Baltimore Cheers McComiskey

ANOTHER very important community for traditional music in America is the mid-Atlantic town of Baltimore, Maryland where they turned out in full force to pay homage to -- and hear some mighty chunes from -- a stellar ensemble led by local citizen and box player Billy McComiskey. It was the hometown CD launch for his Outside the Box recording (www.compassrecords.com) with some very special guests like Liz Carroll, Mick Moloney, Brendan Dolan, Myron Bretholz, Matthew Bell and number two son, Sean McComiskey.

Like the production of the CD itself, the event was supported by Maryland Traditions agency in a multicultural Highlandtown neighborhood arts center called the Creative Alliance at the Patterson to recognize the key person who stoked the traditional Irish music surge in the harbor town to the flourishing fever pitch it now enjoys.

Some 300 fans, including many local musicians from the greater Washington, D.C. area of Virginia and Maryland turned out and whooped and reacted wildly as McComiskey enjoyed the well-earned center stage spotlight.

As he talked of the influences that inspired the selections on the new CD, old friends Moloney and Carroll waxed nostalgic about their first meetings and adventures over the years with him. Carroll remarked that one of the singular pleasures in her own life was playing alongside him in Trian (with Daithi Sproule) bringing her to the point of amusingly admitting she was "verklempt" or emotional about the evening.

The stage show was enhanced with some fine footwork from stepdancers Katy Linnane, Lisa Farrell and Brian Bigley who were on hand for the show.

The celebration was capped off by a wonderful session in the main gallery hall led by a number of young musicians carrying on the music in a way that compliments the master in the middle of it all as Billy and all three of the sons (Pat, Sean and Mikey) he sired with wife Annie shared the tunes.

It even included many of the members of the Old Bay Ceili Band who just represented the U.S. at Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann in Tullamore, Co. Offaly. Like much of the revitalization that is transforming Baltimore neighborhood by neighborhood, the future looks very bright for Irish music in that part of Americay.

As it happens the 2008 Baltimore City Irish Festival is taking place this weekend (September 12 and 13) at the Canton Waterfront Park (www.baltimoreIrishFest.com) where many of these musicians will be at it again.

Headlining the event are the Prodigals, O'Malley's March (Governor Martin O'Malley's Band), Narrowbacks, Baltimore Ceili Band and the Hedge Band.

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