Irish eyes sure were smilin' Saturday night as the Highland Rovers brought the music of Ireland, old and new, to Westport's Black Duck cafe for a rollicking celebration of St. Patrick's Day.
"Oh, my gosh!" waitress Joanna Parlak said of the crowd cramming the "Duck" to celebrate Ireland's patron saint on the holiday eve. "This is like twice what we're used to. They're spilling into the dining room."
But no one was complaining. Instead, the Irish rhythms and harmonies, free-flowing green beer and camaraderie combined to make for boisterous conviviality.
"We love it," Micaela Marshall of Fairfield, one of many people who turned out for the occasion wearing a bright splash of green. "We only came here because of the band."
"I love dressing up," she said. "I'm only like one-eighth Irish, but on St. Patrick's Day, 100 percent."
The five-piece Highland Rover band, which features bagpipes, banjos and a range of vocals, percussion and strings, has toured for 19 years, playing a fusion of rock with traditional Irish sounds.
"These guys are a big draw," said Pete Aitkin, owner of the Black Duck. "I'd love to have them every month."
He said, however, the Rovers usually perform in larger quarters. "We're actually much smaller than most of their venues," he said, "but they enjoy playing here."
"Actually, the Black Duck is a legend," said Mike Madden, the band's manager since 1999. "The band is actually from Fairfield, although we travel and do 22 states.
"It's smaller than we normally play, but it's great acoustics and it's intimate," he said.
He said the St. Patrick's Eve performance at the Duck was a perfect gig to warm up for the band's big holiday show scheduled Sunday afternoon at O'Neill's in South Norwalk.
"Yes, I'm Irish," said Jane Connelly of Weston, showing off an emerald-colored drink. "It's a green margarita they made special for me. I said, they have green beer, how about a green margarita?"
"They're wonderful," her husband Ed Schwarz said of the Highland Rovers. "Next year we'll be here."
"The bar's pretty packed tonight," said Justin Stevens of Stratford, "with all these people listening ... And they're really good."
"They've been known around the area for years," said Mike Connors, a bartender at the Black Duck who knows the Rovers and helped to arrange their appearance.
"They did a nice thing for us," he said. "They have such a great following. It's unbelievable the people they attract."
"We go way back with the band," said Holly Danowski, who came down from Cheshire to see the Rovers. "It's consistently great talent and music," she added. "The originals and covers are great."