crunching on the plastic cups, so unavoidable that they weren't really worth looking down for unless you were wearing sandals. The assembled 40-odd bands played on several stages spread so far across the festival grounds that, as you wandered among the port-o-potties and beer trucks, there was little or no indication that music was being played anywhere nearby. And yet, amazingly, even standing near a stage you had to strain to hear the bands over the audible thump of the DJ tent, because nothing says Celtic tradition like Nicole Richie's ex spinning trance The lineup featured a ton of Irish and Irish-American bands, including headliners Flogging Molly. But the Shamrock Festival was also full of the kinds of regional rock workhorses with no recognizable Irish roots, like Jimmie's Chicken Shack and the Kelly Bell Band, that have played every Washington or Baltimore radio festival for the past decade or so. An important reminder for up-and-coming bands, especially those on a crowded festival bill: You may want the audience to remember you no matter what, but if you play any recognizable covers, we're just going to remember them over your originals. Thus, all we can really report about Fairfax, Va.'s Welbilt is that it did a decent version of "Message in a Bottle." And though New Jersey's Icewagon Flu was endearingly geeky, playing folky songs with a Celtic influencethe band even had a guy playing a washboard--we mainly remember its bitchin' rendition of "Over and Done With" by the Proclaimers. (Who are Scottish, but whatever.) Co-headliner Carbon Leaf hails from Richmond, Va., and is celebrated as a local hero in the Washington area; the band's set was about as close to a big rowdy sing-along as you can get when the instruments include a mandolin and an accordion. The band has plenty of mellow adult-alternative jams, like the radio hit "Life Less Ordinary," but for Shamrock Fest, it wisely leaned heavily on its Irish side, frontman Barry Privett's penny whistle getting a serious workout as the crowd favorite "Mary Mac" gradually accelerated with each go-round of the chorus until it finished at a breakneck pace. For all the Budweiser logos plastered everywhere, Shamrock Fest was ostensibly marketed as a family event, and one corner of the lot was taken up with carnival rides and dart games as a halfhearted concession to a younger demographic that barely seemed present at all. After inspecting that sad little diversion and grabbing one for the road, we headed back to Baltimore--to go to a bar.