The moon peeked through the hot and hazy summer’s eve over the mountains and along Route 145 as Monday night’s fun exploded all over East Durham on the official Monday opening of the prestigious Catskills Irish Arts Week.
The moon will be full by the time the annual event crests at week’s end with the close of the annual Andy McGann Traditional Music Festival on Saturday so the craic in the Catskills should be howl.
Thousands of tunes will have been shared by teachers and students from stages to roadhouses surrounded by the lush green hills that have been attracting the Irish for decades to Greene County about two and half hours from New York City.
Again there are hundreds who witness the annual summer festival and summer school, many of whom return year after year. Twenty states and three Canadian provinces would yield residents who came to the upstate New York hamlet to sharpen their playing and listening skills and deepen their appreciation of Irish culture in general, and especially when it comes to wellspring of traditional music.
After the classes are done in the daytime, the evening concerts (five) and the 50 music sessions -- all solidly displaying the mastery of the assembled teaching staff -- will provide plenty of evidence that the well is deep and the future of Irish traditional music solid for a good while yet.
Proof of the creativity possessed by the many artists recruited to perform this year lay across the teacher’s consignment shop where their CDs and instrument instruction books were choc-a-block and varied.
They were soundly presented by the sharp and knowledgeable Roxanne O’Connell, whose considerable skills make this not just a must stop visit during the live concerts but a thriving one for artists whose outlets for CD sales keeps diminishing as the quality of their music increases.
The first night alone almost 50 different items were purchased as those in the audience fervently sought out music to take away with them when the week is over and real life beckons.
So CDs take on an important place at Irish festivals as they are a telling and necessary barometer of how the music reaches people firsthand, especially when purchased at live performances.
As many as eight different CD launches will take place during the week, including Girsa’s A Sweeter Place, John Carty’s (and Brian Rooney’s in absentia) At Ease, Colm Gannon and Jesse Smith’s Ewe With a Crooked Horn, Mary Staunton’s Circle of Friends, Shannon Heaton’s Blue Dress, Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra self-titled CD, Chicago Reel’s For the Love of the Music and coming in on the 11th hour, a new one called Country Crossroads from Cherish the Ladies.
It will be their 14th recording going back to their album debut in 1985 as part of a brilliant discovery by Dr. Mick Moloney and the Ethnic Folks Arts Center that revealed the close ties between Irish fathers and American daughters in the transmission of Irish music mostly around New York.
And for the third year in a row, Joanie Madden burned the midnight oil and hours of daylight as well to ready a new CD in time to give it a Catskills launch, so respected is Catskills Irish Arts Week for getting the word out there on new CDs.
The well-traveled Cherish the Ladies are exposed to roots music all over the world, so spending time in Nashville earlier this year allowed them to cross-fertilize some bluegrass and country with the green, green grass of Irish America and give singers Maura O’Connell, Nancy Griffiths and Vince Gill and others a chance to shine with the group.
On this Friday night up on the Michael J. Quill Irish Cultural and Sports Centre’s wonderful festival grounds, Cherish the Ladies will preview the new CD in concert (and in another set at the Andy McGann Festival Saturday), and following that at CD launch at the newly rebuilt Blackthorne Pub on Friday night.
Highlighting this year’s CD releases is a new double CD called Craic in the Catskills: A Collection of Recordings From the Catskills Irish Arts Week 2010 which some has decreed as the “best ever” based on the amazing array of talent and performances that took place over the week and the historical significance of much of the programming that surfaced last year.
With encouragement funding from the Shamrock Irish Traditional Music Society and the Burnett family, a long-hoped for project of releasing some of the live music that is enjoyed at the Catskills week from the multiple live concerts on the Quill grounds came to fruition at long last.
It must be acknowledged that it is only with the generosity of the artists who share the goals and objectives of the week, many of whom have been long-time participants, can this music be shared with folks who wish to support the continuing work of fostering traditional Irish music in the Catskills every summer.
STIMS asked producer John Brennan and designer Marlow Palleja to produce an attractive product containing 30 tracks over the two CDs highlighting the faculty of the 2010 summer school, which received the usual tune-smithing from the incredible encyclopedic Don Meade to identify tune names where necessary.
The CD will be launched officially at the Andy McGann Festival on Saturday, July 16 since that is the one time that the Catskills Irish Arts Week ensemble gathers in one place during the week in a stunning and mind-blowing musician’s march featuring the largest showing of pure drop Irish traditional musicians this side of the Atlantic on two stages with one superb act after another.
The Andy McGann Festival takes place at the Quill Festival Grounds (2267 Route 145) and serves as a sampler for the excellent music on hand all week. It is open to the general public, and more information is available at www.catskillsirishartsweek.org or by calling 518-634-2286.
A reminder that the Catskills Irish Arts Week is also making an appearance down at Lincoln Center at Midsummer Night Swin (www.midsummernightswing.org) this Wednesday, July 13, from 6-10 p.m. The music makers are Charlie Harris, Maeve Donnelly, Eamonn and Geraldine Cotter, John Carty and Caitlin nic Gabhann, who will be joining dance caller and teacher Megan Downes and the Irish DJ Kevin Westley to provide a glimpse of Irish social dancing in a delightful outdoor setting in Damrosch Park on the Lincoln Center campus on Manhattan’s West Side.
Copies of the Craic in the Catskills can be ordered through the M.J. Quill Irish Cultural and Sports Centre, P.O. Box 320, East Durham, New York, 12423 or phone at 518-634-2286, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Price for the CD is $20 and $5 for postage and handling payable in advance with donation to the Quill Irish Cultural and Sports Centre.