In truth, the band never quite went away.
After O’Malley defeated then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) in 2006, the new governor reunited with his band to play a set at his inaugural ball, opening with Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin’.”
Since then, the band has gotten back together for fundraisers, Irish festivals and the occasional show in Annapolis or Baltimore.
In 2009, O’Malley’s March released its fifth CD, which took nearly two years to produce, largely because of O’Malley’s schedule. While it was being recorded, O’Malley told a reporter that its working title was “Banished to the Basement,” a reflection of how “political realities” had affected the band.
Jared Denhard, who plays trombone, harp and other instruments in O’Malley’s March, suggested that pulling back was harder for O’Malley — whose original songs touch upon Irish history and social justice — than people might expect. “For better or for worse, if you’re a singer-songwriter, it’s a manifestation of who you are,” Denhard said.
What comes next?
Among those who have encouraged O’Malley to keep playing are his wife, Catherine Curran O’Malley, and her father, J. Joseph Curran Jr., Maryland’s former attorney general, who says music has been important in shaping O’Malley’s life.
“Most people appreciate seeing another side of a politician,” said Curran (D). “In Martin’s case, it’s playing music that makes him happy.”
Katie O’Malley said the band provides “a way for Martin to release a lot of stress,” although these days, his schedule means her husband picks up a guitar at home in the mansion far more often than in a pub.
“During a snowstorm,” she playfully adds, “it can get kind of annoying.”
O’Malley’s music played a key role in the couple’s courtship. In 1986, they crossed paths regularly on the campaign trail in Maryland. She was accompanying her father to events as he ran for attorney general. He was working as field director for Barbara A. Mikulski (D) as she ran for the U.S. Senate.
By all accounts, O’Malley’s efforts to woo his future wife fell flat. They didn’t start dating until three years later, after a mutual friend took Katie Curran to see O’Malley play music at a Baltimore pub.
The regular gigs at that pub, then known as McGinn’s, were also crucial to the launch of O’Malley’s political career.
When O’Malley narrowly lost a race for the state Senate in 1990, the core group of campaign volunteers were people he knew through music. He was elected to the Baltimore City Council the next year with the help of many of the same people.
Among them was Sean R. Malone, who was working his way through law school as a bartender at McGinn’s. Malone, who later managed O’Malley’s 1995 reelection campaign for City Council, said that O’Malley’s political rise was remarkable, given that he grew up in Montgomery County and didn’t move to Baltimore until law school.
“He built a political base from playing Irish music,” said Malone, who held several posts in O’Malley’s mayoral and gubernatorial administrations before becoming a lobbyist.
The band has also helped O’Malley build newer political relationships. When he first met Vice President Biden several years ago, they exchanged stories about mutual friends from the music scene in Wilmington, Del., an area in Biden’s home state where O’Malley’s March had played.
It remains unclear what comes next for O’Malley, who is term-limited as governor.
Whatever his plans, the band’s place in his future seems less at risk. Watching him at Fort McHenry last weekend, no one who was asked saw much more than a guy having fun.
“He seems very genuine,” said Margaret Green, whose husband was part of the delegation accompanying the mayor of Portland, Ore. “He looks happy, like he’s enjoying what he does.”